The World’s Best Teacher

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  • Hanan Al Haroub

  • Hanan Al Hroub with Tony Blair

  • Hanan Al Hroub

  • L-R Hanan Al Hroub, HH Sheikh Mohammed bin Rashid Al Maktoum and Sunny Varkey

It is not everyday that you are privileged to learn from the world’s best teacher. Yasmeen Maqbool sits through a class with Hanan Al Hroub, 2016 Global Teacher Prize Winner to know of her life’s lessons. One amongst the many incredible teachers from across the globe, she has overcome adversity to have a profound impact on the young minds and the community she lives in

Hanan became a teacher less than a decade ago, in 2007. So what makes her the world’s best teacher? Was it graduating from a renowned University or teaching with the best of teaching aids and facilities that have helped catapult Hanan to this order?

Growing up in a Palestinian refugee camp, Hanan was forced to leave school, as well as abandon her plans for further education when Palestinian universities closed during the first intifada, or uprising, between 1987 and 1993. As life’s course led her, she got married and had five children.

In 2000, when her youngest child enrolled at school, Hanan decided to resume her education part-time at Al-Quds University. Within months, Israeli soldiers at a checkpoint near Bethlehem, shot at her husband, Omar, and two of her daughters. Omar was injured in the shoulder and the girls were left traumatized and devastated.

“This incident changed my life. We were in shock. My children were suffering, and the teachers were not trained to deal with trauma.” Her experiences in meetings and consultations to discuss her children’s behaviour, development and academic performance in the years that followed, led Hanan to try to help others who, having grown up in similar circumstances, require special handling at school. “At that point I decided to commit my life to teaching.”

Combining university with family duties, it took her about five years to graduate. She now earns 2,500 Shekels (£450) a month (Palestinian teachers walked out on strike for higher pay in February this year).

At the Samiha Khalil school in al-Bireh, just outside Ramallah, Hanan’s pupils – aged between six and 10 – live in an environment where violence is an endemic. Hanan points out that these students are often disruptive, unstable and manipulative; and some engage in violent acts themselves. With so many troubled children in the region, Palestinian classrooms can be tense environments.

“The environment outside the classroom is violent. Inside, I ensure peace, harmony and security.” Often wearing a clown’s wig and red nose, Hanan uses games to get children to work cooperatively in teams, building trust and respect, and rewarding positive, non-violent behaviour.

“I, therefore, set out to create an environment of collaboration and leadership in the classroom. Not only does this foster the acceptance of others’ opinions, but it also helps diminish students’ thoughts of ego and selfishness, while cementing the concept of democracy. Otherwise I fear these children will be lost.”

Recalling her school days Hanan, believes her Grade 2 teacher had a great impact on her. “In 1979, our new teacher introduced herself by saying: “My name is Julia from Bethlehem, the cradle of Christ. And you?” As we introduced ourselves, she explained the meaning of our names in a way that made us feel privileged in life. She won our hearts from the outset through her overwhelming tenderness. I could not wait for the next day to see her again. She was the source of my inspiration and every time I looked at her, I said to myself: I will become like you one day.”

And many years later when she became a teacher and set foot in the classroom for the first time, she too introduced herself by saying “My name is Hanan, which means affection,” and asked the students about their names, explaining their meanings.

Sharing details of the ‘teaching aids’ that help build a conducive environment for her students, Hanan says, “From my first day as a teacher, I embrace the ‘no to violence’ slogan, and pursue the ‘we play and learn’ methodology to pursue this goal.” It helps her produce positive outcomes such as eliminating aggression in the classroom and promoting dialogue and co-operation. “This has a ripple effect on other classrooms and the children’s families.”

Besides this, Hanan personalises her lesson plan to the need of every student giving them one-to-one time. “In short, I treat them in a way they are not used to being treated. In addition, I have an open discussion with all my students once a month about their attitude towards each other. I give them the opportunity to express themselves out loud, should they have a grievance towards each other or the school.”

By exploring various subjects with them and developing their abilities in these pursuits, she believes students have the opportunity to access the right answers. In this way they acquire an ingrained belief that dialogue and listening to others’ opinions could definitely lead to a better outcome than being self-opinionated.

“We train students to overcome their shyness by involving them in the school radio station, first in groups and then in individual activities, which include plays, poetry and homilies.”

With the prize money Hanan won at the Global Teacher Prize, she wants to support teachers with their own methodologies in education, encourage students who get high marks in high school to choose the teaching profession by providing scholarships for them, plans to complete her university higher grade M.A. and PhD and fund her children to complete their university studies.

And the biggest reward Hanan believes she has awarded her children with is the gift of education. Her twin daughters are newly-qualified lawyers, another daughter is an accountant, one son is a chef, and the youngest, a boy, is training to be an architect.