My Journey from Iraq to CSUN

(Illustration/Kiv Bui)

(Illustration/Kiv Bui)

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When I was around 10 years old, I was a boy who did not like to study. This caused a lot of problems with my teachers, especially with my English teacher. My scores in that class were horrible. That made my relationship with my parents very difficult.

Finally, one day in middle school, I became tired of being in trouble all the time. I decided to consider the English class and I promised myself to fight this struggle and win! This battle was of course, without weapons, but instead of minds and I had to challenge my bad habits.

I fought hard and won! Not only did I become the victor, I grew up to become an English teacher in a small village primary school. After three years of working hard, I was transferred to teach English in a middle school very close to my old school.

The staff and students in both schools loved and appreciated me because I am very simple, friendly and sometimes I stayed at school to help with cleaning or fixing something. Yet I felt this was still not enough; so I transferred to a local high school near my home. Working in the high school was more difficult than teaching English in either primary or middle school. I had to work hard to be successful at my job. I had to read more, write more, prepare detailed lesson plans to meet the job’s requirements in high school.

I started to think about continuing forward to earn a Master’s degree in teaching the English language. This decision required me to think deeply. First, I have a big family, a wife and five children. The youngest was still only 3 years old. Second, earning a Master’s degree requires many things including money and time. It is a challenge, but the most important thing that I had to do was persuade my wife.

Although my wife now stands with me and supports me as I work to reach this level of education, at first she rejected the entire idea. She did not even want to discuss it because she knew that she would be taking care of our kids alone, as well other requirements without my help. Finally, I promised to bring her and our kids to California after I had been there six months and she agreed. On the day I left, all my family was standing at the main gate of our house. The last view I had was of my silent wife. Her eyes told me “please keep your promise.”

During my 14 hour flight, all I could think about was how I left my five kids and my wife, and how they used to see me beside them constantly, always ready to help. In that I kept thinking to myself: Was it going to be worth leaving them behind?

I arrived at California State University, Northridge in September 2014 to join the Master’s program in secondary education. I knew this decision required more challenge. It was hard being without my family and I wish I could bring them. In spite of facing hard and difficult days, I do not regret this choice since my study at CSUN has provided me with many benefits.

Even though I’ve taught the English language for a long time, I still face some difficulties in speaking because I talk with students in Arabic when I teach them English. This was a big problem for me in the United States, because the common language is English. Many times, I intended to leave and go back home, I felt I could not continue.

All my professors noticed that I would get upset and avoid communicating with anyone. The most difficult time I’ve expereinced, was when I had to share with my partner, and discuss some topics. I had trouble making myself understood.

One day, my professor advised me to read aloud and watch T.V. My professor said, you have five classes, and consider reality, like watching T.V. and reading, a sixth class. Over time, my speaking and listening improved. My classmates and teachers, became a huge support for me by giving me some strategies to help me communicate with them easily.

I have learned, that as a teacher, I have to prepare students to live life as scholars, not just to use school to do well on their test. Students should know how to find their own peaceful and bright future. Students should love schools, not flee from them.

I’ve always taught them this by using the techniques and strategies such as close reading, reading between lines and other various styles of reading and writing, which I have learned during my studies here at CSUN. With the new strategies I have learned here at this school I hope to pass it on to student when I teach English back home. In addition, I will allow students to use technology in the classroom which is much different from teaching it in Iraq, which forbids the use of technology.

Overall, obtaining my Master’s degree in English education has been a perfect way to enhance and advance my teaching skills and to become a more effective ESL teacher for my students. It will help me know how to lessen the difficulties that face ESL students in Iraq and it will also allow me to support other teachers and other schools.

Finally, an advanced teaching degree lets me be the better and more knowledgeable teacher I can possibly be. I now feel more informed and confident as I return to my country. I am proud to have earned my Master’s degree, through I am embarrassed that I had to break my promise to my wife but I know that the memories that I made here will last a lifetime.

Written by Thaer Al-Gburi