Name: Jamil Al-Thawahrih
Hometown: Jordan-Karak
Current position: Graduate Instructor
Place of Work: University of Utah

What brought you into the field of teaching? My mom was a teacher at a public school. She enjoyed her work, but it was tough for her to provide the essentials for the family with what she was making. Because of this struggle to provide, she talked me out of initially pursuing teaching in school. After finishing high school I went to engineering school instead. Even though I was a good student and I studied hard and graduated in the top three percent of my colleagues, I knew deep down it was not for me. When I graduated from college in 2006, I probably should have taken a job as an engineer, but I could not ignore my passion for teaching. Instead of becoming an engineer, I began working with underprivileged kids in my hometown as a private tutor. I worked in that job for almost two years, but was under constant pressure from friends and family to find work in engineering. Eventually I decided to take a full-time job as a network engineer in Amman, leaving time to tutor on the weekends. At that time I was blessed to meet Justin Kitchens, an American who came to Jordan in order to study Arabic. Our friendship progressed rapidly and I learned a great deal from him about how western cultures perceive Arabs in the Middle East, and was also able to see firsthand how Jordanians perceive non-Arabs. From this friendship I developed the determination to undermine the negative stereotypes associated with each other’s societies. My strong passion for teaching evolved into a desire to explain Arabic and my culture to others.

What is your philosophy of teaching?

Teaching a language is unlike teaching any other subject. Language teachers teach students about the cultures and societies that speak that language. Because of the cultural tensions between the East and the West, I have decided to teach Arabic to American students at the university level; I hope over time, to help build a bridge between the two cultures and subvert the negative stereotypes that I believe both cultures have of each other. As a native speaker of Arabic, I bring my own experience and my own culture to the classroom in hopes of increasing my students’ intercultural awareness. For example, my students watch Arabic films and discuss topics that these films address, like the importance of family in the Arab culture, gender differences and the expected role of both genders in the past and nowadays. I also bring Middle Eastern food to class and then discuss how it differs from American food. I also take advantage of social media like Facebook and chat rooms to connect students in the USA with Arabs and Arabic sources, thus expanding their exposure to the language, helping them practice the language and building cross-cultural friendships. Using authentic input helps the students to notice in which aspects the Arab culture is different from their own, as well as to learn the language in contextualized situations. I adapt authentic input using different techniques, usually by introducing the students to the topic and activating their background schemata, and using visual input to describe some of the new vocabulary. Learning in General I believe students learn better if they take an active role and become engaged in the process of the learning. Learning should be enjoyable, fun and meaningful to attract learners. I believe that students learn better when they are engaged in problem-solving activities, group work, and so on. Learning could be affected by the students’ emotional status. Thus, teachers should be aware of that aspect of factors that might influence the learning process. View of learners As I mentioned before, one of the most important reasons I enjoy teaching is that I get to learn from my students’ experiences which I highly value. I try to learn about my students’ backgrounds and their reasons for enrollment in the course. This helps me to realize what might work and motivate the students best. However, I understand that students have diverse needs and they are unique human beings. I try to tailor my teaching methods and techniques to meet the different needs and goals the students might have. On one hand, this is a complicated and certainly not an easy task. On the hand, from my humble experience, I believe it could be achieved and in most cases students will appreciate the teacher’s genuine try to engage them in forming the goals and objectives of the course and they usually show an great understanding, if provided with reasonable rationale, that some personal goals and objectives might not be part of the course. View of teaching Teaching has been my passion for my whole life. I remember throughout my school-time helping my classmates and siblings to understand materials better and enjoy learning more. It is such a fulfilling feeling that has always made me satisfied. I believe my passion for teaching has been driven by my constant desire to learn. I feel I am an effective teacher because I am able to connect with my students and learn from them as well as teaching them. I see myself in the teaching process as a facilitator rather than a decision maker for that reason I involve the students in the learning process by seeking background information and tailoring the curriculum to fit pedagogical goals and learner’s needs as well as interests. I conduct midterm feedback from the students to evaluate the activities and exercises we do in the classroom to learn what changes and adjustments need to happen to help them learn better.

How did you first become interested in teaching?

Meeting an American in Jordan who later become a close friend of mine. He came to Jordan in order to study Arabic. Our friendship progressed rapidly and I learned a great deal from him about how western cultures perceive Arabs in the Middle East, and was also able to see firsthand how Jordanians perceive non-Arabs. From this friendship I developed the determination to undermine the negative stereotypes associated with each other’s societies. My strong passion for teaching evolved into a desire to explain Arabic and my culture to others.

Did you always know that you wanted to teach?

Teaching has been my passion for my whole life. I remember throughout my school-time helping my classmates and siblings to understand materials better and enjoy learning more. It is such a fulfilling feeling that has always made me satisfied. I believe my passion for teaching has been driven by my constant desire to learn. I feel I am an effective teacher because I am able to connect with my students and learn from them as well as teaching them.

Are you involved in any research or any other activities at the moment?

Yes, I am conducting a study to learn more about how L2 learners of Arabic use surface cues such as subject-verb agreement, word order, etc., to interpret sentences.

As an educator, how will you measure your success?

By the interaction I get from my students; to be specific, If I hear through the mid-term or end of term evaluations that they were challenged and learned a lot from the course, I would know that I did a good job!

What is the most interesting part of your job?

Constant learning from my students and how unique they are!

What is the most challenging part of your job?

How unique the students are, it is definitely interesting but requires a constant work to modify my teaching methods and how to deliver the same message to different types of learners!

What are your future plans/goals in the field?

I plan to go into a Phd program in linguistics and second language acquisitions to learn more about how to be the best I can as a language instructor. I am also interested in developing a new curriculum for Arabic language based on the feedback I am having from the students.

How do you like to spend your time outside of teaching?

Being a graduate students, and a language instructor result in a little free time. However, I like to spend sometime reading books and being active and outside.

What advice do you have for current students or prospective students?

They always to keep the focus on the big picture and the reasons why they first become interested in the language and to be open minded about how languages are different!