I’m Gonna Tell You Anyway: all aboutthe world of education, consulting, life as a Muslim hijabi, and beyond!
Anyone will tell you that starting is sometimes the hardest part. You don’t know where to begin, what to do, how to do it. The internet has many resources: guides and gurus spilling advice on how to start, but finding your special sauce and rhythm takes time. I know I am still developing that.
Starting Altair: I began my journey when I noticed the lack of space provided to share my lived experience with colleagues and students. The questions asked, the constant explaining I had to do along with conducting mediations between Muslim students and staff were rewarding but still not enough. When I was the only Muslim hijabi in a room of thousands of educators, that also felt isolating. Although I was among the very few Muslim educators in the district, rarely was I allowed to showcase my skills during professional development to help educate my colleagues. Many times I was left on the fringes of not taken seriously or never looked upon to lead the charge to help expand on more culturally relevant pedagogy for Muslim students, which always left me frustrated, angry and defeated.
So out of darkness comes the light (the light bulb, that is)! My mantra will always be: what will YOU do with your anger? What did I do? I started my own consulting company with the hopes of broadening my horizons with my work.
Altair:Arabic for birds; symbolism for taking flight
Growing up was not easy. I was raised on the south side of Chicago, the second of six children in a bilingual, Palestinian-American household, and very conflicted. You try to straddle more than one world to survive. In my case, I always felt like I was straddling three worlds: American, child of immigrants, and my own.
American World: I always knew I was different. I didn’t “fit in” all of the time. As a child of the 80’s, all I saw around me via media was the notion that if a person was blonde, rich, and white, that was the dream of perfection drilled in my head as to what a true American was all about. Those images were all over the television, in movies, in songs, and even conversations among my people. My skin tone wasn’t the right shade. My hair was too coarse, and my clothing style never matched what was seen on television. These ideas seeped into my psyche for a very long time which caused a deep desire not to want to be part of the Arab/Muslim identity I was born into. Add to the mix the negative portrayal of Arabs and Muslims through the media to create an actual storm of conflicted/angry sense of identity.
Child of Immigrants World: I come from a solid Palestinian heritage. This was instilled in all of us from the time we were aware of our surroundings. We spoke Arabic at home, ate traditional Palestinian food, had an entourage of relatives (seriously, at one time, I had over 50 first cousins!), and watched endless movies about the struggle in the motherland. I was keenly aware of the West’s identity of my people, which was never positive, but I was proud of who I was. As I grew older, I struggled to decipher who I wanted to be and whom my parents expected me to be. This feeling is not unique to me at all. Many children of immigrants live their lives this way which can lead to unresolved issues later in life…but I digress. My parents wanted the best of what America has to offer for their children but all the while holding on tightly to the cloth of Arab identity that would carry on for generations (as was their hope).
My World: Even into adulthood, I do not think I have fully developed a true sense of what “my world” should be. When I am with Arabs, they say I am “too American.” When I am with Americans (non-Arabs especially), they say I am “American but with flavor.” I have accepted my fate that who I am as a person reflects whom I want to be that makes me happy. My many personalities truly reflect how one takes pieces of all their worlds to create their own identity.
My worlds lead to teaching:
Becoming a teacher was my way of giving back to a community that gave me so much. The area where I grew up is one of the largest Palestinian American communities in the United States. That alone shaped my sense of identity, community, and purpose, so becoming a teacher was the sure way to provide my own lived experiences with the youth.
I was always drawn to schools with a large diverse student body. I gravitate towards them so much! Maybe it’s because I feel more of a sense of kinship? Perhaps it’s because I can relate to many of the struggles/issues some of the students face? And maybe I believed that if I could provide a face that reflected who my students were (or at least was a person who came from the global majority), students would connect? All of those came to be true when I began. Although many of my students have never been in contact with a Muslim hijabi, they did form a connection to the idea that “doing you and being proud” was what they understood. That is what was most important for me.
The work continues:
As I mentioned, starting Altair came out of need. That need continues. I prepare professional development and curriculum materials along with helping build student Affinity Groups that revolve around Arab and Muslim students. All of the work I do is to ensure that ALL students benefit. My dream was to take my own lived experiences to help create a pathway for younger students who are trying to navigate the world around them, and who are also trying to straddle their worlds. The one constant that is the foundation of all of my work/goals is creating a safe space where children can be who they are without any fears.
As a first-generation Palestinian-American Muslim, my lived experiences have given me the desire to work on amplifying learning environments for all: students, educators, and community members. I believe in maintaining a positive mindset, creating partnerships with a purpose, and striving for significant outcomes.