When a Teacher Becomes a Friend
“Creating an educational environment where students feel at home regardless of their specializations is an integral component of the educational process, and it is the teacher responsibility to make sure this environment does exist under any condition. That’s what I always seek in my profession!”
- Mr. Baker Isthayeh
An-Najah National University has a group of professors, who take the lead in creating a good atmosphere for University students by being their coaches, rather than lecturers, during their educational journey in order to help them overcome any obstacle and feel more than welcome.
Mr. Baker Ishtayeh is one of the most passionate and respected teachers in Palestine as he has his own style at work. He selects a style that addresses the needs of diverse students at different learning levels. He said: " As a teacher you can make a difference, discover potentials, and inspire others by influencing students’ views and understanding. Also, you’d help them develop behaviour, adopt creativity, view the world in a positive approach, and find the potential they need to lead a productive life."
Mr. Ishtayeh obtained his Bachelor’s degree in Public Administration from Mutah University in Jordan. Soon, in 2005, he moved to Palestine to pursue his higher education and do his Masters’ in Economic Policies Management at An-Najah National University.
After finishing his studies, Mr. Ishtayeh was assigned the position of a part-time lecturer at the Department of Economics, and it wasn’t so long before he became a full-time teacher in his second semester of teaching. Today, he has become the chairman of the Department of Economics at An-Najah National University, head of An-Najah’s Networking Committee with Private Sector, and head of College Major Committee. It is worth mentioning that Mr. Ishtayeh was elected the best academic twice at the University level.
Apart from his job at An-Najah, Mr. Ishtayeh is also an author, editor, and economic analyst at both the Al-Jazeera channel and at the Palestinian Economic Council for Development & Reconstruction (PECDAR), not to mention occupying the position of a credit coach in the field of media economics. Further, he is a main researcher at the Palestinian Economy Policy Research Institute (MAS), and since 2017 he has been a member of the General Union of Palestinian Economics.
Relationship with Students
" Teaching is more than just receiving a paycheck. It’s a satisfying career knowing that you’ll get the honor to make a difference in students’ lives. You’re interacting with students and community members from all walks of life, therefore, you’ll get a better understanding of current society and activate the creativity in you." Mr. Ishtayeh said.
Mr. Ishtayeh’s main goal is to build relationships that have a foundation of trust and respect. He said: " In my experience, building relationships with students promotes a positive learning environment, helps to build our classroom community, and is probably one of the best investments we can make with our students."
Mr. Ishtayeh’s focus does not only revolve around delivering knowledge to students, but also showing them that, whenever they are in distress, there is always someone there for them. He believes that communication with students, be it via face-to-face or online meetings, is the key factor to help them avoid feeling lost and misplaced, especially in their first years, because they are still wet behind the ears. In other words, they haven’t yet gotten out of the circle of school students
“When I was a student at Mutah University”, he said, “I enrolled the Students’ Council for two years”. Since then, Mr. Ishtayeh served on several committees related to student enrollment and registration at the university. Consequently, he touched the problems and difficulties almost every student faces during his/her university years.
" The more you teach, the more chances you have to give back to the community and contribute to influencing the minds of future leaders, game-changers, innovators, and movers. Especially if you’re leading by example, you can be sure your students will turn out to be their best selves." Mr. Ishtayeh said.
Mr. Ishtayeh assists students at An-Najah by presenting on campus at times of registration. He guides freshmen who are planning to enroll the Faculty of Economics and Social Sciences to choose their specializations based on their preferences, personal interests, and expectations of the specializations they are thinking about, and he helps them during the registration procedure as a whole.
He said:" The teacher plays the role of mentor, role model, counsellor, career guide, friend and third parent. A teacher contributes a major role in the personality development of a student."
" Students look up to their teachers, especially if the latter is able to establish a strong relationship with the former. Teachers are responsible not only for educational enrichment. You constantly connect with your pupils and commit to reaching out to them at all levels." He added.
By time, students started to consider Mr. Ishtayeh to be someone close to them and to make resort to him whenever they need. He has become their older friend who advises them, listens patiently and carefully to them, and offers solutions to their problems. Mr. Ishtayeh believes that “A teacher has to be fully aware of the problems and challenges their students go through, be them personal, financial, etc”. Therefore, he keeps his office widely open for them so that any student who needs guidance would visit him there to look for a solution together.
He said" A successful mentor guides students in a variety of ways: by helping them get the most from their educational experience, by introducing them to and making them comfortable with a specific disciplinary culture, and by offering assistance with the search for suitable employment."
The reason why Mr. Ishtayeh loves to help students is that, as he explained, “a student’s smile after they confide their feelings and concerns to me is priceless.” He added:" The verbal gratitude from parents and students whom you’ve influenced positively is plain priceless. In fact, teachers are being looked up to not only by students but also by people surrounding them. Since they do a good job in shaping the future and molding the minds of youth, they effortlessly create positive relationships as they continue to interact and influence the younger generation."
“The Deanship of Students’ Affairs alone is not enough,” Mr. Ishtayeh asserted, “the cadres responsible for scientific research and those for the academic affairs should also be in charge of caring for students.” As a result, students’ sense of belonging to the University becomes attributed not only to their academic achievements and excellent performances, but also to the social engagement and interpersonal aspect of University life. Students love to feel welcome and prioritized, and that the University is willing to support them.
Outside the classroom borders, Mr. Ishtayeh’s relationship with students is so friendly, but does that entail that it is the same inside it? “Let us not say that it is not as friendly,” he said, “but we do respect the classroom conduct and limits, and we do not jump behind them during lectures.” To Mr. Ishtayeh, the “friends” concept should never blur the borders of the teacher-student relationship.
He added:" A teacher is the pillar of every classroom. This means you’ll be the one to decide on what’s best for your students and how you intend to design your lesson plans. While it is necessary to follow the outline of your curriculum, you still get the freedom to infuse your own personality as you ace your way to teach."
Mr. Ishtayeh also takes into consideration individual differences among students. For that particular reason, he prefers to start teaching in his class by simplifying concepts, so that he guarantees the weak ones fully grasp the idea, and then he gradually transfers to the more challenging levels of thinking. Doing so, he manages to produce professionally-performing students with the knowledge, qualifications, and analytical skills needed in the labor market.
“It is not only about what to teach, but also how to do so”, said Mr. Ishtayeh. This way of giving lectures prompts a lovely atmosphere that students genuinely enjoy Mr. Ishtayeh’s courses.
As an economic analyst, Mr. Ishtayeh provides the labor market with economic reports or forecasts for the economy by using large amounts of economic data to develop economic models. Fulfilling his duties and responsibilities as an economic analyst, often requires both math and programming skills, as well as the ability to either collect or access large amounts of financial data.
One of the things that Mr. Ishtayeh enjoys doing as a lecturer at the University is developing and designing new programs and study plans, and editing already existent ones by adding what is compatible with what the market calls for and removing what is no longer applicable. This leads to keeping pace with the economic developments and enriching students with as much new and developed sciences as possible.
A very remarkable contribution by Mr. Ishtayeh is developing and designing a new course titled Economic Journalism for the Faculty of Economics and Social Sciences’ Major in Communication and Digital Media, Minor in Economics program. Based on the fact that the number of economic journalists is very few in Palestine, that is to say, only two, this course can make a paradigm change in the labor market and provide graduates with unique jobs.
Mr. Ishtayeh believes that “Economics should be a popular science, not elitist.” In other words, economics should be intended for not only those specialized in economic fields, but also for novice people. He added: "Those studying economics should have the talent of turning a very complicated number into a simple idea so that everyone could understand, and “that is the essence of creativity!”
Advice to Economics Majors
Mr. Ishtayeh starts his first advice by refuting people’s claim that, while a great deal of specializations is highly demanded, others have no future in the labor market. “Nobody can ever assure that graduates of specialization X have no job opportunities in the labor market Rather,” he went on,” there is a room for all with no exception.”
Although it is true that the market is saturated with all specializations, there are opportunities for those who prove worthy. “In order to be worthy,” Mr. Ishtayeh put forward, “one has to be determined and to spend greater effort by multiplying the hard work they do in order to prove highly-qualified for the positions to which they apply.”
Mr. Ishtayeh also advises students not to stop working on themselves once they finish their study, but to keep going to learn further through other courses, traineeships, and internships, be them in the University or not. This is because getting in touch with the labor market situates them in a real work context where they have to work out any problem by recalling everything they have learned during their University years.
Finally, Mr. Ishtayeh recommends that students should aim to obtain a high GPA due to the fact that many training corporations hire trainees based on their rates, so the best thing students can do is show an excellent and active performance during their study.
Mr. Ishtayeh concluded: "When we seek to understand and listen to our students, we show them that we care. Attempting to understand them is not a simple thing because every student is a unique person. When we take the time to ask questions and listen to them, we have a good chance of understanding them even better. This sounds really simple, but it’s now always as easy as it sounds. We’ve all experienced situations where students are upset, emotional, or even defiant. When I’m trying to understand a student who is in one of these emotional states, my first question is are you okay? It’s really amazing how much students will open up to us once we show them that we care."