Azza Ezzat went home to Egypt over Thanksgiving break to take care of her sister who has cancer. Ezzat is a biology and human anatomy teacher for Socorro High School and has been teaching remotely from Egypt. Photos courtesy of Azza Ezzat

Azza Ezzat came to Socorro in 1989 to join her husband who received his PhD degree from New Mexico State University. Ezzat was born and raised in Egypt where she received a medical degree. After coming to New Mexico, she received her teaching certificates and has been teaching biology and human anatomy at Socorro High School since 2004.

What got you interested in teaching?

I had a medical degree from Egypt and I started residency in internal medicine in Egypt. I left with my husband to get his PhD degree in computer science.

During that time, I was happy at the beginning that I didn’t have to do any night shifts or anything like any more and I can keep my job in Egypt for a long time if I’m joining my husband somewhere else like overseas or abroad. I kept my job for 10 years and then I got tired of it. I had my kids so it was really difficult to go to Albuquerque to do a residency again for medicine, as I would have to be in a teaching hospital. This would have involved a lot of travel to UNM for training. It was too difficult to travel so it was a choice between family and career.

I chose family because I had three boys (who are) one year apart and I raised them. I became a stay-at-home mom until they finished elementary school. I started thinking about teaching so I started getting my credentials as a teacher.

New Mexico Tech, at that time, they opened their program for alternative licensure, which I took some classes in. There used to be three licenses at the time which I did all of that. By the time I almost finished, my first kid was going into high school. I applied for a job there and since then, I have been in Socorro High School. That was in 2004, something like that… It didn’t stop at that point for me. I continued learning and got my master in science teaching as well as applied and was awarded a national board certificate in science.

What subjects and grade levels do you teach?

I used to teach sophomores and seniors in biology and human anatomy.

This year, the administration talked about the freshman needing biology so I’m teaching the freshman biology and an advanced one for sophomores. I’m still teaching human anatomy for seniors.

What is it like teaching remotely from Egypt?

At the beginning, I was kind of worried about how the connection would be and logistics like that.

Before I left for Egypt, one day Socorro had an internet outage I believe in the beginning of November which made it difficult to teach. I thought about it and said, ‘if that happens in Socorro, that is likely to happen in Egypt.’ Thankfully since then, I didn’t really have any problems with that. I can hear them. I can see them. They can hear me. They can see me. There are some little issues here and there but we are able to solve them.

What challenges have you faced teaching remotely?

Trying to get the best internet between many companies here. I don’t know which company to use as they are different than the major American ones. I had to learn which one to use and had to actually learn with the technician when they came to install everything. I got disconnected twice but I learned some stuff and I was able to fix it all myself. The technology was a challenge, but I’m not afraid of it anymore.

What positives have come out of teaching remotely?

Somehow, I think the kids kind of enjoy that I’m teaching them from Egypt. To them, it’s something strange, like, ‘what time is it now Ms.’ Right now, it’s dark here. It’s about 7:00 at night and your time, it’s about 10 a.m. so for them to see that, it’s interesting for them. The last class ends around 1:15 a.m. so they are like, ‘now I know why you need to go to sleep.’ They like it…

I think they miss being in-person. Like 1-to-1 is a completely different story.

From Egypt or from there, I’m still feeling, I’m going to give you some kind of similarity. That’s the way virtual teaching — it’s not like in class where you can go talk to the student, look at what he is doing. I brought with me stuff to give them visuals, but still missed a lot of teachingfrom my classroom.
Azza Ezzat Zoom Class

Azza Ezzat teaches her students via Google Meet from Egypt. Her final class of the day finishes at 1:15 a.m. in Egypt
Photos courtesy of Azza Ezzat

What is it like teaching at night?

It’s alright. By the last class, I’m moving slower which actually helps. I’m usually enthusiastic, fast and even sometimes I tell them that when I’m too fast to stop me because then the English will get really bad. I need to slow down. The last class, I feel like I’m slower than when I was at the beginning. The last class, they are tired too because it’s the end of the day. Both of us are tired and ready to finish the day.

Why are you in Egypt?

Unfortunately my sister is very ill. I heard about it at the end of the summer that she has cancer. It’s also unfortunately a reoccurrence.

It’s now between stage three and stage four. She is my only sister. I have brothers, but she’s the only sister. I really struggled the whole semester between going and waiting and waiting and going. I thought about Thanksgiving that I could take the three weeks teaching from there. In the meantime, I asked her to stay with me in my apartment.

She’s with me now so we can stay with each other for a longer time. There are some complications like blood clots and etc., so I’m giving her heparin injections myself. Trying to follow up in certain things with her. I’m going back in January because I know that I can’t stay here forever. I plan on coming back in January and returning to Egypt in June.

How long have you been in Egypt?

I left during the Thanksgiving break because I didn’t want the kids to feel the time difference.

I left while they didn’t have school so when I started teaching, some of them didn’t even feel the difference. They left me before Thanksgiving and found me after Thanksgiving. It’s been about a month and a week, something like that.

What is it like being back in Egypt?

It’s winter now here, but winter is different than in Socorro which is normally much calmer, but it’s not here. I think the number of dogs increased too much in the streets. They bark when I’m teaching and I want them to stop. The students tell me, ‘don’t worry Ms. we can’t hear them.’

Sometimes, when I talk about Egypt to my students I tell them, ‘when I go to Egypt I’m going to do this, this and this.’ And they are like, ‘you are in Egypt now!’. But it doesn’t feel the same anymore. I’ve lived in Socorro now more than I’ve lived in Egypt. I came to Socorro in 1989 as a newlywed. I was young. This is why I feel like I belong there, not here. I feel like I’m visiting now when I come to Egypt.

What was it like when you first got to Socorro?

It was definitely very different, I don’t want to say a shock, but it was because I came from Cairo. Cairo is very crowded like New York — shoulderto- shoulder with people.

I saw the USA always in the movies and movies are always in big cities and if there is a cowboy, it would be way in the desert or somewhere. I didn’t know that most of them exist together. I’m not used to having nobody in the street.

I wasn’t used to small towns that were strange to me. I didn’t realize that the number of people is much less in Socorro.

Cairo has about 20 million people in one city and then I come to 12,000. I couldn’t understand it and my husband didn’t explain that to me. He was in the USA before me. He came in 1980. He got his masters from Florida in 1981, I believe, and then he moved to New Mexico to get his PhD. Now, he’s a professor in computer science at New Mexico Tech.

I will say Socorro has very nice people, I love them. It took awhile for me to get used to walking in empty streets which really scared me at first. I couldn’t walk in a street that has no people. When I told that to one of the dentist hygienists, she told me, ‘for us, if we walk and there are people, we are afraid.’ It’s the opposite. It’s the conditioning of a human being. I’m used to many people so I’m not afraid of people. To her, it’s the opposite. Now, I got used to that I wasn’t used to mountains. I don’t live next to the Nile anymore, but I had another river to walk by (Rio Grande). It was a different feeling. Egypt is very crowded because most of the people live around the Nile and the Delta.

When I came to Socorro, I learned the beauty of the mountains. I didn’t appreciate it at the beginning because I’m not used to it. I was looking for something green, some water. There is some stuff like that in Socorro. Now, I really enjoy looking at the mountains. It took me a few years to know that mountains are pretty and that quietness is nice. I was used to noises. Now, when I come here to Egypt, it’s too noisy and they look at me weird because it’s normal to them.

What would you change about Socorro and why?

Because I interact with kids so much I really believe they are our future. I think sometimes I wish I could increase their drive and motivation to make their goals bigger. In my decades of teaching I barely found any kid who is not intelligent. They are really intelligent, but it always hurts me when they tell me they are happy with doing the minimum or being hard on themselves. We need to work on this because I feel that any student from Socorro can compete with any other student across the country. I always have high expectations. I’m trying to let them know that from this age, they are capable of doing this and accomplishing much more. I tell the students that they know their phone and computer more than I know. I always get so excited when I read about students from Socorro who have accomplished amazing things because that is what this is all about.