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Spotlight on teachers: Reem Nashef - Science

Wednesday 10 June 2009, by Frances Simmons

Reem has been teaching Science and Geography at WAS-NS Primary School since she and her husband, Youssef, and four children moved to the village in 2000. Reem teaches Science to grades 3 and up, sharing responsibility for Science teaching with Hadas Harel, who teaches the younger classes. She also takes part in the administration of the school, where she is in charge of Pedagogy.

Science lessons are varied and encompass all the scientific disciplines of Biology, Chemistry and Physics. The class gets theoretical instruction and practice, as well as time for practical experiments once or twice per week, where they can test things such as, in Chemistry, how different rocks react to acid. The class is usually given a project to work on at the end of each topic, which is intended to consolidate their knowledge and of course make the subject fun! Future investments for the science room will hopefully include a projector screen, an internet resource for the children to fact-check, some equipment for learning the anatomy, some extra storage space, and a ventilation system so that chemistry experiments can be carried out inside the Lab, instead of outside the classroom.

Science plays an important part in the life of the school. For the recent ‘Green Day’ the children were given projects to do using garbage, that related to the topics they had covered in class. The third grade had been learning about magnets and matter, so they produced “magic magnetic mazes” to wow the visiting parents and the other children; the fourth grade had been studying animals, so they were in charge of making all kinds of animals out of junk. The fifth grade class were commissioned to create an invention for something that they needed in their house, or something for their mother, meanwhile the sixth grade was working on building robots. For the annual ‘Science Day’, which will be at the end of June, the children will be able to choose an experiment that they have learned earlier in the year, or a new one that they want to try. They will prepare it and present it to everyone on the day, when the first and second graders get the chance to see what the older kids have been learning about.

Born in Netanya, Reem has spent many years living outside Israel. Thanks to her schooling and the influence of her parents, she is fluent in four languages. Her experiences and skills show in the way she communicates with ease and openness with people from all walks of life; and is especially apparent in the binational atmosphere of Wahat al-Salam/Neve Shalom. Known as a wit but with an unmistakable, innate kindness and fondness for the children and the subjects she teaches, Reem is part of the school’s most valuable asset; its teachers.

Early in life Reem moved to Jordan with her English-teacher father. Her father’s job eventually took them to Saudi Arabia, and finally back to Palestine for good, where in 1972 she and her family took up Jerusalem residency. She was taught in an American school in Saudi Arabia and Palestine until her parents decided to enroll her in a convent school where she was tutored by English nuns. In the 80’s, Reem graduated from High School and went straight to the Hebrew University to major in Chemistry. This was where she learned Hebrew for the first time, never having been taught the language in her Arabic schools. After completing her degree, Reem returned to her old school to teach English and Science. For some time, she also taught English in state schools in Jerusalem.

Marriage, the first Intifada, three years in Germany; when the young family returned to Palestine in 1992, they found that a lot had changed. Reem began to work with an educational program called ‘Creative Thinking for East Jerusalem’. When WAS-NS finally approached the family, they were offered a place on the condition that Reem teach at the Primary School. All the children joined the school, and her youngest son was even in her homeroom class for three years.

The third grade was famous among the teachers as a class full of “crazy kids”. No one wanted to take them on, so Reem decided to take responsibility as it was her son’s class. Modestly, she states; “I went in and I changed it a little bit, I think.” Reem says that her approach is not strict, as it was in her own school days. “Look, I’m not a very strict teacher, I might shout sometimes...” Her philosophy lies in the children being motivated to want to learn, and that the motivation should come from her passion for the subject, that it can be fun: “I want them to have fun, for them to know that science can be fun, that teaching them is fun [for me]”. Exams don’t need to play a big part, they usually recap and test on the spot what was taught in the last lesson. “That’s my way”, she says, which is the opposite to the stressful way she was taught in the convent school, with lots of pressure and no jokes or smiles.

I ask Reem if she had to change the way she taught when she came to WAS-NS.
Something that stands out when you watch Reem teach is her ability to pursue a point and lead the pupils to the right answer, with patience and sensitivity. I watched the children learning about weather and the precipitation cycle, and how each child wanted to put up their hand and answer.

Reem mentioned how the challenges that coming to WAS-NS, a bilingual, bi-national school posed affected the way she connected with the children she taught. Indubitably it is challenging to approach teaching this unique group of children consistently and constantly with balance and an open mind, and always to consider the other narrative. Reem explained to me how this multiculturalism caused her to become aware of her own patience. There existed a need to be sensitive to each nationality, to each child, to which she had the ability to respond.

Ultimately, Reem is a teacher who empathizes with the children she teaches. You can feel that she puts herself in the child’s shoes, and that she can remember what it’s like to be a child; a remarkable, rare thing. ‘I became Jewish, and Arabic, and a child,’ she says, ‘and when you’re around children, you never grow old.’

And at the age the pupils of WAS-NS Primary School are now, how effective, how deep does this education go? “All they care about is playing outside!... When there’s been a problem in class, and I say, ‘Let’s go and do something together outside’; all their quarrels are forgotten.”

“You do hope that when they do grow old, they’ll remember these good days.”

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