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Could Hiba Ballout Be the World’s Best Teacher?

Lebanese school teacher, Hiba Ballout, 32, has made it as a finalist in the top 50 best teachers nominated for the Global Teacher Prize 2018 – granted by Varkey Foundation. The prize, in its fourth edition this year, is the biggest of its kind in the world and worth one million US dollars.

Ballout is a biology teacher and science coordinator at Saint George Schools, in Beirut, Lebanon and was chosen from more than 30 thousand candidates and applicants from 173 countries globally, and therefore shining a torch for Lebanon as a country. We took some time out with the teacher extraordinaire to learn more about her and her new-found fame.

Tell us about your participation in the prize?
I was chosen alongside 4 other teachers to represent my country, Lebanon in the first phase of the prize. The selection process was set by the Arab Network for Popular Education and the Masqoni project for Popular Education, which was established by the Lebanese Coalition for Education for All, in collaboration with the Ministry of Higher Education in Lebanon.

Since 2011, I have been working as an advisor for students in Model United Nations and Model Arab League programs organized by the Lebanese American University. This helped me develop the communication and leadership skills of my students. I continue to encourage my students to become involved in international conferences and to engage more in global issues such as climate change, to increase their sense of global citizenship.

As for teaching science, I do my best to use an innovative and creative approach in order to make learning fun for them.

When will the winners be announced?
The names of the top 10 finalists will be announced in February 2018 and the Academy of the Global Teacher Prize will select the winner from the 10 finalists

The ceremony will take place at the Global Education and Skills Forum, in Dubai, where the winner of the Global Teacher Prize will be announced.

What defines Hiba Ballout, the teacher?
I have always had a passion and keen interest in biology as a dynamic discipline and despite specialized texts and new studies, I strive to keep up to date on all new developments within the science world to encourage my students to acquire further knowledge on the subject.

Biology is a science filled with life and movement. It is no secret that I have loved the idea of teaching since my early stages at school; I was so influenced by the people I met throughout my life, at school as well as teachers who have had a positive or negative impact on their students.  Therefore, I made the decision to omit the negatives that I saw in my own teachers growing up, and promised myself never to repeat the same mistakes with my students.

Every single day I educate myself on the most up to date scientific developments to keep pace of new advancements and to be able to answer questions from my students. I hate it when a student asks me a question and I don’t have the knowledge to provide them with an answer!

How do you describe your relation with your students?
We maintain a relationship of love, respect and friendship especially since they are high- school students. I always encourage them to seek out new information and studies in the field of science.

Since I was a little girl my dream was to become a teacher and words cannot describe how proud and happy I am that my dream is now a reality.

My mother used to tell me that I was always playing the role of a teacher with my toys, and that she discovered what my profession would be since childhood. Over time, I became more attached and passionate about biology and made it my specialty at the university.

Did your parents encourage you to become a teacher?
Well, actually my parents wanted me to be a doctor because I was very motivated and diligent with my studies but I never saw myself as a doctor because teaching was innate in my personality. Over time, my parents encouraged me to develop myself, my skills and experiences within education as they were certain I would succeed.

You started as biology teacher for the elementary education stage, how did you move to teach high school students?
Indeed I started my career teaching elementary classes, but after a year I asked to be transferred in order to teach high school students. The school’s headmaster was shocked at my decision but trusted my abilities and agreed. For this reason, I say that my school is a second home to me with its faculty staff and students, who are my biggest supporters, along with my family of course.

How do you spend your day?
My day starts with going to school filled with much optimism and vitality, I truly love my job and it gives me much joy and happiness. I participate in many conferences on the topic of education outside of Lebanon, and represent my school, accompanied by a number of students from several countries where we prove to be just as efficient and capable as Sweden, Denmark and Jordan.

What I do is not just a job; it is my passion and my lifestyle.

What are your hobbies?
I play the piano, practice horse riding, and I read a lot especially books by Paulo Coelho. Sometimes I also write what seems like Lebanese zajal, and I enjoy singing too.

About Varkey Foundation
In 2014, Varkey Foundation launched the Global Teacher Prize in recognition for the outstanding teachers who make distinguished contributions and exceptional performances in the education sector, and to highlight the noble mission of the teachers and their key role in the advancement of their societies. They have been able to do this through exploring the thousands of extraordinary and phenomenal stories of teachers who have been of significance in the lives of young people.

The Prize seeks to breathe life into the noble profession, which involves the millions around the globe.

Sunny Varkey, the founder of Varkey Foundation and the Global Teacher Prize extended congrats and greetings to Hiba Ballout for her nomination as a finalist, hoping that her success story will inspire all those who want to become teachers, and to bring to light the dedicated work of teachers all over the word.

"We are intent on maintaining this continuous momentum in our journey to restore the prestigious status of teachers, the builders of the coming generations, and the professionals tasked with the most respected and cherished job in every society", said Varkey.

Photography: Joseph Abi Raad

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