Years in Education: 4-6
Film and Mass Media Community College Instructor
Q: What do you have in common with your students?
A: I am a product of the community college system. I emigrated to the US in 1994, and ended up in upstate NY. I was 19, nervous about being in a new country, and had no idea what I wanted to do with my life.
Community college was instrumental in my life. It introduced me to many academic fields that interested me (and some that didn’t). I enjoyed philosophy, and sociology. But it was theatre that won my heart and soul. It was theatre, and the teachers who taught it, that made me believe in myself, and pushed me toward success.
It is a rare occurrence when I get a student in my class who’s from the Middle East, so I don’t usually have any ethnic similarities with my students. But I have so much in common with my students.
Some of them are international students, and I recognize their difficulty in navigating a system they might be unfamiliar with, a culture that may seem alien, or a language that they haven’t quite mastered yet.
Some of my students don’t know what path they want to take in life, and may lack the confidence it takes to be successful. I know that feeling, and lived through many uncertain times in my life where I doubted myself. I’ve failed again and again on my way to success.
Some of my students go through these times of self-doubt. I know what that feels like. I had a full time job while going to college, and I took out student loans. It was difficult to make ends meet, and pay for college at the same time.
Some of my students are juggling college work, full time jobs, and kids. I know what that feels like as well. I’ve lived it.
I also share a love of culture with my students. Listening to music, (event though we may listen to very different things), watching films, playing video games, watching sports, reading books, and listening to podcasts.
There is so much that I have in common with my students. Community college is a wonderfully diverse arena that brings people from all walks of life together. It is a manifestation of what America looks like. If we listen hard enough, the similarities are deafening.
Q: Does it matter that students and teachers have things in common?
A: This question gives me pause. Because we all have things in common with our students and teachers. The question is how much are we willing to look for them?
It’s important for a student to see part of themselves in their teacher. It strengthens the personal bonds, and make it easier to succeed.
The best teachers I remember where the ones who truly cared. I had a teacher in grad school who took the time to read Thomas Friedman’s “From Beirut to Jerusalem” in order to understand my background, and what I and my family may have gone through before arriving in the US. That meant the world to me, and made me want to work harder. Because I knew that she cared. She showed me that even though we come from very different backgrounds, we both shared a sense of curiosity, empathy, and that longing for human connection.
A racial similarity with my students is an easy one to find. But I like to look for other similarities. And once I find them, learning and teaching become more enjoyable, and more meaningful.
In addition to being a teacher at Everett Community College, Zaki is also Humanities Washington's Program Director where he oversees the Think & Drink and Speakers Bureau programs which are held across the state in partnership with libraries, museums, schools, historical societies, bars and wineries, and more. Connect with Zaki on Twitter @ZakiSeapod and find his Humanities Washington events at Humanities.org.
Photo (c) 2017 Kristin Leong
Humanizing the gaps separating teachers and students.