‘Aha Moment’ Led Mom to Teach

Middle School French teacher Narjis Benjelloun draws on positive experiences with her own kids, and negative ones in the rigid French school system, to inform her teaching.
Narjis Benjelloun stands outside the Friends Middle School, where she teaches French to all three grades.
Narjis Benjelloun stands outside the Friends Middle School, where she teaches French to all three grades.
Laya Bubshait

Middle School French Teacher Narjis Benjelloun is loved by students and teachers throughout Friends School.

At Friends, Benjelloun teaches French to all three middle school grades. She is also a DEI coordinator and faculty meeting clerk.

She learned to speak French in Morocco, where she was born and raised. 

“I grew up in Morocco. So I went through the French system of schooling, it was very rigid, and very difficult. For example, it was graded out of 20. If you had below 10, you had to redo the entire year,” she says,” and the support was non-existent.” 

Her experience growing up in this strict schooling system is one of the reasons Benjelloun decided to become a teacher. She says she believed education should be more than just grades and papers, and that developing connections with your students is crucial to making learning more efficient and fun.

Benjelloun moved to the United States with her husband after he started a PhD program here.

“I was already studying English in Morocco,” she remembers. “So yeah, why not? Let’s go to the US.”

After she had been living in the States for a few years, she went back to Morocco. But she missed the greater freedom of her life in the US.

“I lived here almost 10 years before I went back. So it felt like being a kid again, asking for permission to go out. You can imagine what that is,” she says. “Once you come [to the US], you cannot go back. I feel like it’s the Dreamland.”

“I remember I went to my coworker. I was like, ‘That was the best time of my life.’ “

— Narjis Benjelloun

When Benjelloun first moved here, she was not immediately able to work due to her visa. Later, she started teaching French at public elementary schools in Baltimore, then at The Institute of Notre Dame (IND), a Catholic school.

Benjelloun’s history with Friends starts even before she started working here. While she was working at IND, her own kids were enrolled at Friends. She says she fell in love with the school.

“I think the Quaker spirit, the education level, just inspired me to teach here,” she says. “When I got the job, I felt like I won the lottery. It was just amazing to be able to work here.”

Benjelloun says her kids were part of her inspiration to become a teacher.

“Teaching my kids stuff, doing homework with them and all that: I loved it,” she remembers. “It was like an ‘aha moment’ all the time, when they figured out things.”

From the very first class she taught, Benjelloun says, she loved teaching.

“I remember I went to my coworker. I was like, ‘That was the best time of my life,’ ” she says.

As many of her students know, outside of teaching, one of Mrs. Benjelloun’s hobbies is collecting shoes.

“I love shoes. I love sneakers,” she confides. “But now I’m trying to [take a break from] buying them.”

Her colleague, art teacher Rodney Ruley, has noticed the diverse assortment of her shoes.

“She comes in with a new pair of shoes every month,” he says.

2019 was the year that Benjelloun started teaching at Friends, just months before COVID hit. Although COVID was a rough time for teachers, she says she still felt supported by the school. She was able to teach virtually while she stayed home with her kids, and the school provided the teachers with training in virtual learning, so she felt better prepared for it.

Benjelloun makes it a priority to connect with her students, and says the students are her favorite part of teaching.

“The interactions with them are uplifting and joyful,” she says. “My fondest memory is when Upper Schoolers see me, they come and run and hug [me] and tell [me] things about them. And if they do, that means that we were able to build a good relationship over the years.” 

Junior Eva Cain ‘25 was in Benjelloun’s advisory during 8th grade in 2020-21. She has fond memories.

“She was a really fun teacher and advisor. It was COVID, so our advisory was always in [her room],” says Eva. “Her class was like the first French class that I’ve ever liked.” 

Junior Quentin Scott was also in her class and advisory during the 2020-21 school year.

“I learned a lot more in her French class than I did in previous years,” he says. “With assignments we submitted, she always [gave] us a chance to redo them.”

Benjelloun’s journey from Morocco to the US and her passion for teaching make her a cherished figure at Friends School, where her dedication to her students, and her teaching methods, are leaving a lasting impact.

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