I Met a Teaching Celebrity!

I've spent the past week in Jerusalem on a speaking tour hosted by the U.S. Consulate. (Next week, I'll spend time in Tel Aviv with the U.S. Embassy.) I've visited schools, met with students, teachers, and administrators, and learned a lot about the history and culture of this region.

I've also learned a lot about the ongoing political conflict here, which is insanely complex. I'm doing a lot of listening, which feels good.

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On Tuesday, I had the huge honor of meeting Palestinian second-grade teacher, and 2016 Global Teacher of the Year, Hanan Hroub. She gave me a tour of her classroom in Ramallah (a city in the West Bank), excitedly showing me the educational tools she's made for her kids out of recycled materials (like a puppet show theater). She jumped up and down on a mini-trampoline that lives in the part of her classroom she calls "the garden" and explained how she modifies the activities in the curriculum created by the Palestinian Ministry of Education to better engage her students.

Hanan is inspiring. She spoke about the need for students to feel joyful and to have fun in class, to learn through play, and to feel loved. She said that students can't learn if teachers don't set up our classrooms to be warm and welcoming places, and that we have to work hard to ensure that we know our students well and can meet their needs.

That educational philosophy resonated with me. Although Hanan and I teach in different worlds, our love for teaching and our care for students make us kindred. But, like I always say, it's not just about me--so many teachers can feel pride in knowing that we are kindred with Hanan and that she represents us on a global stage.

Our visit was coming to a close when Hanan's students came back to the classroom from recess, rushing up the stairs, all smiles. They clamored to high-five Hanan, and, on her cue, they burst into a wild and joyful song.

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When I arrived at the airport in Tel Aviv at the beginning of the week, I asked my driver, who was born and raised in Jerusalem, what he thinks should happen between Israel and Palestine. I thought he might give me his opinion on "one-state" versus "two-state" or offer a different solution.

He barely paused before replying, "Love."

Okay, so. The conflict here has roots that are thousands of years old, and I am only beginning to scratch the surface of understanding it. I'm not suggesting that "love" is the answer that everyone else has somehow overlooked.

But as it tumbled around in my head, I started thinking about how it connects to my work as a teacher. So often, the work feels big and overwhelming and unmanageable. I have to remind myself to follow Hanan's example and remember that love has to have a central place in this work. Remembering that can make me brave. It can make me more willing to have tough conversations, to step outside of my comfort zone. It can make me empathetic when I feel like I've got nothing left or try again with that kid who I messed up with. Love isn't all we need, but it's a good start.

(October 20, 2017)

Sydney Chaffee