Sunday,22 October, 2017
Current issue | Issue 1268, (29 October - 4 November 2015)
Sunday,22 October, 2017
Issue 1268, (29 October - 4 November 2015)

Ahram Weekly

A passion for education

Ameera Fouad meets English professor Jaidaa Gawad Hamada, one of Alexandria University’s most charismatic professors

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Al-Ahram Weekly

“My motto in life is whatever you do, do it with passion or don’t do it at all.” With these words, Jaidaa Gawad Hamada, an English professor at Alexandria University, opened up to Al-Ahram Weekly about her personal and academic life, her experience as a teacher, and her growing reputation among both students and professors.

Hamada is a graduate of the Faculty of Arts at Alexandria University and has held the post of lecturer at the university for more than ten years. Though still only in her mid-thirties, she has already proven to be an inspirational professor for a generation of students.

Hamada is the kind of professor whose lectures are shared many times, reaching a wide audience both inside and outside the university campus.

Teaching for Hamada is far more than simply a profession: it is a passion she pursues with all her heart. “Stepping into the classroom is akin to being ushered into a realm that allows me to escape from humdrum life,” she said.

“I love my students and feel I am bound to them by a sense of duty, one that I strive to fulfill to the best of my abilities. What is even more enthralling to me is that I teach something I have always been passionate about and wanted to study — literature.”

Studying in the English Department left an indelible mark on Hamada’s character and on her career as a teacher. “Throughout my four years of undergraduate studies, I was privileged to be taught by professors who fed my already-blazing interest in literature.

Moreover, they instilled in me ideals and principles that I have found to be indispensable in grappling with the act of living,” she explained.

Pursuing graduate studies was like opening the floodgates to fresh insights, and was one of the most important experiences that forged her character. “I was not spoon fed with information to memorise and pour out on the day of the exam,” said Hamada.

“Instead, I was encouraged to broaden my mind by reading, researching, engaging in class discussions and presentations, formulating my own viewpoint and adopting an individualised take on life that was not necessarily in conformity with what others hold.”

With many social media posts today talking about Hamada’s way of dealing with her own students, her fame has been growing.

Hamada surprises her students in every possible way, with cake being brought into class to provide a delicious diversion, or tips for exams handed out in the guise of sweets.

“They are all very spontaneous acts that occur on the spur of the moment. They all stem from my love for my students. Most importantly, what comes from the heart reaches out to the heart,” she said.

Hamada’s own startling elegance also stuns students each time she steps into the classroom, which is something that also makes her students look up to her. Her name is carved on the board of honour at the Al-Nasr Girls’ College in Alexandria, where she was as devoted a student as today she is a university professor.

“Anything I have accomplished in my life and any feats I am likely to accomplish in the future I owe to my parents. If any child had been helped by the utmost care and devotion, I was definitely that child,” Hamada explains.

“My late father, a renowned doctor, encouraged me to study literature. I believe a lifetime would not suffice to express how far I am indebted to my mother. Not only is she my mentor, role model, friend and confidante, but she has always been an inexhaustible reservoir of guidance and support.

“I grew up in a household with a library. I can visibly recall my early years before I had even learnt how to read and write. I remember times when my mother used to read to me daily. I was lulled to sleep by her reading. I remember all the nursery rhymes she used to recite to me, for example,” Hamada added.

Hamada doesn’t have a favourite writer or a most cherished book. However, she has moods or a predisposition to read particular books at particular times. “Emily Bronte’s Wuthering Heights is probably one book I never grow tired of. Elif Shafak’s The Forty Rules of Love has also been a great inspiration to me lately. Otherwise, I am perpetually shaped and reshaped by the experiences I go through in daily life.”

Hamada’s words help to motivate her students to go on to discover their true selves, even after graduation. “I believe in my students and I have faith in their potential for improvement, even if they appear to be unpromising,” she said.

Teaching is very much a shared experience, she added, saying, “I am learning from my students as much as they are learning from me. One duty I am entrusted with is to lay the groundwork for the students’ intrinsic talents to rise up, however.”

You do not have to spend much time with Hamada to realise that her relationship with her students is deep and based on mutual respect. She establishes a strong rapport with her students, but this is not allowed to intrude on her privacy.

“Being friendly with my students is not exclusive of the respect they show to me. You can be loved and respected at the same time. You can be friendly, professional and academic all at once,” she said.

“No matter how friendly I become with my students, I don’t allow my work to get mixed up with my private life. In a nutshell, respect is reciprocal: if you do not show it, you will not get it.”

For Hamada, today’s students are tomorrow’s business leaders, politicians, entrepreneurs, scientists and professionals. She believes we need to forge more bridges between university life and the needs of the workforce. Neither can function as an insular realm.

“Employers often complain that entrants to the workforce lack the skills essential for success. On the other hand, there’s no point in having high-calibre graduates that the workforce cannot accommodate. We need to redress such imbalances,” Hamada said.

On the state of education in Egypt, Hamada believes that rectifying the current situation entails improving the system at a grassroots level. It is a daunting and arduous undertaking that will not happen overnight, and will need the collaboration of all the country’s institutions.

In her view, education is currently caught up in a labyrinth of challenges and obstacles. “You cannot untangle one from the others, as they are all inextricably bound up together,” she said.

“But education is indispensable to every human being. It is a basic human right. It is a pity that it is accessible to some who are not keen on learning, hence wasting the country’s resources. We need to restructure the system so that it meets the needs of the country without being a burden on it,” she concluded.

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