Stepping up

Stepping up

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Kareem Elhossieni—Mr. E to his students—eyes a future in elementary education

Kareem Elhossieni had the book knowledge. He had the passion. And, most assuredly, he had the heart.

But managing a classroom of 20 high-energy, personality-plus second-graders as he tried to teach a reading and writing lesson?

That was the hard part.

“My first, second and third classroom observations were horrible,” Elhossieni recalls of the lessons he taught to second-graders at Buena’s John C. Milanesi Elementary School during the early days of his student teaching clinical practice this semester.

Like many beginning teachers, Elhossieni was struggling with classroom management. Leslie Minatee-Daniels, field supervisor for elementary education in Rowan University’s College of Education, knew it. So did Elhossieni.

What came next was the moment Elhossieni—Mr. E to his students—truly became an educator.

Minatee-Daniels issued a challenge to him. And that challenge—“Make it your own,” she said—made all the difference.

“He struggled at first with re-evaluation and reflection. He lacked that step of insight,” Minatee-Daniels says of Elhossieni, who earned his bachelor’s degrees in elementary education and liberal studies (Writing Arts and American Studies), cum laude, from Rowan on Wednesday, May 15.

“His big hurdle was discipline. He had a lot of different personalities in the classroom,” says Minatee-Daniels, who advised Elhossieni to figure out his own classroom management style, rather than following what other teachers had done.

“He needed to make sure his practice was effective. To do that, he needed to understand reflection and assessment. As a teacher, you need to know what works and what doesn’t work.”

Challenge accepted, Elhossieni quickly went to work, implementing his own classroom structure in which students became accountable to each other for their behavior.

“By the fifth lesson, my students were completely engaged in reading and writing,” Elhossieni, 22, of Plainsboro, says with confidence.

“I saw the difference in him once he took ownership. That’s when he became a teacher,” Minatee-Daniels says. “I’m so proud that Kareem understood my challenge and stepped up to the plate.”

Patience, knowledge, commitment

Stepping up is Elhossieni’s modus operandi. The oldest of five, he was often called upon to help care for his siblings while his parents worked long hours to build a successful family restaurant. Both of his folks came to America alone in search of a better life. His dad emigrated from Egypt at age 17. His mom was 16 when she left Trinidad.

In 1996, they opened their first fast food restaurant in Manhattan.

“It was extremely tough for them,” says Elhossieni. “I’ve learned so much from their struggles. Their life story is a way for me to keep on pushing myself.”

Even today, Elhossieni goes home and works 25 hours every weekend in the restaurant to assist his family. But, despite originally entering college as a business major, he quickly realized that field wasn’t for him. After a year at Rider University, he transferred to Rowan intent on becoming a teacher.

Elementary education, he says, is the perfect path for him. It’s a field that’s in need of male teachers, who serve as role models to both male and female students.

According to a report from the National Center for Education Statistics, nearly 9 in 10 teachers in primary schools are women.

“I always had the responsibility of taking care of my younger siblings when I was needed, so I have patience, knowledge and commitment to teach younger children. I’m comfortable working with them,” Elhossieni says.

“When I decided on my major, I was one or only one or two males in each of my classes,” he says, adding that he had two male high school coaches who inspired him as a youngster. One of the coaches was an elementary school teacher.

 “Schools are looking for male teachers. What students need most is a dedicated teacher. If they have a dedicated teacher, they’ll be dedicated to learning.”

‘He exudes humanity’

His future students will have that in Elhossieni, says Gary Dentino, who teaches in Rowan’s Department of Interdisciplinary and Inclusive Education.

“Kareem is a genuinely nice person. He exudes humanity,” says Dentino, who taught Elhossieni in class and observed him in his field experiences. “The kids just loved him. He fit right in and was respected by his students.

“Having male teachers as role models in our elementary schools really is critical. Kareem has the right disposition for elementary education. I know he’s going to work hard to achieve success.”

When he transferred to Rowan—he was accepted during a Transfer Tuesday—Elhossieni wanted to get involved on campus. Though he played basketball in high school, he never played football before. Yet, he tried out for Rowan’s football team.

“I knew I was at a disadvantage, but I didn’t let that stop me,” says the 6-2, 220-pound Elhossieni. “I regretted not playing football in high school.”

Through persistence, he was invited to join the Profs. That experience was in itself a lesson in teaching and coaching, he says.

“My coaches were so dedicated to me,” says Elhossieni, who also would like to coach basketball or football. “I think they saw that I was dedicated to being a better player and person. I helped with extra practice reps, especially for the freshmen and sophomores. I’m proud I did it.”

Though he wasn’t a starter, Elhossieni’s perseverance to learning and being a good teammate impacted the team, according to Head Coach Jay Accorsi.

“Kareem is very mature for his age and very hard-working,” says Accorsi, noting that Elhossieni visited him recently to thank him for giving him an opportunity to join the squad. “He’s an impressive young man…very mature for his age. He’s going to be a very successful educator.”

Elhossieni is the first in his extended family to graduate from college. He’s a first-generation college student and a first-generation American. That isn’t lost on him.

“None of my cousins, aunts, uncles, parents or grandparents graduated from college, so my graduation is a big deal for my family,” says Elhossieni, who has two siblings in middle school and two in high school. “My parents never got to go to college. But they instilled in me the value of working hard to get what I want in life.

“I’m also using my graduation as an example for my younger siblings. I want them to experience this in their futures.”