Growing up in Morocco in a family of educators, School of Education student Amal Houck ‘18 knew that she was destined to be a teacher.
“Originally, my father told me that he didn’t want me to teach, but I went against his wishes,” she says with a laugh. “In Morocco, I taught English as a Second Language (ESL) classes, and I loved it.”
After moving to the United States in 2006, Houck worked as an educational program coordinator and began to realize that ESL programs were decreasing in number. With a desire to teach and little understanding of the Common Core State Standards (which detail what students should know at the end of each grade), Houck enrolled in the Master of Arts in Learning and Teaching (MALT) program at the University of Redlands.
After earning a teaching credential, Houck was hired as an intern to teach a class of kindergarteners at Ballington Academy for the Arts and Sciences, a charter school in San Bernardino. “The MALT program has prepared me to work with the students I teach because I was totally unfamiliar with the American elementary curriculum,” she says. “Everything I know about the Common Core came from my courses at the University of Redlands.”
After noticing that students in her class were having difficulty learning to identify and write letters and words, Houck took a new approach. Using a kit purchased from Scholastic, Houck and her students developed, wrote, and illustrated a 25-page children’s book focused on the themes of fall and Thanksgiving.
“Asking my students if they wanted to be the authors and illustrators of their own book motivated them so much that they forgot they were sitting in class writing sentences,” says Houck. “At the beginning of the class, some of the students couldn’t write their names or hold pencils correctly, and now they can write entire paragraphs.”
Houck credits the MALT program’s emphasis on project-based learning as inspiration for the book. Due to the success she had with the project, Houck has decided to publish a book each year with her students.
As she continues to teach kindergartners, Houck looks forward to her own graduation celebration. “In Morocco, when you graduate you don’t walk down an aisle to get your diploma,” she says. “When I was a little girl, my friends would look at pictures of wedding gowns, but I was always looking at pictures of people in graduation gowns knowing that I wanted that someday.”