The First Educator: A veteran UNRWA teacher makes a warm first impression

05 October 2021
Mohammad al-Laham in his class in Damascus, Syria. © 2021 UNRWA Photo by Taghrid Mohammed.

Fifty-eight-year-old Mohammad is a veteran teacher who is very popular with his students.  He has been a teacher to first graders since 2001.  Mohammad was inspired to become a teacher by his brother, who has been his role model since he was a young boy. “Being in a classroom and watching a student have an idea and transform it into an outcome is so satisfying, this fulfills me,” Mohammad said happily. Is there another job like being a teacher? Someone who is completely devoted to creating the right opportunities for someone else to achieve their dreams?” he added.

“Having the honour to educate first graders and being one of the first teachers a child will meet, I have to make day one memorable. I am teaching the best grade ever, if not the most important year of the students schooling. This is where they acquire the basic deductive skills that they will build on,” Mohammad explained.  He always makes his students feel loved, special and secure. He follows a number of steps that help ensure students start off on the right track, including creating an inviting and festive environment in the class. “Using active learning is a great way for children to learn and interact with new information. I never enter my classroom without my laptop, I use it to show audio-video media to impart the knowledge to my students. I believe that teachers are critical to the future of our Palestine refugee students. Through our work we transform the lives of our students and their communities for the better. Teaching is all about building a relationship with your students," Mohammad said.

Mohammad believes in building a strong teacher-parent relationship in children’s learning journey. He has tutored his students in a variety of subjects after school hours. By going the extra mile, he has earned the trust of his students and their families. Further, this has enabled him get to know them and establish relationships with their parents. Despite his busy schedule, he finds time to inform parents about their childrens’ progress and discuss issues related to the problems confronts with his students, either in person or via WhatsApp. “Having an open communication channel makes it easier to discuss any concerns or other information with the parents. They also will be more willing to support you at home.” Mohammad explained.

Recalling the days when the schools were closed last year due to COVID-19, Mohammad said, “The situation overwhelmed students’ education and there have been many changes in our lives. By using technology like WhatsApp, things have become much easier. Our focus has been on teaching and providing support to students. Last year, I was proud to see our exceptional teaching rise to the unprecedented challenge of COVID-19. Our students were supported to study remotely, online. The students were provided with work sheets and other self-learning materials, developed by the UNRWA Education Programme. I am delighted to say that we have worked closely with the Field Education Programme to ensure the continuation of providing quality education to Palestine refugee children despite challenges of online learning and the unreliable internet at home." 

UNRWA joins the international community in celebrating World Teachers' Day to recognize the vital contribution that teachers, like Mohammad, make to education. Given the central role they played during the COVID 19 pandemic, this year’s theme “Teachers at the heart of education recovery” rings true now more than ever.

This World Teachers’ Day, we are celebrating teachers who served their students with extraordinary effort and care during COVID-19. More than one year into the pandemic, the theme ‹Teachers at the heart of education recovery› has never rang truer as it does now. As schools across the globe opened their doors to students for the first time in several months, empty, silent hallways were once again bustling with chatter and laughter.

To the more than 20,000 UNRWA teachers who ensured that their students› access to education never wavered, thank you. Their efforts to implement SDG 4, a quality education to Palestine refugees, even in the most unpredictable and trying circumstances, in some of the most challenging contexts of war, blockade and occupation were exemplary. From use of the UNRWA remote Self Learning Platform, to social media platforms to maintain constant contact with their students, UNRWA teachers are truly at the heart of education recovery.