January 2022 – Ayman ElTahir

January 2022 - Ayman ElTahir

The January 2022 Panther Spotlight goes to none other than Mr. ElTahir, one of the Arabic teachers at Glasgow Middle School. Mr. ElTahir has been teaching for 10 years, all of which have been spent at Glasgow. 

He grew up in a small town in Sudan with his parents and four brothers, him being the youngest along with his twin. His father had a stable job working for the private sector however, by the 1990s the government situation in Sudan got worse and so his father lost his job. 

A few years later, the family came to the United States, Mr. ElTahir was only 15 years old at the time. He said, “It was one of the hardest adjustments I had to make because I still remember I was living in an apartment with my siblings. I did not know the people, I did not know anyone besides my cousins. It was a big shock because I grew up in one country with the same people around having the same race, language, and beliefs. I moved to a country where I have never seen this mix of people and not only that, but I had to learn a new language.”

A few years later, however, Mr. ElTahir graduated from Justice High School after doing multiple ESOL courses and pursued becoming an electrician after high school. After working as an electrician for close to a year, he realized he wanted to go to college and earn a degree in the field. So, he began studying electrical engineering at NOVA. Two years later, he realized he did not want to go into the electrician field anymore as he was more drawn to liberal arts. So, he went to George Mason University and graduated with a Bachelor’s Degree in Global Affairs as his major (Global Affairs is a mix of cultural, political, and language studies.)

At first, he had his heart set on working for the United Nations. “I really wanted to work for NGOs (Non-Governmental Organizations) and  those agencies and organizations that are designed to help countries with political issues, humanitarian issues, and conflict issues.” However, teaching was in the back of his mind as he was also a friend of the advisor of the Arabic club and Muslim club at Annandale High School when he found out that there was a job opening at Glasgow Middle School for an Arabic teacher.  He was skeptical at first but ended up applying and getting the job. “I didn’t have any idea what education was and what teaching looked like. I had never taught in a classroom. I did not major in education, so once they gave me the job, I had to take multiple education courses to get my teaching license. But, I’ve always loved kids and working with kids, so that was worth it for me.” He worked as a part-time teacher while getting his license and became a full-time Arabic teacher at Glasgow during his 5th year. 

Being an Arabic teacher though, he had no set curriculum to follow, meaning that he had to make all his lessons, tests, and classwork from scratch. However, once he started teaching, he felt like he was a part of something. “They always say that the first years are the toughest, but once you survive them, it’s all good. During my fifth year, I got comfortable. I got to know the kids and their families and I was really happy that what I was doing was really making an impact on my life and my students’ lives. For most of the kids, I really get to know them because I have from 6th to 8th grade. I get to know them and their families on a personal level. I was able to spend more time figuring out what my students needed. I got to know their siblings and it felt like I was becoming a member of a bigger family. I wasn’t coming here to do a job. I was coming here to spend time with a family that I was a part of which was very rewarding.”

When asked why he likes to teach, Mr. ElTahir immediately replied, “One of the secrets of doing this job is that Arabic is tough for middle schoolers from a non-Arabic background, but once you encourage them and slow it down, it isn’t that scary and they start succeeding. I see my 6th graders who can’t write Arabic letters, and then I see them grow up to become 8th graders who can write paragraphs and speak Arabic in full sentences. Seeing that is priceless.” Mr. ElTahir also hopes that his students learn to face challenges head-on and try their best. “The biggest piece of advice that I have learned from my experience is that life has challenges and these challenges are a part of your success and once you go through a difficult experience, don’t look at the pain, look at the reward out of that experience. You have to believe in yourself and learn to look at the positives and not the negatives. Even if they don’t learn Arabic the way I want them to, I still want them to believe in themselves and be aware that each of us has challenges in life but the best way to learn is to give it your best shot. Each challenge will help you learn about yourself.”

Outside of school, Mr. ElTahir does various activities in his free time. He enjoys playing soccer but as he’s grown older, he’s also started to love hiking and traveling. One of his favorite trips he’s ever taken was to Saudi Arabia. “It was just so peaceful. I truly felt cleansed after.” He also enjoys reading, watching documentaries, and playing video games.

Overall, Mr. ElTahir is an amazing teacher who has taught his students valuable lessons in not only the Arabic language and culture but how to face the challenges in life by putting your best foot forward and contributing to your community as well.