By Teachers, For Teachers
Camel Jockey Go Home shares the story of Payman Jahanbin, an Iranian ex-pat who found himself teaching American English (as in grammar) to American kids in the Salt Lake City School District immediately following the Iranian Hostage Crisis.
With an air of satire and ever-present quick wit, the story follows Payman from his college days through his politically-charged experience in the classroom, both beginning and ending with Payman at school on 9/11. Despite the heavy subject matter, Payman’s memoir is a colorful, truly human story of a caring, talented teacher. Both Payman and his book have enough humor to make his teachers at clown college (he has a Street Theater degree from London).
Payman shares his unique perspective on education in this TeachHUB interview.
How has your training as a clown helped you as an educator, or in any other area of your life?
How can you survive without a sense of humor in this environment? There is always a lot to laugh about.
Your teaching career started abruptly before you were even certified. What was that first day in the classroom like?
It was cool. I had been teaching since my childhood. My grandfather was a school principal and he used me as a free substitute. I enjoyed it because I had found a good audience.
Staging a “classroom revolution” for your Iranian students on the first day of school helped you forge a bond with your first class. How did you sustain that level of enthusiasm?
Just going after school, fighting for their rights and spending time with them, mostly after school and in groups. I had to be very careful because even one single accusation could have ruined my life.
Despite the resistance from administrators, you talk about how your students always loved you. Why do you think that was?
I was always on their side and they could see I was paying a heavy price, such as being totally an outsider in the eyes of the school administrators.
How did you overcome potential prejudice from administrators, parents or teachers?
I did not. I am still wounded, still not having enough self-esteem, still not driving by the schools that were the torture houses for me. Damned all of them.
You’ve worked with students who faced tremendous struggles – between language barriers, being displaced from their homelands, and facing trauma few of us could imagine – yet you didn’t seem to have any trouble teaching groups no other teachers could handle.
Did you ever face behavioral challenges in the classroom? If so, how did you deal with them?
Hard to believe, but I do not recall even once having problems. I never sent one single student to the school office for disciplinary problems. I am not a very patient man. They were great and I was lucky.
School politics have been something you’ve been entrenched in from day one. How do you think school politics interfere with student learning? What can teachers do to rise above it (or at least keep it from affecting their students)?
It was not politics at first. In Utah, it is religion. If you are not a Mormon, you are an outsider. The Mormon church has a great influence on electing the PTA. I do not remember a time when the majority of the Board of Education was not Mormons.
Can you compare your experience teaching traditional K-12 student to teaching refugees and immigrants at Horizonte?
There were no changes – the same families, the same respects, the same attentive students. If the child is behaving, the parents are behaving better.
The book ends on 9/11 with your first instance of backlash after the attacks. How has your experience and that of your students been since then?
It was a wake up call for all of us. We realized that nowhere is safe from extremist and zealots. We realized we are the victims, wherever we go, and we remember the humiliation of coming from the same area as the terrorist who committed such inhuman criminal savagery.
Sum up your teaching philosophy in a single sentence.
Do not be a teacher. Put yourself in your student shoes, see if your teaching would educate your student self. If you have learned it, they have learned it.
Learn more about Payman Jahanbin’s experience at the Camel Jockey Go Home website or order Camel Jockey Go Home now.