Qorsho Hassan became the first Somali American educator to receive Minnesota State Teacher of the Year for 2020, selected out of 134 nominees. Until recently, she had been a fifth grade teacher at Gideon Pond Elementary School in Burnsville, lauded for her individual approach to students. We asked her a few questions about the challenges ahead, and in her past, and how she plans to embrace distance learning.
Q: As a student-centered teacher, how do you take what you do in the classroom, with individuals as much as with the group, and translate that into a virtual experience? What do you plan to do to help with that process this fall with your students?
A: I ensure that I elicit feedback from my students’ regarding content, pace, and rigor. It’s important for me to align content and standards with my students’ interests, which requires a lot of flexibility, grace, and support. I learned that the distance learning experience varies for every child, depending on the support they receive from home, but that I can be the great equalizer by meeting their needs through home visits, phone calls, and one on one zoom meetings.
Student-centered also means parent-centered, so I often rely on my communication and connection with my students’ families to ensure equity for all. My students’ facilitated community circles or morning meetings via zoom and were able to create a space to discuss their hopes, fears, and dreams. We used this space to discuss everything from food, pets, COVID-19, George Floyd, Isak Aden, their excitement for sixth grade, etc. I am grateful for the community building we did during the first six months of school because it paid off during distance learning.
Q: Despite being named Minnesota Teacher of the Year for 2020, you lost your job as a fifth grade teacher in Burnsville. You will be teaching fourth grade in the Apple Valley/Rosemount/Eagan school district. What are the deepest challenges facing education in the state, apart from the pandemic and distant learning?
A: One of the biggest challenges is the disprortionate ratio of students of color to teachers of color. Minnesota’s students of color make up a third of its student population, in contrast to 4.3 percent of teachers of color. It is very clear now how rampant structural racism is in so many sectors, including education.
It is clear we have to work to do as we look at data regarding school suspensions, standardized testing, school-to-prison pipeline, and dropout rates. It is evident that the education system is failing students of color. My hope is that more educators and educational leaders realize how white supremacy is embedded in our educational system and how to best support students of color with these barriers, including advocating for the retention of teachers of color.
Q: What was your experience like as a student in a small Ohio town, and how does that influence your teaching approach today?
A: I was minimized and my powerful intersectionalities were seen as deficits. I remember not wanting to go to school because I knew how hyper-visible I was and how most of my teachers didn’t empower me to see my hyper-visibility as a strength. I now know how harmful this was.
I ensure that my students are seen, heard, loved, and respected in the classroom. I honor my students’ authenticity, cultures, faiths, and values in the classroom, because that is what I needed growing up. By creating this environment in my classroom, I can have high expectations for all my students, while empowering my BIPOC students’ who need to see me as their mirror.
Q: With the Teacher of the Year platform you have earned, what messages do you want to share with others this year?
A: Ensure every child is seen in the classroom and make sure learning spaces are affirming, magical, and meet the needs of all students.
Q: What do you want to learn?
A: I want to learn how to influence change in policy and contractual language, engage with educational stakeholders, and inspire aspiring educators of color. I want to learn how to develop my leadership skills so I can continue to fight for representation and equity.