On her first day as a teacher, Nesreen Qutainah found herself afraid to stand in front of her students. Her university degree had equipped her with extensive knowledge about science, but not the methods to teach it. Teaching middle school students just six years younger than her, however, Nesreen felt her fears dissipate. It was clear they needed someone to look up to like an older sister, and Nesreen understood the meaning of the saying, “Before reaching the minds of your students, you have to win their hearts”. Nine years later, Nesreen teaches primary school children in Palestine. Her students come from diverse backgrounds, ranging from well-off families to deprived communities. That is why Nesreen works to build a sense of cooperation in her classroom, and encourages her pupils to provide each other help, assistance, and even gifts.
Nesreen’s teaching method rests on two pillars: “enlighten a mind, and you will revive a person”, and “no to stereotypes, yes to creativity”. Learning through play is key to her approach, particularly as many of her students struggle in mathematics and dislike school. For example, she asks children to compose stories based on what they have learned in science, or sing songs about maths. Using these methods, Nesreen has seen her students’ personalities flourish. She often shares what she has learnt about teaching, as well as educational videos, on her YouTube channel, which has 12,000 followers. Outside the classroom, Nesreen is eager to teach her students about their heritage, despite the difficult circumstances in which they are living. She created the Grandparents’ Treasures initiative, in which grandparents film videos about their experiences to teach the children about the history of Palestine.
Nesreen is committed to turning her students into compassionate, global citizens. She has organised online meetings between her pupils and children from across Palestine, so they could form friendships without having to think about the challenging political context in which they live.
COVID presented a major challenge to her students’ education, but Nesreen refused to let the virus defeat her. She used social media and videos to teach students who had access to a computer or the internet. For students without internet access, she prepared booklets full of interactive activities and educational cartoons. She printed 200 copies which she distributed to her own students and children in marginalised areas.
Nesreen has been widely recognised for her incredible work, even sharing her expertise at a UNESCO meeting to mark World Teachers Day. She is an internationally certified trainer with Microsoft, which named her an Innovative Teacher, and trains educators from different Arab countries on the use of technology. In 2019, she was named Best Teacher in Palestine, and in 2020, she received Palestine’s Achievement and Excellence Award for Supporting Education.