Allah’s Messenger (PBUH) said:“Allah and His angels and the people of the heavens and the earth, even the ants in their rocks and the fish, pray for blessings on those who teach people good.” He also said: “The best of you are those who have gained knowledge and teach it.” In both these hadith heavy emphasis is placed on teachers, as Islam acknowledges that through education and teachers people and nations are elevated. It cannot be denied that what Qatar has managed to achieve in development would not have happened were it not for the improvement of its education sector, and the culmination of the hard work of many teachers who have contributed greatly to this improvement. Many have spent night correcting HomeWorks and creating class plans that could benefit the students, and have even went beyond their job description by raising generations of young leaders. Most importantly, they have invested their energy in a manner that would be both beneficial to them and to the society by planting the seeds of love and belonging in the hearts of the students. As a result, Qatar is constantly reaping the fruits of the teachers’ labor through young Qatari’s who carry this knowledge and the values with them into the workforce. Fatima Rabeah Al Kuwari is one of the contributors in the steps Qatar is undertaking in elevating education; through her service as an Arabic language teacher and coordinator in several schools (currently at Amna Bint Wahab Highschool) in her long journey, she managed to help many girls realize and develop their abilities and talents. She is one of the leaders that help in shaping the Qatari community and tries her best to leave a positive impact on her student. So, who is Fatima Al Kuwari?
I always present myself, to those who meet me for the first time, as an Arabic teacher called Fatima Rabeah Al Kuwari. And I always end my introduction as “a resilient teacher from the good old generation and shall always be a teacher.” I deeply believe in the importance of my job in life. I often get asked: “How much longer will you endure working in the education sector go?” and I always answer with the saying: “the tree dies standing.” The core of my identity has been shaped mainly through my career in education rather than through motherhood or my family and friends, as this profession provided me with more than just a career and a salary, it gave me purpose. I graduated from Qatar University in 1996 with a bachelor degree in Arabic language, and after that I got appointed for the first part of my career as a teacher in middle school then moved to teaching in high school. In this career path, I have taught for almost 22 years. Outside the school, I also acted as coordinator of extracurricular activities, coordinator of Arabic debates, president of the journalism and radio group, a member in several committees inside and outside of the school that specializes in judging several competitions that are specific to the Arabic language such as: Arabic language competitions, creative literature, poetry, and short stories. I was also a member of the first committee of consulting teachers for the Ministry of Education and Higher Education.
What encouraged you to enter the field of education?
I initially wanted to be a nurse for the elderly, as I had a tremendous desire to give back and take care of them. However, because we grew up in a conservative culture, I was not able to obtain a nursing degree. Thus, I searched for other degrees in which I can give back to other groups and that met the conservative nature of the society. Due to being influenced by my teachers, who supported me and ingrained the importance of shaping nations and individuals through education, I decided to enter the College of Education with a focus on geography. After majoring in geography for a whole year I felt like it was not the most ideal choice for me, as it did not truly reflect my personal interests, and so I transferred to the Arabic department. I found in the profession of education an alternative profession that gave me the ability to give back, and I do not ask for compliments or appraisal to gain the feeling of satisfaction for giving back. I also refuse to be awarded for my work, as the famous Antara has always expressed my motto best: “Those who witnessed the war will tell you that I am generous with high spirits without waiting for any prize.” I do not wait for any recognition or reward, because I have a degree of appreciation for myself and I often evaluate and reflect on my own work. As a result, I do not need praise or scorn, as they do not often apply to my personal judgment of my work and accomplishments. In order to not to be misunderstood, what I mean is that many of the work I do others might see it as praiseworthy and perfect while I know that there are shortcomings in it. So, I do not accept praise over what is not well executed because I know it could have been better. In contrast, there are tasks I have done with a high degree of accuracy, quality, and creativity that is received negatively that I do not agree with. As a result, my self-reflection and my personal feel of quality is my real scale of praise or criticism.
What did you learn from your experience in the field of education?
Being a teacher made me self-reflect more than ever. On the one side, I reflect on the nature of the subject I teach and the changes that come about every generation. I would reflect on the progress I have made on my vision and philosophy of delivering traditional education through modern and fun means. In order to achieve this vision, I had to constantly adapt my teaching methods to the latest changes. There is an unordinary shift from the previous generation I taught to the present one, such as the technological change that has played a huge role in influencing students’ behavior. To be able to communicate effectively with the students in a manner that meets my vision and instill good values in them, I have to look into all that is new in the teaching field and attempt to engross it into my teaching style. I also learned that the two most important factors that elevate a teacher are love and loyalty. My love, loyalty and respect towards my job are reciprocated by my students’ love, loyalty and respect towards me. I also have also grown to believe in the importance of adjusting the curriculum for each student and finding the appropriate methods in teaching them. As a result, I have placed importance on diagnostic exams, for they help me learn in depth about the abilities of my students – for example, if they depend on visual or sensory education. On this basis, I adjust my style in order to communicate the information more effectively. I also learned that my role goes beyond teaching, because at the end of the day I am a mentor, a teacher, a friend, a parental figure to these students. My philosophy stands on the idea of the student feeling that their teacher is there for them in their hour of need in any form. A mentor when they need guidance, a teacher when they need education, a loyal friend that will not give up their secrets and helps them, and a parent that cares about them.
Did you face any obstacles as a teacher?
When I get asked this question, I remember the poet’s saying: “The hyenas have multiplied on Kharashah … Kharashah does not know which one to catch” The challenges are no longer a surprise; they appear almost daily, and in more comical and ridiculous manner especially given how often they pop up. Obstacles come from various places; from family, from the scope of the work itself and from outside the scope of the work. First and foremost are the challenges I face as a working mother, caring for and raising my children I have faced a lot of pressures from my work. Sometimes, I would feel that I am short on fulfilling my duty towards them as a working mother, especially when I needed to prepare summer classes and activities at home or even administrative work, which takes from the time I normally devote to my children. So, I try to make up for lost time as best as I can and have prepared a schedule that would list my tasks according to its priority that I would often finish after spending time with my kids. At times, this would be after they go to sleep, and even when it causes me fatigue, I still feel satisfied for fulfilling both my role as a mother and a teacher which would help me to continue. In terms of the scope of the work, it has been challenging to finish teaching the curriculum in the time allotted in a manner that still retains a good sense of quality. Challenges in work also come from: filling in for other teachers when their absent of absent teachers, in practicing my job while also being a coordinator of bigger departments that need constant development of plans, teachers and activities. I also face challenges from administrative work, as working in a school does not just mean teaching students but is also mixed with a lot of administrative tasks that involves committees.
As for challenges outside my scope of work, it mainly comes from interacting with the decision and policies pursued by the Ministry of Education and Higher Education. Some of these policies do not exactly match my way of thinking, or even my philosophy towards education. Yet I still try my best to work with these policies and adjust accordingly so that it still goes along with my own philosophy, so that the value of my lessons is not lost to my students while still complying with the rules. The reason why I still hold on to my educational philosophy is because it did not just come about out of thin air, but instead, it is the result of years of culmination of information and versatile work experience that developed this conviction. I usually communicate with the Ministry to reach some sort of middle ground that allows education to benefit from their policies. As a result, my participation in the first edition of Teachers’ Advisory Committee I was able to express the opinions of teachers, their worries, and the changes they would like to see enacted. I have also tried to translate the reality of the classroom environment to this committee, from ideas on what it lacks, what needs renewal, and what kind of policies need to be re-evaluated. As a result of our efforts, we managed to reduce the school hours for both students and teachers. We have also managed to cancel the vocational file required for every teacher and made obtaining Teacher’s License to teach more attainable by changing the requirements (allowing them to attain it by simply letting a supervisor from the ministry observe a lesson). As a result, the number of those applying for a Teacher’s License increased significantly. We have also contributed to the improvement of electronic education and lowering the pressures placed on teachers in terms of uploading content on the electronic platform which have retain great benefit to both teachers and students.
Beyond the classroom do you enjoy any other initiatives?
My educational philosophy includes looking at extracurricular activities as the main way of achieving systematic classroom plans, and strengthening the system of values and morals that I always strive to prioritize. I focus on activities that help in developing leadership qualities in my students in a practical way, as anyone can preach about leadership qualities but for it to be instilled in students it has to be acted upon in practical way inside and outside of the class. So, I try my best to plant it in the hearts of my students through the selection of projects and events that allows me to test these skills, and see whether I have successfully imparted it on them. The first project I have ever worked on, which I believe had an impact, was in 1997 where I founded the journalism and radio group in my school. I would conduct meetings, and pick talented students who showed an inclination towards writing and speaking. I would then showcase their results by spreading their newspaper on the wall, or by talking about it in the morning assembly. I have also conducted meetings in which I would teach them the ABC’s of journalism such as: how to write a column, a diverse set of articles, how to comment on news, how to conduct excellent interviews. I even went as far as to print their newspapers in the format of actual newspapers that are sold in the local market such as “Al Raya”. I then tried to further their development by getting in contact with journalistic organizations such as Qatar Center for Media Freedom, who helped in ensuring that the seed I planted as “the “Sahafiyat Sakheerat” (small journalists) flourished. The biggest extracurricular activity that I have paid great attention to was Qatar Debates. My first interaction with them has been through the participation of my students in Amna Bint Wahab in the first Arabic high school debates in 2013. Previously, most of the debates were conducted in the English language. Through hard work and diligence of the students (after the blessings of Allah) we were able to land both first and second places. In my opinion, the important shift in the quality of high school debates in Qatar came about when my school got the opportunity to host the championships in 2014. In the past, the tournaments were conducted in a mixed environment (both males and females participated), but when Qatar Debates asked us to host the championships and we agreed on the condition that we segregate the debates. The main driving reason behind this condition was to give all Qatari girls the opportunity to participate in this competition, because at the end of the day we cannot deny that our society is a conservative society. The fact that the competitions were mixed prevented many girls from participating and showcasing their talents and abilities in the art of debating. Once we made that transition the number of Qatari girls participating grew significantly. The biggest achievements of this tournament were of my school acquiring the title of “perfect host”, and for the school team to land first place. For the second tournament, Qatar Debate asked us to host again and we decided to invite the Minister of Education (at the time), His Excellency Mr. Saad bin Ibrahim Al Mahmoud, to be the guest of honor. I insisted on inviting the highest person in the pyramid because I believe that the Ministry must be in constant contact and support of the girls’ creative outputs. He was amazed by their capabilities he even said that he never expected that the girls of Qatar have reached this level of brilliance.
My interest recently has also been placed on positioning Qatar higher up in the scope of international tests, more specifically in PISA. The scores Qatar receives are usually low, and it does not truly reflect the improvements in the quality of education that has been made. Qatar has made strides in improving its education levels and has placed a lot of effort in it to help fulfill Qatar’s 2030 vision. These low scores are the result of the students not understanding the importance of these exams, and its role in placing Qatar on a higher rank internationally. After the blockade, I concentrated all my attention in raising the PISA scores of students in Qatar, as I wanted to repay my country back through this exam. I started my own initiative in which I pitched a motivational campaign to the 15 schools that were undertaking the PISA examinations. Against my will, I cried after my first visit as I saw how enthusiastically the students wanted to give back to their country. All of them have promised to perform their best in the exam and will uphold the responsibility of representing their country more seriously. After the exams where conducted I have contacted the main office to inquire about the results, and have been pleased to hear that there seems to be a vast improvement and positive responses from Qatari students for the first time. I thank Allah for this improvement instead of myself, for without his support this would not have been possible.
What is your advice for women in Qatar?
It is not advice that I give but something that I tell myself before anyone else: Firstly, one must know that life only mentions those who have a distinctive imprint in it, especially if that imprint is beneficial to others and the homeland. Secondly, people must know that loving and giving in life gives rise to a beautiful feeling of satisfaction that is only felt by the owners of generous souls; whose motto is motto is always that good deeds are not forgotten by Allah and people. Finally, the wise are those who practice good morality, who are kind and speak kindly of others, and who are always asking mercy from Allah.
- Interview written by Al Anoud Al Kuwari.
- Interview was edited to improve readability and flow.