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At first glance, educator Yasmine Tahhan appears to be a somewhat shy though amiable woman. However, once you engage her, you soon discover her sharp intellect and passion for teaching. Miss Tahhan first caught Teach UAE Magazine’s attention after her impressive presentation on using differentiation in learning at the recently held Teachers’ Idea Forum in Al Ain. The stunning twenty-eight year old is tireless in her drive to ensure that her students are treated to topics that stimulate their interests. She does this by employing a variety of key techniques and strategies within her classroom. With over five years in the classroom, Miss Tahhan continues to challenge herself to think outside the box when developing lessons and engaging in personal professional development.  A graduate of the University of Aleppo in Syria, she began her career with KGs 1 and 2, then transitioned to teaching older students, mainly adults at the New Vision Training Center in Al Ain. She currently holds the position of Head of English Department and a teacher of English at Al Nasha’a Al Saleh Private School in Al Ain. We invite you to take a look inside her mind to be inspired by her “hidden powers” that are carefully utilised for ideas that work in the UAE classroom!

Why did you choose to become an educator?

I became an educator because I always felt like I had something to give and it allows me to inspire others and to share what I know.

Who inspires you most?            

There are actually a few people who inspire me. The first would be my parents. They are very encouraging and support me in all that I do. They believe in me in a way that nobody can imagine. My mom always says that she thinks that I have hidden powers and I haven’t unleashed all the powers that I have in me yet. Every time that I face some sort of difficulty in my life she encourages me to overcome it. Another person would be my university Linguistics professor, Mr Zafer Seiba. He encouraged me a lot and invited me to work with him in his center. My other inspirational source is my colleague and mentor Eli Ghazel. He works in TESOL Arabia. I am always looking for new techniques and new ideas. I always consult with him whenever I want to try a new technique in my classroom. He always helps me with research and in any way that he can. He believes too that I have hidden powers. I don’t know why people keep saying that to me (laughing). The last person is my previous coordinator and friend, Miss Jackleen. She is the most amazing example of a leader and we did some amazing projects together. We worked together for two years. We had a lot of fun, great success and so much appreciation from parents. When I decided to leave the school, my student’s parents didn’t want me to leave…

…But you had to spread your wings…

Exactly, yes. I want to gain all the experience that I need as soon as possible. Now I am not married. I am happy, single…happy (laughing). I have all the time to improve myself. If not now, then when?

What are some of the steps that you are taking to advance your career?

For the time being I am taking a CICTT (Cambridge International Certificate for Teachers and Trainers) training course with Focal Point Management Consultancy and I am taking TESOL (Teaching English to Speakers of Other Languages) as well.

How do you plan for differentiation in your lessons?

I depend on three main elements. I set my objectives, as any plan requires. I plan my differentiation on three main points ‘all’, ‘some’ and ‘few’. What all the students can do or achieve, what some of the students can do and what few can do. When you simplify it that way, you don’t think of high or low achievers. It makes it easier for you to develop activities and ideas.

What are some of the strategies that work?

I try different kinds of activities. I always try not to repeat the same activity because I know the students get bored. I keep in mind the pressure that they have with other teachers and other subjects especially at their age. Some of the techniques that I use are round-table discussions, ‘think, pair, share’, [and] three-step interview among other activities. I tried holding a debate the other day and they loved it. My strategy is that with each activity I use, I differentiate it so the same skill or lesson can be taught in different ways in order to get the students to be able to apply that knowledge eventually.

Tell us a bit about the Martin Luther King project that you presented at the recently held Teachers’ Idea Forum.

At the start of this term, we were studying an article in the literature book, ‘I have a dream’ and I thought it would be interesting for them. I knew that my students like to talk and share their opinions, so I knew that it would be something they would want to do. By chance, one of my colleagues mentioned that Martin Luther King’s Day was in January. It coincided with the day that I had general assembly in the morning. I suggested to the girls that we could do something related to the topic. They came up with the idea to do a Rosa Parks scene in the bus.

A view of the Marin Luther King project.
A view of the Martin Luther King Jr. project.

Did they dramatise it?

Yes. It was fun. One of the earliest challenges we faced was the language of the speech but they enjoyed it a lot. They had handcuffs, guns…plastic ones! (Laughing). They are not allowed to bring real guns to school! So they brought moustaches and set everything for the whole scene. They did the scene with Rosa Parks and a part of Mr King’s speech. They had banners and they were calling for freedom and equality. One of the girls acted like Mr King. She wore a suit and tie. It was very nice. They had one week only to prepare for the morning assembly and a photo gallery of the Washington march in 1963.

What were some of the surprises that the project revealed?

They were Grade nine girls and all the girls worked beautifully together even the shy ones. After the assembly, we had the exhibition and invited the principal and all the administrative staff. They had put a lot of work into doing the research, making the posters and banners. They used the laptop to play some of the speech remixes. They were so enthusiastic about it. The principal admired their work. The girls were so proud of themselves. I remember one of the girls coming to me afterwards and saying ‘Miss, we have never done anything like this in our lives before and I was not confident but today you gave me a huge push and I am so happy’. One of the other girls sent me a note saying, ‘thank you, Miss. You are doing a great job.’

That must have made you feel proud…

Oh yes, very proud of them. I am proud of what they gave us and how well they spoke. To be honest, I felt proud of myself too because I started teaching because I felt that I had something to give. Teaching is the most noble and rewarding job in the world yet it’s the hardest. So finally, when that happened, I was really proud like I had something to give and its there and I saw it! You put your efforts into planning, preparing the activities and lessons and yet the results of tests frustrate you when they don’t match what they’ve done in the classroom. So when you get such a result of your students, you get a bit disappointed and you feel that all your time has gone in vain. When you see good results, that’s when you forget all your tiredness and exhaustion and you just enjoy the moment.

I use a Twitter board as a kind of assessment or plenary at the end of our lessons to see if they have any questions.

Your Twitter board is a really innovative idea especially since young people use Twitter all the time. Was it your idea?

Yes. The students are very into technology in general.  I check it after they leave each day to see if they have any questions. It helps because even the shy students who don’t talk in class are posting Tweets.

What project do you have next?

We actually did one yesterday with my Grade 10 girls. We had a reading lesson about alternative medicine. The girls wanted to do a project about that lesson. They did a dramatisation of it. Dramatisation is interesting to some of the students and you have to know your students well before you choose an activity for them. I have done a small survey of my students to determine whether they were visual, auditory or kinaesthetic learners. So I can plan my activities better. Grade ten girls love to learn through music and drama. My Grade nine girls enjoy discussions and debating. They are really confident and sometimes support their points with research.

What is the best advice that you have received?

(Laughing) I have a few. My mom always says that I can achieve the impossible. I just need to organise my time and be more focused. My principal, Mr Naser always encourages me to never be afraid to try new methods. He says that we should go and try it and not to be afraid of a challenge.

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