(This article was originally published in the Press Register in August of 2012: see the article. )
Children are the same no matter where you go. They are the same beautiful, innocent, curious, and inquisitive creatures no matter the culture, the climate, or the politics. I learned that this summer, but it took going to the other side of the world to figure it out.
My name is Joe Gaston and I am a teacher who lives by the words of John Cotton which state, “Who dares to teach must never cease to learn”. I try to keep an open mind and remember that I can learn something from everyone. Sometimes I learn things from my colleagues, many times I learn things from my students, and I always learn something from my wife. As a teacher I am encouraged and expected to expand my knowledge through professional development opportunities during the school year and especially during the summer. This summer I was given a learning opportunity that I will never forget.
It started this past spring when I was asked to join a team that would create ExxonMobil’s very first international teachers academy. Under the direction and guidance of Dr. Joe Sciulli, we assembled a five day academy for upper elementary teachers in the country of Qatar. The whole process of putting the academy together was exciting and a great learning experience. The best part, however, was getting to go to Qatar during the month of June to be part of the faculty. It was an opportunity of a lifetime and one that helped this southerner expand his horizons.
I didn’t quite know what to expect when we arrived in Doha, the capital city of Qatar. Although I had the opportunity to travel to a few places and meet people of different nationalities when I was younger, my experiences with people from the Middle East were minimal at best. In fact, most of what I had learned about the Middle East and those of the Islamic faith came after 9/11. Needless to say I was a little concerned about how we would be received when we arrived.
I am happy to report that we were treated very well while we were in Qatar. The city was beautiful, the participants were delightful, and the academy was a success. Along with the revelation I mentioned at the beginning of this story, here are a few other things I discovered:
- All children want to learn through engaging activities that stimulate the mind, and will quickly turn their attention to other things when the teacher fails to provide them.
- It doesn’t matter if you are in the United States or Qatar; teachers face the same challenges in trying to educate their students. I was amazed to find out how much I had in common with my Middle Eastern counterparts.
- I now have a different perspective when I hear news of bombings and fighting in the Middle East that do not involve American troops. Now I wonder if the families of the teachers I worked with are safe. Those teachers are my friends. I have become irreversibly connected.
This summer the world became a little smaller for me, and for that I am grateful. I will always think fondly on my trip to the Middle East, but there was something else I learned while I was there: I love old, sprawling, shady oak trees and I miss them terribly when they are not around. I guess the saying is true: you can take a man out of the South, but…