Let us imagine this scene and ponder upon its implications: Salma has just graduated high school with a low GPA. She dreamed of studying Commerce, but her GPA did not enable her to do so. Only a few options were available to her; based on her GPA, the only spots available were in the colleges of Arts and Education. Either she joins the Department of Arabic Language and Literature or the Department of Sharia and both are in the college of Arts, or she could join the College of Education.
The college of Education was one of the few opportunities available to her for a higher education. Salma does not like Education and has never seen herself as a teacher; being a teacher is not her ambition. However, Salma chose that major despite the absence of love or enthusiasm for the field. To her, it was simply the lesser of two evils.
Salma is now in her third year at the College of Education, majoring in Arabic. She barely gets a passing grade in her courses but she is looking forward to graduating and getting a steady job at a school near her home. She also looks forward to the steady paycheck, to going home at 2 pm every day, and to the long summer vacation without having to teach.
Salma is a model who represents tens of thousands of Arabic language teachers today. Teachers that are not interested in education, not well prepared and lack enthusiasm for their craft. These teachers are, in fact, victims of educational systems and educational policies that did not put them on a right educational and career path and did not protect the profession of teaching Arabic in the Arab world.
The Arab world has many educational policies and laws that remain without proper implementation because those laws and policies lack teeth and without a segment of able implementers and enforcers; therefore, the percentage of education poverty in the Middle East and North Africa, according to the World Bank, reaches 62%, and this percentage is expected to rise even higher after the Covid19 pandemic.. Learning poverty is defined as the percentage of 10-year-old-students who cannot read and understand Arabic text at their grade level.
The grave importance of producing well prepared Arabic language teachers:
How do we reverse this frightening phenomenon of educational systems filled with poorly skilled, low-motivated teachers into inspiring teachers? I think that solutions are very much possible and attainable, and that preparing teachers who are inspired and proficient in their respective fields, especially the Arabic language, is very possible and quite important.
The importance of preparing excellent teachers in the Arabic language far outweighs the importance of preparing engineers and doctors. Only a bad teacher can break a child’s heart and ruin his appetite for knowledge. Only a bad teacher could make children and young adults hate the Arabic language, its culture, its symbols, and its spirit. He who hates his language, his culture, and the spirit of his language is a self-hater, and a self-hater is a ticking time bomb. The result is that children of the Arabic language fall into the arms of other languages that love them, do not make fun of them, and do not make them feel that mastering them is impossible. Children never forget, nor forgive. They may be silent, but they will never forget.
What can we do?
Preparing a good teacher takes 'an entire village', just as raising children needs 'an entire village'. How could we do that? Let us go over the following steps:
Pre-preparation of the Arabic language teacher
1- University admission criteria: setting (correct) educational policies related to admission criteria for the Arabic-language-teacher preparation programs. This includes raising the admission criteria to 80% GPA, and taking personal, psychological, and academic tests to qualify for admission to the Arabic-Language-Teachers Preparation Program.
2- Marketing the profession: marketing the teaching profession in general, and marketing the Arabic language teaching profession in particular. This includes continuous campaigns at the level of the Ministries of Education, Labor, Information, Culture, and Entertainment Authorities to adapt public thought regarding the profession of teaching Arabic and to brighten the image of Arabic language teachers in the media. In addition to marketing Education as a profession with a noble goal, and not as just a job, from eight am to two pm when we say goodbye.
3- Licensing teachers: setting the (correct) policies related to licensing Arabic language teachers.
4- Standards for the 21st Century: Setting standards for programs that prepare Arabic language teachers which coup with the 21st century standards and techniques.
5- Human resources: setting human resources policies related to teacher promotions and progression in the career ladder based on performance, training and continuous self-development.
During the preparation of the Arabic language teacher
1- Programs for the future: Reviewing teacher preparation programs, so we could have programs that prepare Arabic language teachers to deal with the present and the future and not with the past. Effective and efficient Arabic-language-teacher training programs should focus on the triad of: a) meaningful content, b) modern teaching methods, and c) intimate knowledge of the learner in terms of the physical, psychological and cognitive development of children and adolescents.
2- Practical Education: Make the component of practical education a third of the teacher preparation program, where they enroll in well-performing schools from their first year in university to notice how experienced teachers function and how they interact with students, and begin their journey in education from the first year in college.
3- General knowledge: In the Arab world in particular, and because students in general come to universities with poor skills and knowledge, we need to build their general knowledge in history, geography, philosophy, literature, culture, psychology, and the principles of public health and nutrition. Most of this general knowledge that students must bring from schools does not exist, and therefore teacher education programs need to qualify students in this field.
4- The principles (etiquette) of communication: Another area where we notice that high school graduates are lacking; everything related to the skills of communicating with others in a proper language, and in a tactful, professional and decent manner, which means that it needs to be included in teacher preparation programs as well as training in writing and speaking with the principle of “to every context a saying.” For example, it is not reasonable for me to address my boss in the same language and style that I use to address my friend, guardian or student.
5- Proper appearance: Students of Arabic language preparation programs need training related to good and decent appearance, starting from taking care of general health and nutrition, to grooming and the image that Arabic language teachers reflect to their students and society in general.
6- It is necessary to have a hobby: In the effective and influential schools (pre-university level), we notice that learning a hobby (playing a musical instrument, singing, sports, playing chess, assembling puzzles from a thousand pieces in 3 hours, Arabic calligraphy, carpentry, programming and others) is considered an essential part of the foundations of learning that is absent from the lives of the majority of Arab students. Learning any hobby should be an essential part of the Arabic-language-teacher preparation course. A teacher who is busy with self-development, scientifically and humanely, is an inspirational, influential, and heroic teacher.
After preparation of the Arabic language teacher
1- Support programs for new teachers: Imposing continuous support programs for new teachers in the first two years of their enrollment in schools. The support program should include continuous training, observation, and guidance by skilled trainers who act as 'companions' for new teachers.
2- Continuous training: Make the continuous and intelligent training of schoolteachers, a daily routine and a constant expectation to help the teachers reach optimum levels.
3- The habit of reflection: Where the teachers engage in individual and group reflection on their educational practices on a permanent basis to find thoughtful solutions to the challenges faced by their students and to push the entire educational process to new heights.