A later-in-life career change has filled a Malibu man with a newfound joy and satisfaction of serving his community. After four decades successfully running aerospace companies as a mechanical engineer, Ahmad Diba has made a complete turnaround and is now teaching at Our Lady of Malibu. He couldn’t be more delighted.
Diba was restlessly retired only three years ago and said teaching “wasn’t on my radar.” With his additional free time, the Malibu resident since 1981 was playing more tennis and planning more travel. But with retirement came mixed feelings.
“I felt a little bit unproductive,” Diba confessed. “I went from 100 miles per hour to three miles per hour. It was tough. You enjoy it for a few weeks, but if you’re used to waking up at 5:30 and all of a sudden there is no urgent reason to get out of bed—that’s a big change.”
In 2015, an acquaintance who knew that Diba spoke fluent French asked him to sub at OLM. He was already tutoring friends who had asked. It became such an unexpected yet fulfilling change that “things grew,” the educator explained. Diba now teaches not only French but also math, computer programming for robots and, as a fun diversion, computer game design. Now a full-timer, he’s also been asked by some Webster parents to teach French after school. “I enjoy it,” he said.
“I worked 24-7 before. Compared to my last job, this is pure joy,” Diba described. “I don’t have the responsibility of payroll or the headaches of running a business. All I have to do is try to participate in a small way—for little people to grow. At the end of the day, if I’ve made a small contribution to their growth and their happiness, it’s all joy.”
Diba was born in Iran. He went to Catholic school in Tehran speaking French and Persian. More education ensued in France and Switzerland where he met his wife of 32 years, Zari. The couple has a daughter who recently graduated from college. After college in Texas, Diba attended USC for his master’s in industrial systems engineering. He spent years back and forth between Europe and Malibu as the head of an aerospace manufacturer. “Anything that flew had some of our parts on it,” he said.
Diba described “the beauty of teaching at Our Lady of Malibu,” saying, “I’m serving my own community. It’s a beautiful community. Wonderful parents. Wonderful children. It’s a lot of joy. That’s part of the attraction, beside the fact that the school is small, there are a lot of values, it’s a loving, caring environment for the children, a lot of parent participation. So that makes it a bit of a jewel.”
Recalling one of his first experiences at OLM that drew him to stay, Diba said, “Two little kids with squeaky voices started speaking French. Interacting with them and teaching French to this group was such a delight.
“It’s such a joy to teach these kids a skill and see them master it,” he continued. “Especially with the little ones—they’re like sponges. They get the accent right away. You get immediate gratification by seeing the effect of what you’re trying to do.”
At 8th grade graduation, OLM students give a speech about what they’re thankful for and Diba said he received some sweet comments even though he’s not “an easy teacher—especially 8th grade math.” He is sometimes affectionately known as “Lord Diba.”
“I had the honors class this year and I pushed them,” Diba said. “But they said I prepared them for high school and beyond. They gave me a bit of a roast—some of them—but it was enjoyable. They’re giving it back to you and you know individually how you may have an impact on their happiness—on their growth—on their life.
“I look at it as another chapter in my life,” he continued. “I have had a life that hasn’t followed a standard path. I lived in three different continents in four different countries. I’ve been exposed to different cultures. In that way it has been a progression. This is another one, except this one wasn’t planned. Everything else was somewhat, at least. Here, I’m not trying to go somewhere. I’m finding a new focus. Whatever I do I try to do it well. I’m not just teaching, I’m trying to teach well.
“All our life we have learned that work was important—worthy,” the teacher explained. “Now, teaching gives you other feedback: That I am still a productive member of my community. And that’s a great feeling.”