Having screened the film Girl Rising and giving continuous coverage to the brave work of Malala Yousafzai, we see the profound effect that education can have not only on a child, but on a community and the world, at large. From what you’ve seen, firsthand in your own classroom, what does getting a proper education do for your girls and boys?
DS: How wonderful to have been a part of that screening. I have shown the trailer to more people than I could count, with the hopes it will be seen by all. What is fascinating to me is that, seeing those girls in the trailer, I see my students.
For 15 years, children and adults from around the world have entered my classroom. What I have had the honor, sorrow, shock, anger, and blessing to experience can only be explained through their successes. A girl from Somalia dressed in full Chador, who had her tongue cut out for speaking out in a refusal to marry at 11, came to my classroom. She never wanted to talk or smile. One day I tried to say a Somali Proverb in Arabic. I knew I was wrong in my words and knew the mistake would bring at least a smile. Well, it made her laugh, mouth wide open guffaw. And so trust was born and learning began. She has since graduated and went on to college.
For 15 years, children and adults from around the world have entered my classroom. What I have had the honor, sorrow, shock, anger, and blessing to experience can only be explained through their successes.
A girl from the Congo, who after FGM (female genital mutilation), because her family feared her “beauty would cause problems of promiscuity in the future”, walked into my classroom and asked me to be her “Auntie” after I refused to let her lower her standards and expectations of herself simply because she was taught that growing up. She has since graduated and is on to college.
A boy from Haiti, left school after first grade to work with his father, came to my classroom after the earthquake took every member of his family but an auntie in the States. While other teachers thought him “not teachable”, four of us begged to differ. He is now thriving at a 6th grade reading level and I continued to work with him until this honor was bestowed upon me. This young man is off to high school with the hopes of graduating to become (tears in 3… 2… 1…) a teacher.
Finally, though I wish I could tell all of their stories, the one that hit me deepest is my princesses from Bangladesh. These sisters walked into my classroom with the most beautiful yellow and lace hejabs and gorgeous crooked smiles of yellowed, neglected teeth. Our relationships blossomed through my “kooky” teaching style and finding out our shared love for Indian Films – especially Shahrukh Khan in the classic Kuch Kuch Hota Hai. Through the subtitles and staying after school for hours on end to watch the films and learn English, in two years, these funny, talented and determined young ladies scored perfect scores on the writing portion of their standardized exam. Their parents’ appreciation of my love for them and their education was beyond their imagination when coming to America. It is the ultimate compliment for a female American educator. Presently, they are both at universities studying medicine and finance.
These, among many other stories, I believe answer the question and solidify Malala Yousafzai’s peaceful but powerful urging, “Let us pick up our books and our pens. They are our most powerful weapons. One teacher, one book, one pen, can change the world.”
Your TOY role is going to have you on sabbatical from your school district during your year of service. Will you miss being out of the classroom?
DS: I equate my feeling to that of a traveler. I love going to see new things, meet new people, experience as much as I can and really soak it all in, but there are those brief moments on the trip where I become Dorothy and say, “There’s no place like home.” The classroom, filled with my little United Nations, is my home. However, I have a big responsibility to spread an important message that could impact not just the 120 of my ESOL kids this year, but thousands of children in Florida. I’d sacrifice being home for that any day!