Ramy Mahmoud, Secondary Teacher of the Year
I remember sitting in front of a computer during my senior year of college. I was writing my teaching philosophy to start applying for my first ever position. I thought about the many experiences I had growing up with inspiring teachers of my own. I reflected on the volumes of research and experiences I learned about through college education and psychology courses stressing the immense impact one educator could have on the path of a child’s life. Chills radiated through my entire body as I began to type the following teaching philosophy: “To inspire passion of science and learning in the heart of every child and constantly strive to develop more creative and innovative techniques to provide a medium for that learning.” I was so proud of this philosophical statement and excited to explain it to every administrator I met during my job search.
These videos have become an immense time commitment, but when these “trouble” kids walk into a lesson that they already understand the background on, they’re committed, they’re focused, and they take ownership in their own learning. They could work at their own pace at home and come to school excited to show me what they know. To further incorporate things they naturally enjoy, I have developed a unique method of introducing vocabulary. I give them cards that I have made to match a word with a picture, and then with a definition. After their first attempt, I play a power point that is synced to a new popular song that shows the right matches and gives further detail on each term. As soon as it ends, I ask them to correct their cards. It’s truly amazing how many match everything perfectly after this activity. That sense of pride and accomplishment is what makes me love what I do.
Passion has always been part of my everyday life. I’ve always worked to be committed to every endeavor I’ve pursued. Everything I do, I do with all of my heart. This has always set me up for either extreme jubilation or devastating disappointment, but I would never exchange one for the other. Every experience I have, good or bad, inspires a new pathway towards success and happiness. Eight years after writing that teaching philosophy, after countless successes and failures in the classroom, it’s amazing how much, and how little, has changed.
The first half of this philosophy can only be accomplished with a deep-routed, honest, and sincere relationship with each and every student. It breaks my heart to hear about the daily struggles of some of my kids; that they would even have the energy to come to school each day with a smile on their faces is deserving of an award on its own. I learned very early that consistency and sincerity were paramount. If I wanted my students to be passionate about science and learning, I first had to be sure we were both passionate about not letting each other down. The first time I realized that a student succeeded because he or she didn’t want to disappoint me was the first time I realized why I will never leave this profession. Willingness to attempt the unfamiliar comes only with that level of trust, and it’s amazing how unfamiliar my teaching strategies have become over the past few years.
I’ll be the first to admit that I didn’t abide by the second half of my philosophy during my first few years of teaching. With such an amazing curriculum already provided and the immeasurable levels of stress that every first-year teacher experiences, I spent most of my time simply following my team’s lead. Recently, however, I have taken that second half to heart and committed the passion discussed before to seeing it through. After a few years, it became very clear to me that success and apathy were inversely related. The kids I struggled the most with had consistently little interest in what was happening in the classroom. Of course, my higher-level kids were doing just fine, and I couldn’t figure out what they had that my strugglers didn’t. It had nothing to do with societal labels; race, gender, socioeconomic levels, etc. It all came down to one thing; ownership.
Those who were consistently successful actually wanted to learn the information. They took pride in their final products and were not satisfied with sub-par performance. They already had the passion in which I had hoped to instill. In getting to know my kids over my teaching years, I have recognized three key reasons for apathetic behavior. The first is a history of failure, the second is frustration due to lack of understanding, and the third is a disconnect from their own natural interests. If I wanted to inspire a passion of science and learning, I would have to attack these issues head on.
There is nothing I can do about a student’s past experiences. He or she may walk into my classroom on the first day with preconceived ideas regardless of what I do. However, as mentioned before, development of trust can tear down all barriers. If I want a student to believe that my class can be different, there must be a trust that I will catch them if they fall. Once that is developed, past experiences completely deteriorate.
I have struggled for years on this second issue. It’s often very clear that students will shut off or rebel simply because they don’t understand what’s going on and would rather be the class clown than make their lack of understanding known to their peers. If only there were a way to make the students prepared for an activity before they ever walked into the classroom using a media that they had all become very comfortable with. This is what has led to my complete commitment to the flipped classroom model. Rather than using class time to lecture to the kids, I have been creating online lectures that the students watch on their own time. I use software that allows me to incorporate video segments and graphics to make it as entertaining as it can possibly be. I then post these videos so they can view them the same way they view funny clips of their friends and online celebrities. This has miraculously solved the third conflict, as well.
Principals' Letter of Recommendation
Dear Committee Members,
It is with great excitement that I recommend Mr. Ramy Mahmoud as Plano ISD’s next Experienced Teacher of the Year! Of all my teachers at Williams High School, Mr. Mahmoud most embodies student-centered learning. He is a pioneer in engaging our students in their digital high-tech world and utilizes our students’ natural desire to incorporate their devices and internet use to enrich their learning and maximize their mastery. To be a student in his class is to have access to the learning in a unique way as students prepare for the lesson via teacher-made videos and presentations before they ever step foot into the classroom. Because that instructional input time is done before the students arrive, their time with the teacher is devoted completely to applying their new knowledge in hands-on and collaborative ways. Gone are the days of 20 minutes of lecture and note-taking! Our Biology students under Mr. Mahmoud’s care spend the entirety of their class period making meaning of the lecture, converting that input into student output in the form of presentations, projects, research, experiments and more. The depth of mastery and the teacher’s ability to formatively assess student progress is greatly increased using this instructional approach. Mr. Mahmoud makes this flipped classroom model work by crafting quality digital instruction and by ensuring that all students have access to the instruction regardless of their personal access to digital tools and resources. There is no obstacle that Mr. Mahmoud hasn’t been able to overcome in this innovative and exciting journey!
Mr. Mahmoud’s passion for inspiring students to love science and to value its relevance in their lives is evident in his philosophy and is a wonderful complement to his relationship-building with students. No student EVER wants to be moved out of his class because they feel valued, important, and needed in order for learning to happen. Because Mr. Mahmoud is conscious of student voice and student choice, students really do think that the class is better because they are each there contributing to the learning of their peers. On a campus striving to be a 21st Century school, Mr. Mahmoud is a leader and a willing risk-taker when it means students are engaged and learning. He is a valued curriculum liaison with our district and often trains and mentors other teachers as evidence of folks outside of our building recognizing his talents and strengths. Mr. Mahmoud impacts student learning in other subjects on our campus as well by sharing ideas on how to incorporate technology to enrich the learning, leading professional development for our teachers, serving as our Department Head of Science, and furthering our campus improvement goals. In closing, Mr. Mahmoud’s students are learning far more than Biology; they are learning life-long skills in the areas of reflection, goal-setting, planning, collaboration, digital literacy, and responsibility. We are so fortunate to have him here in Warrior Country, and I am confident that Mr. Ramy Mahmoud is an outstanding example of all the best that Plano ISD has to offer!
Lynn Ojeda, Principal
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