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Mme. Mikhaiel est magnifique

Teacher Tahani Mikhaiel was one of 20 recipients of an Excellence in Teaching Award last May 23. The award goes out to the top teachers in the province. She received $4

Marie Poburan teachers jumped for joy this week after one of their own was crowned as one of Alberta’s top teachers.

école Marie Poburan Grade 3 teacher Tahani Mikhaiel was one of the 20 recipients of a provincial Excellence in Teaching Award last May 23.

The awards, run by Alberta Education, recognize outstanding Alberta teachers who demonstrate creative, innovative and effective teaching. Winners receive a certificate and $4,000 for professional development.

Marie Poburan principal Marie Gamache-Hauptman says staff at the school “literally jumped for joy” when Mikhaiel got the news earlier this month.

“We were ecstatic that finally she was being recognized for the amazing work she does in this school.”

Mikhaiel, 50, is an 18-year veteran with Marie Poburan known for her passion for kids and reading.

“I always treat my students as my own kids,” says the mother of two.

“When I treat my students as my own kids, I know they will learn.”

She makes school fun

Mikhaiel is fluent in English, French and Arabic, and grew up in Cairo, Egypt.

“I’ve always loved reading,” she says – her idea of a special treat when she was younger was to go to the library with her kids, take out a bunch of books, and then fight over who got to read Harry Potter first.

Earning a degree in French translation, Mikhaiel first worked as the librarian for the French embassy in Egypt. Immigrating to Canada in 1990, she decided to get into teaching, figuring it would be a good way to spend the summers off with her kids. She landed at Marie Poburan in 1998, spending one year as the school librarian before landing a full-time teaching gig.

Gamache-Hauptman describes Mikhaiel as a gentle, creative soul with a tremendous passion for teaching.

“Her ability to get kids reading is amazing,” she says, and her class is often the best in the school when it comes to French.

“They are as excited about the language as she is.”

Mikhaiel says she puts the emphasis on fun in her lessons, and uses songs, games, chats and challenges on a frequent basis.

“When there’s fun in the classroom, (the students) are more relaxed and they’re more willing to have fun and co-operate with you.”

Gamache-Hauptman says one popular challenge of Mikhaiel’s that has since spread to the rest of the school is the idea of frog points, where students get “frogs” (the school’s mascot) whenever they’re caught speaking French outside of class. Students can then redeem these points to take part in theme days or earn prizes like being principal for the day.

“She puts the fire in the bellies of our students to speak French.”

Mikhaiel says she’ll often split her students into “literacy groups” where students of similar skill levels practice what they’ve learned earlier in the week. This lets her give students more one-on-one time and encourages them to try new things.

Parents, students love her

Parent Debbie McLeod, who nominated Mikhaiel for this award, says Mikhaiel helped transform her kids into confident, active learners.

“She doesn’t believe in ‘I can’t,'” she says, and will do whatever it takes to help a student who says that succeed in life.

McLeod says her son used to struggle with reading until Mikhaeil got him books-on-tape and motivated him with the frog-point system. He now enjoys books and school, and hopes to be “king of the grenouilles (frogs)” by the end of the year.

Gamache-Hauptman says she’s heard from students who literally pray to get into Mikhaiel’s class due to her teaching style.

“When we see kids that have had her in the past come back to school and visit her and bring her flowers, it tells us a lot about her relationship with kids.”

When she’s not teaching, Mikhaeil says she enjoys reading mysteries by Agatha Christie, hitting the gym, and volunteering for St. Mary & St. Mark Coptic Orthodox Church in Edmonton.

The best part of being a teacher is that moment when you see a student’s face come to life when they finally grasp a concept, she says.

“This is the best part: when you see kids really learning.”

The full list of winners will soon be available at education.alberta.ca/teachers/excellence.aspx.

Kevin Ma: Kevin Ma joined the St. Albert Gazette in 2006. He writes about Sturgeon County, education, the environment, agriculture, science and aboriginal affairs. He also contributes features, photographs and video.