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M. Hassan (Grade 2 French teacher)

Monsieur Hassan: It Takes a Village


Growing up in a small African village, Daher Hassan imagined he would one day become a teacher.


"It was my childhood dream," says Monsieur Hassan, a teacher in Grade 2 French at the K-W Bilingual School. "My favourite subject was math, and I told myself that I would be a math teacher. Teaching is what I've always loved and wanted to do, and working with children is what I was most interested in."


Monsieur Hassan was born in the tiny country of Djibouti, bordered by Ethiopia, Somalia and the Red Sea. "It's on the coast of East Africa. Our village had a population of about 10,000, and everybody knew each other. We only went to school in the morning and in the afternoon we'd play soccer. It was like one big family."


It was that same "family feel" that drew Monsieur Hassan to the small-school culture of KWBS in 2008. "It really is like a little village where everybody knows each other," he says. "And that's what I really like about the school when you compare it to public schools, as we have a unique environment. And it's not like it's a small school - we have 400 students. And some of it comes from the families and the active role they play in the school. We have a tight-knit community of parents who volunteer regularly and they're always quick and enthusiastic to help out, whether it be hot lunch day or a field trip. That's a really positive thing that we don't always see in other schools."


It was after his wife made a visit to Canada and fell in love with the country that Monsieur Hassan and his family moved to Quebec. "In Djibouti, we are nomadic people, that's how I grew up," he says. "People just move on, like a caravan. And that's what we did, as we came to Canada for my wife to do a Bachelor of Education in Gatineau. So I did my Bachelor of Business Administration at the same time."


Monsieur Hassan had already completed his Masters of Business in France before his family settled in Waterloo in 2005. "My wife got a job at Ecole L'Harmonie in Waterloo, and I realised I could go on to do one year of teacher's college in Sudbury," says Monsieur Hassan, who studied at Laurentian University. "I had heard of the K-W Bilingual School and I wanted to know if there was an opportunity for me to teach, and Monsieur Poinot said, 'I've got a spot for you.' And when he asked me which grade I would like to teach, I said primary."


In Grade 2, emphasis on oral communication and building self-confidence in students is key to learning, says Monsieur Hassan. "All teaching is based on oral communication," he says. "For a lot of them, it is enrichment, but for some of them, they're just learning to communicate in French. I really love this age group, Grades 1, 2 and 3, what we call primary. It's an age where the children are like little sponges that just keep repeating and absorbing what they learn."


"And if you make a mistake, they'll point it out to you," Monsieur Hassan says with a laugh. "So along with greater oral communication, that same age group is also developing a sense of greater self confidence. We need to get every child to a point where they can tell themselves, 'I can do it,' because self-confidence is the most important thing in teaching, in order for them to progress. And once they develop that self-confidence with French vocabulary, they can succeed."


Monsieur Hassan says that creating a healthy learning environment by demonstrating our school's core values - care, honesty, compassion, responsibility and respect for others - is essential to connecting with kids. "At that age, children have a sixth sense," he says. "When I walk into the classroom, I check any negative emotions at the door, even if you spent the whole night up with the baby. In the classroom, you have to be happy and joyful and be as calm as possible."


"As soon as the children feel safe with Monsieur Hassan, they know the classroom is just like being home, where there are no judgments, everything is positive, and all children are treated equally. Even those kids with barriers who may be afraid to speak at first will develop as soon as they feel safe. I think that's very important, that the children see you as being happy with them, and you have to show it all the time in order to have a calm, creative, and joyous environment."


Monsieur Hassan is often seen greeting his students at the door each morning with a big smile and a ready joke. "Sometimes I'll try to be a bit of comedian, and try to look angry," he says. "But they know it's not true. Connecting with kids is all part of building their self-esteem, because it's not just the material you're teaching them in the classroom that's important. And I know that once they start Grade 4, their self-esteem is solid and well developed here at KWBS."


And though Monsieur Hassan has never taught kids in the higher grades, he has observed their emotional and intellectual development when he volunteers his time in the gym. "Starting in Grade 7 and 8, compared to other schools I've observed, our kids are very polite," he says. "If there are kids in those grades who would rather stay inside and play basketball during lunch, I'm happy to supervise them. And time and again, I see how genuinely courteous they are to each other, their teachers, and how they don't hesitate to hold a door open for the younger kids."


When not teaching, Monsieur Hassan is a man consumed by wanderlust. "I absolutely love to travel, it's my favourite thing to do," he says with a smile. "I traveled a lot when I was single, and went to places like France, Belgium, England, and Canada. I really liked being in contact with people from other countries, learning about their culture and how they live. Now I look forward to sharing these experiences with my own children."


Monsieur Hassan is excited to have a daughter starting in A Class at KWBS this year. "My children are one of the reasons I chose this career, so I could spend a lot of time with them," he says, beaming with pride. "This is something I got from my parents, who were always with us. So I would like to be with my kids, see them grow up and be friends with them. "


"To be with my children as much as possible, that's where my heart is, and that's always been my biggest dream. And that's what I'm doing - I'm living my dream."


Marshall Ward is a freelance writer and parent at the K-W Bilingual School. Many thanks to Shelly Davitsky for her help with translation.