Chaldean teachers on the lessons they’ve learned in the classroom
By Monique Mansour
Areej Hakim of Rochester Hills, Mich. has taught for 14 years. She now serves as a school counselor at Sterling Heights High School.
“My most recent position in teaching was teaching English Learners, or EL, for high school students. This was the most challenging and rewarding part of my career,” said Hakim. “I learned so much from our refugees…their bravery and insight are incredibly inspiring. Despite their monumental challenges, they are resilient. They are my heroes.”
For Hakim, teaching is in her blood. “My mom taught in Detroit Public Schools for more than 30 years. Her influence and dedication inspired me to help others, too,” she explained. “My brother and sister are educators as well. I’m also married to an educator. I feel fortunate to be able to communicate on a daily basis with these family members. Without their knowledge and guidance, I wouldn’t have been able to stay in the field of education.”
Hakim’s beginning years in the classroom taught her many lessons. “I learned that it’s okay to not know everything. You can always research and continue to learn yourself as the teacher, as you can learn just as much from your students,” she said. “I also learned that one has to dedicate a lot of time and energy into this field, but it’s so rewarding and fulfilling. It makes me proud when my former students reach out to me to let me know how they’re doing.”
Rodney Karromi was born and raised in southeast Michigan and is currently a resident of Novi. He’s currently a business teacher at Sterling Heights High School. “I decided I wanted to become a teacher in 2001. I realized that life is short and teaching could provide me with a good work-life balance, so I went back to school to earn my teaching certification,” he said.
Karromi’s overarching teaching philosophy is simple. “Be kind. During my first year of teaching, I primarily taught immigrants and refugees from Iraq,” he explained. “They were wonderful! It was a challenge teaching student in one class that were at so many different learning levels, but being kind and encouraging kindness in the classroom made for a fruitful educational experience for all.”
“If there’s advice I can offer to students,” said Karromi, “It would be the following: get involved at your school! Do your best, respect your elders, and always be reading!”
Karromi is also married to an educator, Raneem Jamil. “Rodney and I met at Warren Mott. We were married in 2008 and now have two children, Jude and Julia,” said Jamil. “I currently am a Language Acquisition Teacher at Warren Mott, while Rodney has been moved to Sterling Heights High School within our district. He teaches his students to be fiscally responsible, and I couldn’t be prouder.”
Jamil credits her Chaldean heritage for her ability to connect with students. “My Chaldean upbringing has become an asset to me since I started working in Warren Consolidated Schools in 2002. The Chaldean students at Warren Mott High School have treated me like family since day one,” she explained. “They confide in me when they need to because I speak their language and I understand where they are coming from. Over the years, my husband and I have even attended the weddings of former students. To hear their stories and to see the impact those years had on forming their futures…our cups runneth over!”
For Jamil, her work environment at Warren Mott feels like home. “From the amazing administration, to my fellow teachers, to the smiling faces of the secretarial staff that have greeted me for almost twenty years… when I go to them with an issue brought to me by an ESL student, it is handled with fairness and respect, no matter the size. For that I will always be thankful.”
Mary Ann Kassab-Ayar resides in Waterford, Mich. She’s married to her husband Raied, and together they have four children: Olivia, John Paul, Maria Rose and Adam Jude.
“I’m so proud to be a mother, a wife, and a teacher,” said Kassab- Ayar. “My mother was an ESL para-professional for the Southfield School District for 35 years. Growing up as an only child, I always enjoyed spending time with cousins and friends. I knew that I wanted a family and a profession that was family friendly. I worked my way through college as a hairdresser and manicurist with the goal of becoming an elementary school teacher. It took me longer because I had to pay for my own education, but the journey helped me become the teacher I am today.”
Kassab-Ayar looks forward to the beginning and to the end of every academic year. “September and June are my favorite months. Getting to know each child and embarking on our journey together in September is so special,” she explained. “June is bittersweet, as it’s sad to see my students go, but knowing that I had a part in their growth fills my heart with such joy! I look forward to each year and each child. I can make a difference in the world one child at a time.”
Teaching has many ups and downs, and for Kassab-Ayar, the loss of a student has by far been the hardest aspect of teaching for her. “I was blessed to have been Gabriella Mansour’s kindergarten teacher. She called me when she received her welcome letter. She was so excited and we had a wonderful year. She came to school every day with a smile on her face! She loved learning,” she said. “I recall the last day of school…she told me that she was going to miss me and that she would see me next year. Gabby taught me so much. She is a part of my classroom every day. I am forever grateful for the time I spent with her and for the lessons she taught me.”
Gabby and her brother, Alex, died in a tragic boating accident in 2013.
Hakim, Karromi, Jamil, and Kassab-Ayar all agree that teaching is a true vocation. For aspiring teachers, Kassab-Ayar offered the following: “God has chosen you to have an important role in the lives of many children that are not your own. You have been entrusted with molding them for their future…don’t forget what a blessing this is!”