Meet the inspirational teacher helping children in conflict zones

Hanan Al Hroub grew up in a Palestinian refugee camp with her nine brothers and sisters. In 2016 she won the Varkey Foundation Global Teacher Prize for her work with children traumatised by violence

What inspired you to go into teaching?

‘Children brought up in conflict zones can go into their shells or become disruptive. When my own young children witnessed a shooting incident involving a family member, they were deeply traumatized and became fearful and withdrawn. They couldn’t face going to school so I treated them and taught them at home. We had professional advice from psychiatric specialists and doctors, but I found teachers here weren’t trained to help children understand and cope with trauma at school, where they spend so much of their time. So I read and researched all the expertise and guidance I could find in libraries and elsewhere. Then I applied what I had learned in new methods. I used play and the safety of the home environment to coax my children out of their fear. Progress was slow and it took a long time, but eventually they recovered their self-confidence and returned to school. The lack of support in our public schools spurred me on to go into teaching. I adopted non-violence as the central ideal for all that we do in school; it underpins everything. I use the slogan ‘no to violence’ and pass it on to my students, often without them noticing it consciously.

Which moment has been your highlight?

‘Standing on the stage at the Global Education and Skills Forum in March 2016, surrounded by so many wonderful teachers, I was amazed when Pope Francis announced my name as the winner of the Global Teacher Prize. I was so proud to be a female Palestinian teacher standing in that spotlight as the world looked on. It demonstrates that the world recognizes, believes in and respects my approach to education. It means the methods I have developed for teaching children living with trauma can gain a wider audience beyond Palestine. It shows Palestinian teachers can be creative, face challenges and compete with the best in the world, despite the circumstances of conflict in our homeland.

What are your goals for the future?

‘I have taught extremely traumatised children who with patience and over time, have come to grasp discipline and self-control through personalised attention, teamwork, parent-teacher conferences and just listening to what the child has to say. There have been noticeable improvements in 100% of these cases.  There are many wonderful aspects of being a teacher, but this is probably the most satisfying for me. I also emphasise the importance of play – we’ve made puppet theatres out of a clothes horse and built an orchard out of artificial grass. In Palestine, most high achieving students choose professions such as medicine, engineering, pharmacy and law right now. I want to encourage students to choose teaching as a career. It’s a privilege to spread knowledge.

 

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