This post is republished with permission from Sherif Osman’s blog, and we invite readers to use the hashtag #IfMalalaWasMyStudent on Twitter and their blogs, and Sherif and Edcontexts will compile responses and storify them, then publish here.

by Sherif Osman, Cairo, Egypt

I was watching the Jon Stewart show [the other day] and he was interviewing Malala, interestingly enough we were just talking about her at work that morning. It got me thinking, what if Malala was a girl in my class? Would I realise her potential? Would I encourage her? Would I be intimidated? Would I differentiate for her? Would I modify my teaching?

A better way to think about this, if one of your students was a Nobel peace laureate and has an international fund raising organisation dedicated to education access and educational reform. Would you feel you had to up your game? If so, does that mean that teachers need students that will challenge them in order to excel? What does that mean for ‘low ability’ group settings? Is that beneficial for students or teachers if that’s the case? Hmm…

As I continued to watch the show, I was intrigued. Her knowledge and vocab were excellent for a student her age; you could tell it wasn’t something she’d practiced, her wit and confidence shone through. I’ve met many students who surprised me with their knowledge, or their passion, or their confidence, or their attitude, or initiative, but rarely all those combined. I began to remember certain students, and wonder what they were up to now and if they had realised their potential? Are they enjoying what they are doing?

Earlier this year, a colleague at work asked me to write an article about an incident that happened to me as a student and how that affected my teaching. Since writing that article, I frequently started thinking about my time in the classroom as a student and what I can learn from it now as a teacher.

This got me thinking that I am who I am today because of my interactions in the classroom for a large portion of my life. My interactions with the teachers and other students have had a massive impact on my life and hence who I am today. That then begs the question, could I have been much better at something had my teachers or one of my teachers realised my potential in a particular area? A more positive way to look at this, have I excelled at something because someone helped me realise my potential? Who where they and what did they do differently? Perhaps this reflection can help me help my students.

When speaking to a colleague at work about this post idea, she suggested that I follow this post up with several posts where I reflect on those incidents and how they affected me. She then jokingly suggested I start a twitter movement #ifMalalaWasMyStudent where people can post their views on this. I liked the idea so much that I am going to do it. So I invite you all to share your stories or reflections on this hashtag. I will try and compile all the responses in a blog post to follow this up.


About the Author:
Sherif Osman
Sherif Osman (@the_sosman) currently works as part of the Pedagogy & Assessment team at the Center for Learning & Teaching at the American University in Cairo. He also teaches a range of courses at the Professional Educator's Diploma, a teacher education program at the same institution. Sherif has a rich background that encompasses academic and professional experiences in education. He holds a Master of Arts in Education along with the Post Graduate Certificate in Education (PGCE) from the UK where he also taught in a range of schools. Teaching in different cultures and contexts fuels Sherif's passion towards education and educational research.

6 thoughts on “#IfMalalaWasMyStudent

  1. Our school year just ended. I teach 11 year olds. Every year, as they leave for the last time, I think of a version of this question you ask: “… could I have been much better at something had my teachers or one of my teachers realised my potential in a particular area?”
    I hope I am one of those teachers. But I always have my doubts. Maybe it is those doubts that drive me to think of, how can I do this better next time? How can I best draw out the best of my young writers?
    Who says teaching isn’t interesting, right?

    1. Hi Kevin,
      this is so interesting to hear the ‘teacher’s’ take on this. I definitely think you would be one of those teachers – without a doubt. But what your comment highlights to me, is that teachers just often don’t end up knowing the extent of their impact on their students. This is so clear to me when I reflect on your comment in the context of my story – of how my education lecturer inspired and impacted the whole direction of my career. There is no way – unless he happened to read my comment below – that he would know the impact that his lecture / teaching has had on me. As students we often don’t articulate directly to teachers how they have impacted and inspired us – and often this is simply because we don’t realise the extent of this impact until much later.

      If your active, generous, and encouraging, supportive, community-building behaviour on the internet is even a small indicator of your teaching style and approach there is absolutely no doubt in my mind that you have likely been THAT teacher for every 11 year old who has had the good fortune to be in your class! I know you have inspired me to do things I would never have thought I’d be able to do on the internet, and to reach my potential every time I have interacted or collaborated with you.

      1. And this Tanya that you have done right here, recognizing the elements of good pedagogy in others as you comment on this post – this is you again modeling good pedagogy yourself, by highlighting the best in others and encouraging them.
        Btw what would edcontexts be without you and your energy? You review and publish almost every post we have!

        1. awww….thanks Maha – that’s actually an interesting point! Just thinking now that the skills for connecting, engaging and building community online (and probably offline) must correlate pretty closely with those associated with good teaching and pedagogy – perhaps that’s why so many top educators (and I guess professional practitioners in any field) are also online…?! Just thinking out loud here : )

          And one of the reasons I love being part of Edcontexts is the collective energy we can harness – from each other. But you have absolutely have been edcontexts biggest advocate and stalwart – pulling us together when it seems everyone is too busy – which is what defines leadership in a project. thanks for always being there and rallying Maha!!

  2. What a thought-provoking post, Osman! Thank you for letting EdContexts share it. I was thinking about Malala being a student in someone’s class. Stewart joked about her resume and talked about her being a normal person, but she kind of avoids some of the questions that tried to make her look extraordinary while, at the same time, saying that she will use her voice — and that everyone has a voice and they should use it.

    On an unrelated note, I thought Steward was very awkward (sounded unprepared) but perhaps it was the South Carolina incident which he said prevented him preparing a regular show. Even so, the interview would have been even better if the questions weren’t mostly pointless.

    As for teachers, I think some are really good at helping students realize their potentials — for all or most students. I think about and try to emulate what they do, asking questions like the ones you ask.

  3. Hi Sherif, thanks for writing this post – and having us repost on EdContexts! I also have to call out ‘your colleague’ in the post – the extraordinary Maha Bali – as someone who models the type of behaviour you talk about in your post – encouraging people to reach their full potential. And in fact I’d say her review of your post and encouragement to post and run with the hashtag idea is a great example of exactly what good teachers and mentors do, and how they do it. And she does this so well for so many people, in so many different contexts, constantly. I am endlessly amazed at her skill as well as her seemingly tireless energy!

    I have been thinking of your questions since I read the post on your blog yesterday. For me, one of the most prominent examples of a teacher impacting my thinking – and direction in a profound way was as a 2nd year education student at university. We’d been covering different learning theories / philosophies and I just remember this moment of brain explosion when my lecturer covered constructivism. This was the first time I’d encountered the concept and the idea that we CONSTRUCT knowledge and our own mental models of the world based on our experiences (as opposed to having it ‘transmitted’ to us) just made so much sense to me. It changed my whole world view of education, learning and teaching – and inspired me to: 1) continue with a major in education (at the time, I was only intending to major in psychology but ended up doing both psych and education…), 2) do my third year edtech research project on how the affordances of the internet supported constructivist learning, 3) and eventually to pursue a career focused on education and learning.
    I was thinking about this in the context of the teaching / learning experience – my lecturer didn’t really do anything explicit other than present the ideas in a fairly traditional lecture format. But maybe I was particularly receptive to these ideas following sessions on behaviourism, which I’d never really gelled with. So maybe it was partly the way he’d (intentionally?) structured the course and the order in which he introduced the learning theories. Maybe it was that he’d presented the ideas clearly and passionately that drew me in. Whatever it was, it worked to inspire me into an area I continue to be fascinated with, many years later.

    Thanks for helping me to reflect on these experiences! Looking forward to more stories!

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