A teacher with strong morals


: Mr. Issa teaches sophomore grade-level and senior advanced placement (AP) English at our school. He has a distinct personal teaching style that is very skills-based.

Not everyone can say that they would leave a grandiose lifestyle filled with excitement and travel and celebrities in order to educate. Mr. Danny Issa, however, is one of those few individuals who has done just that.

Mr. Issa teaches sophomore English and senior AP English Literature and Composition at the school. He has been teaching English for only four years, but has been teaching in general all his life. He has always had a passion for it, beginning with instructing water polo as a teenager. He was born in Qatar, which is a country located in the Middle East, and there he was a morning show host and DJ on the radio. He went on to work at a magazine production company in the United States, writing pieces ranging from business features and works on world economics to pieces on films, restaurants and celebrities.

“I got to cook with Gordon Ramsay, I got to have coffee with Antonio Banderas, I got to meet Roger Federer, I got to play chess with Wynton Marsalis,” Mr. Issa said. “That was a pretty fun experience being 20-nothing and meeting all these people and getting to travel the world and write about their experiences.”
After that he got into theatre tech, working as a carpenter for sets. He worked for theatres all around Washington, D.C., including Shakespeare, Signature, Studio and Arena. Out of all of his past jobs, he felt that was the most satisfying and gratifying.

“People would come in and watch [the plays] for months and walk away loving what we were doing,” Mr. Issa said. “Knowing I had a hand in creating something that was, although temporary, meaningful and impactful for many people was a ton of fun.”

Teaching is definitely a lot to juggle. It is no easy task to come up with lessons, keep up with grading and schedule it all. That may lead one to question why he would leave his sometimes luxurious, often unique, and exciting past jobs in order to do something that is not as frequently exalted by society. For him though, it was all about having a sense of contributing something of importance to the world.
“It was [fun], but that’s all it was,” Mr. Issa said. “It was fine for a while, but after two years and five or six huge marquis experiences, and when I wasn’t writing about this new restaurant or that new film or whatever, it was selling products to people that had too much money and not enough to do with it.”
For him, there was no sense of achievement or purpose in what he had been doing, and he knew that teaching had always filled him with that missing part. Doing that sort of writing did not line up with his personal philosophy, so he did something admirable and stayed true to himself, despite the backlash he received from those he was close to.

“I had a lot of people in my life think teaching was not a very masculine job and the financial stability of it,” Mr. Issa said. “It certainly is an exhausting job, but at the end of the day I’m always really happy with the work I do and feel sort of refreshed.”

He holds this same philosophy of not giving up his personal morals in the classroom, in which he has an untraditional teaching style. He tends not to go by the regular societal standards of what a student should be, but rather looks for evidence that they are trying their best and pushing forward.

“I don’t think education is about ‘memorize that’ or ‘write this down’ or ‘check that box,’” Mr. Issa said. “My students come from so many different walks of life through so many different challenges and obstacles that they’re working through, so I try to be relaxed. I try and push my students, but if they’re not ready for what I have to give them, then they’re not ready.”

He doesn’t shy away from urging his students forward, though. He believes that everyone has different levels that they can be pushed to and personalizes his teaching.

“In terms of pushing their skills in the classroom, I love watching students struggle really hard and get really frustrated and get really angry and then they have this click moment,” Mr. Issa said.

Classrooms in his eyes should be like little families, environments in which students feel safe to learn, share and grow, which seems to be missing too often in schools. To him, students should not have anxiety before walking through the door each day to his room.

“We’re trying to support each other and build each other up, instead of finding competitions and comparisons to each other to tear each other down,” Mr. Issa said.

A way he attempts to make students comfortable is by telling them some of his own personal, but applicable, stories, in order to make himself more human in their eyes.

“I think it would be really dishonest with my students if I pretended like I know all of the answers to everything and that I was an autonomous being,” Mr. Issa said. “In the English classroom we are talking about the human experience constantly. Every novel is insight into the pain and the suffering and the romance and the beauty and the tragedy of what it means to be a human being. How can we go through and share ideas about the world around us if I am not being a good role model in that?”

Of course, all teachers have their frustrations at times and need to take a step back and tell themselves something to calm down. In Mr. Issa’s case, it’s a simple “slow down.”

“A lot of the times I might be trying to bite off too much or push too fast,” Mr. Issa said. “I get this nagging voice inside my head that goes all the way back to when I was a student, where class meant you had to read so many books and write so many papers.”

All of his students need a different part of him in order to be successful, which can take its toll. He takes this in stride, though, and does his best to offer each individual what he can, whatever he knows will help them progress.

“It’s that process of knowing that I have something to offer and watching the students enjoy the classroom and learn that they have strengths in academics and that academics can serve them, and they are smart enough and they are good enough and they can figure these things out,” Mr. Issa said.