Introducing New Faculty
November 23, 2010
Kawkeb Said didn’t have any experience as a grade-school teacher and originally had no intention of working at Park City High School. But she didn’t need a teaching background for her subject. Said is a native-Arabic speaker.
She knew that Park City High School was looking to offer an Arabic class; Principal Hilary Hayes approached Said about the position, saying a number of students had already signed up to take the course.
Said earned her civil engineering bachelor’s degree in 1978 from a university in Iraq. She received her master’s degree in traffic engineering in Scotland in 1981 and a PhD in engineering from the University of Illinois in Chicago in 1993.
While working as a transportation engineer near the Atlantic coast in Connecticut, she was an adjunct science professor for two years at Quinnipiac University in Hamden, Conn.
Said enjoys the environment at the high school because she is able to develop close relationships with her students.
"I try to be a teacher rather than a lecturer," she said.
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Arabic is a tough language, with 28 characters or "alphabets" arranged differently than other written languages that originated around the same time. The language is written from left to right and has few similarities to English, she explained.
"It’s challenging for people who have never spoken Arabic before," she said.
In arranging the curriculum, Said cannot use books from Arabic elementary schools, saying they are written for native speakers and students without such a background would not be able to understand them at all.
Said teaches one 90-minute class of 18 students and looks to expand the program through the coming years. She said she hopes to soon be able to offer intermediate and advanced courses.
Some students in her class said they were drawn to study Arabic because of experiences they had traveling to Arab countries. They said they wanted to learn more about the countries, the culture and the language.
Other students said it just sounded cool or they wanted to study something other than Spanish, because it is already prevalent in the area.
"I’m sure some of them have something else in mind, like a State Department job or even for business. Even in engineering, there are opportunities out there," she said.
The course doesn’t just focus on the language, but the culture, which is closely tied to the Muslim religion.
"Probably 90 percent of [people in] the Arab world are Muslims," she said.
Said doesn’t teach the tenets of the religion, but she teaches how the culture is shaped by the by it.
"It’s not just belief, but rather, a way of life," she said.
Students in the class will glean a sense of accomplishment by studying Arabic because of the difficult and unique nature of the curriculum, according to Said. She also said that her students will be able to learn about a culture that few people in the area know much about.
"It’s an opportunity for the U.S. people to be exposed, to open up, to find some good, common ground," she said. "It’s a good opportunity to expose the community to this kind of information, at least our students," she added.
Said’s personal goal for the course is to open her students’ minds to the rest of the world.
"If they can, at the end of this program, do the greetings, do specific goals related to the language itself, then I achieve my teaching goal," she said. "But my ultimate goal is, ‘Open your mind. Don’t just listen. Don’t be a passive listener.’"
You sound more and you write less with the short vowels."
It’s a good opportunity to expose the community to this kind of information, at least our students."
If they meet someone from the other side of the world, they don’t go, ‘Where is that located?’ At least they know what kind of language they speak, what kind of culture do they have."
We don’t target only Arabic as a language, but rather, how to deal with people, how to talk to them, what do they expect."
It’s an opportunity for the U.S. people to be exposed, to open up, to find some good, common ground."
I hope to build bridges between nations and cultures with this class coming up."
Teaches more than just the language, but the culture, which is closely tied to the Muslin religion.
Probably 90 percent of the Arab world are Muslims."
Said doesn’t teach the tenets of the religion, but she teaches how the culture is shaped by the Muslim religion. "It’s not just belief, but rather, a way of life," she said.
She teaches one class of 18 students.
Speaks German as a third language.