Hanna Gharib: The Union Chief Goes Back to School

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Though Gharib has become “taboo,” his students know that Teacher’s Day cannot pass without paying tribute to him, even if in secret. (Photo: Marwan Tahtah)

By: Rajana Hamyeh

Published Saturday, March 9, 2013

For the students of Beirut’s Mar Elias Btina high school, it is hard to imagine chemistry class without Hanna Gharib. The striking chemistry teacher turned union leader has left a void at Mar Elias Btina, which has inadvertently become known as “Hanna Gharib’s School.”

One thing his 10th grade students understand about his absence is that they have “missed” him. So perhaps it is for this reason that many of them have participated in his union rallies after school, just so they can see Mr. Hanna.

Yet the same school also suffers from what seems like a “phobia” of Gharib. For instance, the administration here has forbidden students from talking to the media about “political issues.”

Even Teacher’s Day, events have been cancelled because students “would no doubt speak about Gharib, and issues like strikes and protests,” according to a teacher at the school, who spoke off the record.

Though Gharib has become “taboo,” his students know that Teacher’s Day cannot pass without paying tribute to him, even if in secret.

“Nothing changes him, no matter how much time has passed,” said Nadim Khoury, who was a student at Mar Elias Btina ten years ago. When he saw his old teacher on TV, he said, “That’s Hanna Gharib. He did not change.” Echoing this, he asked gleefully, “That’s him alright, but where is his leather jacket?”

There is something that sets Gharib apart, according to his students. He is honest and generous, yet he never seeks credit. For this reason, they know that when he is in the streets, engaged in advocacy and industrial action, he does so “without ulterior motives and gives from the bottom of his heart, just like he would teach us in class.”

Khoury remembers that the chemistry teacher never dismissed class before the bell rang, as his lessons were lengthy and he would leave nothing unexplained.

This passion is enough for a student to not forget the name of a teacher “who gave so much without asking for anything in return,” as he said.

Gharib’s current students feel the same way about him. One such student, Rabih, said that after his absence, “we discovered that chemistry class suits no one else but him.” This is despite “Mr. Hanna’s heavy-handed and somewhat mean approach” in grading exams and assignments.

Rabih likes to compare Gharib’s grading methods to a “stock exchange that is always falling.” Nevertheless, according to Rabih, there are exceptions. “Once, he checked our notebooks and gave us extra marks for our homework. After that, we found out that we had not performed well in our exams, so he was trying to help us.”

According to Karim, a student at the Wata public school where Gharib also teaches, the teacher is not always so calm. “When he becomes furious, it is difficult to discuss matters with him, and silence is the best solution to avoid being penalized with grades.”

Nevertheless, Karim affirms that Gharib can be “lighthearted, especially when he notices that the class is not being attentive; his jokes and the nicknames he coins are often amusing and spot on.”

Yet the most interesting bit about Gharib, according to his students, is “his rural accent,” which they never heard in class, and only discovered after they saw him on television. The reason was that in his appearances, he spoke in Arabic, “while in class, he teaches his lessons and speaks to students in French.”

After his television appearance, some began to ask him for autographs. The teacher had become a star, but according to his former students who still remember him, he has always been so.

This article is an edited translation from the Arabic Edition.

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