“I was always very determined and was a strong student. Hashem blessed me in so many ways. Living in three different countries and Jewish communities by the time I was 13 years of age helped me adapt quickly, both personally and in my career.” ~~ Tania ~~
ELLEN GELLER KAMARAS
Please meet Tania Zeitoune, née Abadi, a vibrant dual language educator in the Brooklyn public school system. What perfect timing that I connected with Tania as we prepare our children and ourselves for the new school year.
One of the first things that Tania told me was that she is an atypical Syrian girl. Every person is indeed unique, but Tania, born in Israel, lived in three countries, Guatemala, Venezuela, and Panama by the time she turned thirteen. She then moved to Brooklyn with her mother, Gina Abadi, her twin sister, and younger sister. Unfortunately, her father, Ezra Abadi, a”h, passed away before they left Panama.
Tania’s father was in the import/export business, which was the reason for the family’s several moves. Both of Tania’s parents were born in Lebanon to families of Syrian descent, and they both emigrated to Venezuela separately. The couple met in Venezuela and married in Israel.
Tania’s mother enrolled her at Magen David Yeshivah and the family prayed at the Sephardic Lebanese Congregation, where Tania and her family are now members.
Tania consistently excelled in school. She was fluent in both Spanish and English. “My mother was very caring. She was committed to education and instilled its significance in us. She gave me the confidence to shine academically. Before we started a new grade, she prepared us for the upcoming year by reviewing the new curriculum and doing worksheets with us. This allowed me to have a head start on the academics and focus on getting comfortable socially.”
It is no surprise that Gina coached her children during the summers. She studied in France to become a French teacher and returned to Lebanon.
College and Career
Tania graduated MDY High School as salutatorian and was accepted into the Willian E. Macauley Honors Program at Brooklyn College. She achieved a perfect score on the math SAT, and declared a major in accounting. Tania later realized that accounting did not come naturally and she switched to business and marketing. Tania scored paid internships, studied abroad in Italy, and thrived while performing marketing in the financial world.
Then Came Marriage
At the outset of her career, Tania was hired to do marketing for a senior home and was putting in long hours. It was hashgacha pratit that Tania met her naseeb, Raymond Zeitoune, at a mutual family friend’s barbeque. After the BBQ, Raymond asked a mutual friend to set them up. Raymond, four years older than Tania, had graduated Fordham Law School and was excited when he was introduced to her. Raymond wanted not only a wife and mother but a partner too, and he was attracted to Tania’s out of the box childhood and energy. Tania was blessed to meet a soulmate who appreciated her passionate nature and would support her professional growth.
Raymond has his own legal practice and the couple have three children, an eleven-year-old daughter and two sons, eight and six years old. They chose Yeshiva Derech Eretz for their children for its blend of authentic Jewish values and its commitment to excellence in Torah education and academic studies.
Tania was set on going for a master’s degree in business, and then pivoted to education. “I was pregnant with my first child and knew I was social, super patient, and liked to teach. In high school I volunteered for an organization dedicated to working with children with special needs. I registered in Touro College for Special Education. I gave birth to my daughter during grad school and attended classes on Sunday and in the evenings.”
Her master’s program included general and special education and a bilingual specialty. Tania shared that it was from shamayim that she drove home a Touro classmate who encouraged her to apply for an internship certificate only a week before the deadline. The certificate would allow Tania to finish her degree while working and getting paid. Tania applied for a paraprofessional/shadow position but was offered a job as a bilingual SEIT. A SEIT is a Special Education Itinerant Teacher who travels to different schools and homes and helps children to integrate into mainstream classrooms, despite their challenges with social/emotional, behavioral, speech, language, or developmental issues.
Tania was a SEIT for eight years for the OMNI Childhood Center, an approved provider of SEITs. She worked in various public schools for the first four years and was placed at MDY for the last four. After Tania completed her master’s degree, Omni paid for her bilingual degree, and she became a bilingual SEIT.
“My years as a SEIT offered me terrific opportunities and flexibility. My daughter was 11 months old when I started. I traveled to several schools and worked 25 hours a week with three- and four-year-olds.” My husband has been my biggest champion emotionally and in every way. He helped me grow my career, pitching in when the nanny wasn’t available and with emergencies. My mother was also there for me especially in the beginning and was my role model as an educator. For the first five years as a SEIT, I worked 12 consecutive months since the bilingual children get twelve months of mandated services.”
Tania was grateful that during her SEIT years, her children never felt that she worked, as she left the house after they went off to school and returned before they came home. The parents of the kids Tania taught greatly appreciated her contributions to their children’s education and development.
Change Can Be Good
When the government limited the funding for SEIT programs, Tania knew it was time for a change. A mother of a SEIT colleague advised Tania that her daughter’s principal was looking to hire. Three years ago, a week before September, the principal of P.S. 90 in Coney Island contacted Tania and hired her as a special education teacher. Shortly thereafter, she transferred Tania to a dual language class.
The transition was challenging but rewarding. The biggest hurdle was that Tania’s work schedule was not in sync with her children’s yeshiva schedule, especially the winter break. “My kids appreciate life and are proud of what I’m doing. They help me prepare presents for my students and watch me grade papers. Raymond steps in and takes them to visit their grandparents in Florida over the winter break. It’s important for kids to know they can’t always get everything.”
Tania explained that the parents of dual language students apply six months in advance to obtain these limited spots for their children, and they are invested in their children’s progress. “The immigrant parents don’t speak English and are unprivileged, but they care a lot about education and are the best assets. I clarify that we are a team. Our partnership leads to victory. I am very warm and caring but can be strong when needed. I want my students to succeed.”
What Lights Tania Up?
Her passions are family and teaching. “I am a working mom and my family is my number one priority and my job is number two. I give my children whatever they need, emotionally and financially, that’s what drives me: my energy revolves around my husband and kids. I have a terrific work-life balance, but it took time and effort to create it. I go above and beyond in the classroom and outside of it. My diverse childhood helped me adjust swiftly and in so many ways.”
Out of the Mouth of Babes
Tania’s young daughter described her mother beautifully in a biography, writing that her mom had moved from country to country and was determined to have a great life. “Tania always focuses on the present, not the past or the future. Growing up, Tania believed in being hard working, responsible, and generous.”
Tania taught via Zoom from her husband’s office in the basement. She proudly read insights from her daughter’s Covid essay about learning to never give up and being flexible. Her daughter described how everyone had their own space in the house to learn on Zoom, but it was online learning that made it different.
Tania deeply values her community and feels a strong sense of belonging. “I love our community and with my busy schedule as a working mom, the community helps me feel grounded.”
Hobbies and Life Interests
After her top passions of family and teaching, Tania’s interests include a love of exercising, spending time in nature, traveling, relaxing at the beach, and cooking.
Given Tania’s growth mindset and love of learning, she is open to the possibility of returning to school for an advanced degree for an administrator/principal role: “the possibilities are endless.”
Tania emphasized the value of creating a good relationship with one’s administrator. Building relationships with her supervisors allows her to attend her children’s special school events – it’s a give and take.
Tania’s message to community women is that there are obtainable career opportunities. Tania’s mission is to inspire and motivate them with the lessons she learned about knowing one’s self-worth and balancing family and career.
Tania can be reached at email@example.com.