Fortuitous failure leads professor to illuminating career in education

by Eli Saleh   /   Dec 01, 2013

“Congratulations on your failure.” These words were said to Fouad Abd-El-Khalick by his professor in education after receiving news that Fouad did not get into medical school, urging him to consider education as an alternative. From that moment on, Abd-El-Khalick, now department head and professor of Curriculum and Instruction at Illinois, embarked on pursuing a career in education.

“I got to discover the world of education and the many interesting and deep questions about how students learn, how you can get students engaged, how you can change students' lives,” Abd-El-Khalick stated.

After completing his master's degree in Science Education at the American University of Beirut, Abd-El-Khalick studied at Oregon State University where he earned his Ph.D. in Science Education in 1998. He then returned to his alma mater in Beirut to teach but soon realized he wanted to pursue a wider research agenda and joined the University of Illinois in 2000.

As individuals are called to the field of education and become inspired to teach, Abd-El-Khalick emphasizes the importance of developing personal connections with students and living up to the continuous challenge of problem solving. He believes that there is no profession like teaching where a person can have a profound impact on the lives of so many people.

“You learn about the principles of teaching and learning, curriculum design, engaging students, managing a learning environment. But there is never a single way to do this—every student is different, every class is different. Being a teacher is just continuous problem solving in the very best positive way and that is an incredibly satisfying profession to have,” Abd-El-Khalick said.

According to the U.S. News and World Report, the Department of Curriculum and Instruction at the University of Illinois is ranked 5th in the nation. Known for its quality programs that prepare teacher-leaders of tomorrow, the department prides itself in its gifted group of scholars, teachers, and staff who engage in a wide range of research related to critical issues of learning, teaching, and social justice at global and local levels.

“We really have a comprehensive place that brings together a group of passionate professors who do research on schooling, teaching, and learning. They work very hard to connect all of that research to the very practice they do themselves and the way they prepare their students to become teachers. When you come to the Department of Curriculum and Instruction at Illinois, you are going to have a first rate education about becoming the best teacher you can be,” Abd-El-Khalick stated.

Further, he urges prospective students interested in teaching to ask themselves if they truly care about social justice, about education for all, and about creating equitable learning environments that enable all students to achieve their potential. These are the values that underlie a successful and satisfying career in education. “Becoming a good teacher first requires a commitment to wanting to change lives, to inspire students, to serve as a role model of what it means to become a life-long learner,” Abd-El-Khalick said.

Once committed to those ideals, a successful career of impacting lives and shaping minds is sure to follow.