“It’s vital that teachers and principals are able to work with young children of different backgrounds, particularly in those early years.”
When his students face homework challenges because their immigrant parents don’t speak fluent English, Yusef Salameh understands their struggle.
“Some of my kids are in the same boat I was in,” says Salameh, a December 2014 graduate of UWM’s School of Education. He’s currently student teaching a diverse group of second and third graders at Horace Mann Elementary in West Allis.
“My parents are wonderful people and they really, really cared about education,” says Salameh.
His father is from Jordan, and his mother is from Mexico. They met and married in Chicago, eventually settling near Racine, where Salameh grew up.
He realizes now that his parents gave him a great gift with language; Salameh is familiar with Arabic and Spanish. As a child, however, he felt like his parents couldn’t help him as much as he would like because his schoolwork was always in English.
One of his goals is to become principal of a bilingual public school, helping students from similar backgrounds. Modest about his speaking capabilities, he’s working on perfecting his Spanish.
“It’s vital that teachers and principals are able to work with young children of different backgrounds, particularly in those early years,” says Salameh.
The only male graduating this semester in the university’s Early Childhood Education program, Salameh hopes to help change the stereotype of education as a female field.
“The school I am in now has the highest amount of male teachers I have ever seen, but we are still outnumbered by plenty,” he says.
His work at Horace Mann is overseen by two women – Linsey Taubert and Jennifer Crawshaw.
He began college at UW-Whitewater, where his older brother went, but found UWM’s diversity suited him better. “I grew up with cousins who are first-generation students. Some of them are [UWM] alums, and that influenced me. UWM was such a better fit for me.”
He earned a number of scholarships from the School of Education to help him in his studies, including the Robert Kuehneisen Teachers for a New Era Scholarship and the Lawton Scholarship.
A part-time job tutoring youngsters in the SPARK reading program – a partnership involving UWM and the Boys and Girls Club – inspired him to enter the Early Childhood Education program. “It was an amazing experience, watching the students I worked with make progress in learning to read.”
This past year has been a particularly busy one for Salameh. His wife, Angie, is a School of Architecture & Urban Planning graduate and a new mom to Zara, the couple’s first child. He’s finishing up student teaching and completing the edTPA, a new video portfolio required of UWM education graduates headed into teaching careers.
Busy as he is, he’s also enjoying his student teaching experience.
“I like working one-on-one with the students and providing as much individualized attention as possible every day,” he says. “It’s really great to see how much progress they’ve made in the time I’ve been here.”
He hasn’t started looking for a full-time teaching job yet (student teaching doesn’t end until January, even though he graduates in December). He’d prefer to work in a public school because “they provide a door to opportunity for everyone.”
He wants to be the best teacher possible.
“I’m still learning every day in this classroom. I want to learn how I can improve and help these students do better.”