In the afternoons at Hellgate High, a room is reserved for Elkateeb and Fadi Ehlin, the school's new Arabic languages and culture teachers, the seal of approval is "mmtaz!"
More than 125 students at Sentinel and Hellgate have just begun their Arabic studies under the two.
Ehlin's job with the district is permanent, but Elkateeb is on a one-year assignment from Egypt, a position funded by the U.S. State Department. He comes to Missoula via the Teachers of Critical Languages Program, which places Arabic and Chinese teachers in the U.S. for one-year assignments.
The Missoula County Public Schools district was accepted into the program last year.
Elkateeb's usual role is reversed in his Missoula classes: English to Arabic, not Arabic to English. But, if his teaching style in Missoula is the same as it is in Egypt, his students at home are required to be precise and fast.
He may be demanding. But he's also encouraging, constantly praising the correct responses with the ever-present "mmtaz!" and gently correcting the answers that are just a tongue-click or vowel lilt away from perfect.
Each student in this Arabic I course — one of three at Hellgate — has adopted a Middle Eastern name.
"Sabrin" is asked to stand in front of the class.
"Don't be afraid," said Elkateeb, again flashing his big grin. "The person who makes mistakes is the person who succeeds best in language."
"Sabrin" does just fine and is bombarded with more declarations of "mmtaz!"
The bell rings. The class is over. But Elkateeb wants everyone to say "goodbye."
In Arabic, of course.
"Sabah al khair," a student said.
Not quite "mmtaz" enough for the teacher.
"Is sabah al khair appropriate to say right now?" Elkateeb bellows to the dispersing class. "No. Because we only say that in the sabah, the morning!"