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I found a great teacher! - My conversation with a Paper Airplanes tutor

by Moazzam Salman

A bored student staring out the window. A teacher droning about the structure of a cell, or the slope of a graph. A classroom that’s supposed to be a hub of excitement for learning new things about the world, but is instead chalk-full of indifference. Why is this an all too common occurrence? From my own experiences, I’ve started to believe that the root of the issue is a lack of connection; most teachers and students view the other as another unpleasant reality that has to be dealt with. I’m starting to think my hypothesis was accurate after speaking with Nour, a Paper Airplanes tutor who joined in the Fall of 2020. On a less cynical note though, we also think there is a clear fix. 

Originally Egyptian, Nour moved to the United States when she was just four years old. She is currently a sophomore at UPenn and is studying Psychology on a pre-Dental track. She decided to join Paper Airplanes through their website after hearing about it through the Penn Refugee Empowerment Club. She runs a speaking class at Paper Airplanes with her co-tutor Savannah Gamboa, using her past high school experiences leading conversational English classes for Syrian refugees in her local community. Nour’s PA class consists of four to five students of varying ages, but they are all older than her. She was initially nervous to teach the class because of this age gap but learned to become more confident after her mother, an Arabic professor, told her to think of her students not as people older than her, but as people of different backgrounds and experiences that she could learn from. 

In her speaking classes, Nour and her co-tutor show her students videos and articles on different topics, such as the role of technology in our lives. The group then talks about various aspects of the day’s topic through discussion questions on Google Slides. This gives the students more vocabulary on a variety of topics. Though she is helping conflict-affected students make better lives for themselves, she remains extraordinarily humble and claims that the credit goes to the students for seeking out opportunities to further their learning journey.

Nour feels lucky to have been able to learn English with relative ease at school, but knows this is not the case for many others like her. This is why she was driven to give back by joining Paper Airplanes. And she’s good at giving back too. She told us about a student in her class who initially had weak English but eventually saw a huge improvement in her language skills and confidence through individual attention and exercises. As we talk to Nour, I realize what makes her such a good teacher: the light in her eyes as she tells us about her students and class sessions, the grin that spreads across her face as she recounts the time her class played a pictionary game, her view that joining Paper Airplanes was the best decision she made in college. That’s what most teachers are missing. A teacher’s passion and connection to their students makes a world of difference. This is much easier said than done, but I think it could be possible if teachers attempt to understand their students better. Nour had initially been an immigrant in the United States, and by connecting on the “outsider” aspect with her students, she was a better teacher to them. If more teachers attempt to connect with their students, I think we’ll get more classes like Nour’s, where students are genuinely excited to come to class and learn.

About the author: Moazzam 

I am from Lahore, Pakistan and am currently in my junior year of high school. At Paper Airplanes, I write pieces for the blog. In my free time, I love robotics, reading, listening to music, playing sports, and spending time with my family.

The views and opinions represented in this post belong solely to the author of the blog post, and are not representative of the views and policies of Paper Airplanes and its staff members.

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