In the spirit of this year’s school theme, “Continuing a Culture of Connection,” we’re interviewing some of the extraordinary educators at the heart of our rigorous academic program.
Arabic and French teacher, Mouna Fdilat, discusses her teaching philosophies, adapting to America, and being a role model for her son.
How many years have you been with Friends?
This will be my fifth year teaching Arabic at Friends. I’m excited to also be teaching Middle School French this year as well.
Describe your initial experience coming to the United States.
I came to the United States in 2010 from Morocco. I remember the day I stepped into JFK Airport! Most of my siblings and mother are also in the United States, but I have a twin sister who still lives in Morocco. I love America, and I feel this is also my country and that I am in the right place. I have a balanced love for my home country and the U.S.
My father passed away in 2015, and my education was important to him. I finished my Master’s and learned English here, and it was one of the greatest things in my life. I’m proud that I did what my father had wanted me to do. I remember his words and always get tears in my eyes.
What is the most important characteristic of a Friends student, and how would you describe our community?
Probably the most important thing is trust. The School is like family to me, and I treat my students the same way I treat my own child. We listen and learn from each other no matter our background.
Friends Seminary is like family to me. I never feel like an outsider here. Everyone has been extremely supportive and friendly—especially my first two years here. It was amazing. I love my colleagues, and Christel Johnson has been extremely supportive.
What is the most important thing about studying language at Friends?
The most important thing about studying Arabic is that it can help you to better communicate with Arabs and have a better grasp of Arab culture.
As a native Arabic speaker, I feel my students really benefit from my familiarity with North African and Middle Eastern culture. When they ask questions pertaining to Lebanon or Saudi Arabia, I pride myself on having those answers and helping them differentiate between each Middle Eastern country and their respective norms. I love teaching Arabic at the School because our students are very curious and have to be serious about language. I also enjoy seeing our Muslim students—who may speak Arabic at home—engage with other languages at the School like Spanish and French.
I treat my classroom like my home—with hospitality. I want my students to really love studying language and understand different cultures. I try to mix it up and make it enjoyable with movies, music, podcasts, and cartoons.
How do you integrate the Quaker testimonies and social justice principles into your role?
The Quakers believed in the equality of all persons because they held the conviction that every individual possessed this "Inner Light.” They believed that the Light was the source of individual inspiration and guidance, and that it was not limited by gender, race, social status, or any other external factors.
Are there ways in which you encourage simplicity and mindfulness in the classroom?
Yes—by keeping a smile on my face, being positive always and keeping my students engaged every class because I believe that as a teacher it is important to commit to being a lifelong learner. No one can ever be flawless, and no one can ever know it all. Therefore, I know I can never be a perfect teacher, but I am determined to try my best at everything I do. I am dedicated to always continuing to learn, and strive to be the best teacher I can be.
How did you adjust your teaching style for distance learning?
For over six years I taught Advanced French online through the Berlitz Language Center. My government students were from a diverse background in the FBI, NYPD, and United States military. I was able to seamlessly transition to distance learning during the pandemic at Friends in five ways:
- Make sure students understand the materials.
- Create equity for distance learners.
- Connect students with independent learning tools.
- Maintain live connections during distance learning.
- Be sensitive and flexible.
Last year was the first Arabic Culture Night, which you spearheaded with Joseph. How did this help foster a sense of community and learning among your students and colleagues?
It was a great experience for our students in the Arabic program to share what they learned from me and Joseph at Arabic Culture Night, where parents were able to get a glimpse of what their children had been doing in class. It was a fun, enjoyable, and educational evening.
If you could pass on any wisdom to your students, what would you share?
Remember to focus on what is best for you in the long run instead of what feels easy or right in the moment. Start projects and homework early so that if you need help you have time to seek out support.
Many adults abandon foreign language learning after school but wish they had kept up with it. What advice would you give those who wish to learn a foreign language later in life?
My advice is to set your language goals.
Learn common vocabulary.
Find a style that works for you.
Connect with a native speaker.
Engage with the culture.
Make travel plans.
What are you currently reading?
I’m reading a book in Arabic by Hoda Barakat titled Sayyidi Wa Habibi. The book focuses on the relationship between a son and father.
What are you currently listening to?
I currently listen to Fairuz, a Lebanese artist considered to be one of the most prominent giants of Arabic music in the modern era, and some call her “the harp of the sky.” She was awarded the title of “Ambassador of Arab Artists,” and her artwork was described as having a “humanitarian character.”
What is one of your best memories of childhood?
I remember very fondly the games I used to play with my sisters. Especially in the evenings. Each day we played different games after school. I’m a twin, and I just always remember us together. I’m also really close with my younger sister, who is also a French and Arabic teacher at an independent school. We are all very close. We’re like a trio—a really good team!
Who are your biggest role models or mentors?
My family. We are always helping each other and have a mutual respect for time and personal space. Before love is respect.
How do you spend your summer breaks?
I spend my summers with my family.
What keeps you motivated?
You want your family to be proud of you and to support them. For me, I think about what the benefits are for an immigrant, the benefit of leaving my country, my neighborhood, and my friends. I want to do something in this life, in American society, and to prove myself and keep learning. Every day I learn something from my students, my colleagues, my husband, and even my two-year-old son. I try to be a good role model for him.