This month’s Three Questions happens to fall on National Teacher Day in the U.S., so I thought I would interview Miss O’Hare, who was my tutor when I first arrived in Birmingham after my family relocated to England.
I entered grade 8 (year 9 in the UK) not knowing anyone in my new school, living in a completely different country and needing to adjust to a foreign culture. Everything was intimidating and I had a hard time making sense of it all and finding my place.
Luckily Miss O’Hare was there to make me feel welcomed and coach me through it all. She went beyond supporting me in school, serving as a mentor for everything I needed. I was able to settle into my new school because of her. She encouraged me to come out of my shell, to participate in school debates, run for class representative and our final year leadership team. Miss O’Hare also helped me when I needed to write my speeches – including the one I delivered at the Nobel ceremony. She checked my grammar and gave notes on what I should say. When it was time to apply for universities, Miss O’Hare was there to offer advice as well.
I couldn’t imagine making it through my time at Birmingham EHS without Miss O’Hare. I am so grateful to have such a wonderful influence in my life. But I also know that she shares the same qualities that so many other teachers have. No matter where in the world they are, teachers are natural born helpers who work to bring out the best in their students, to allow them to realise their own strength and capabilities. They help you be the best version of yourself, to be confident, to aspire for bigger things.
So I hope you take time to celebrate the teachers in your life today, and every day.
Question 1: Why did you want to become a teacher?
There are so many complex answers to this seemingly simple question that I could talk to you for hours about it. But, perhaps the biggest and most important reason of all can be defined like this: I want to empower all students in my class, through my lessons, guidance and time, to believe this — “Actually, I can do it!”
Question 2: What has your experience been for the last two years — teaching through a pandemic? How do you think leaders and policy makers can strengthen our education system?
The education system and everyone working within it, will tell you that there are always challenges. Every day, week, term, academic year throws up different problems because we are dealing with children and real life. Little things to big things happen all the time in their lives. The additional impact of the pandemic on top of this is immeasurable. The media has, quite rightly, discussed and continues to explore many of the challenges and issues that have affected and still affect students going forward from this point.
There is a lot of chatter about what has been “lost” because of the pandemic and actually, in my opinion, this totally underestimates our students. Let us not forget that they have actually also “gained” a tonne of superpowers from experiencing the pandemic – superpowers that the world needs right now to build a better future. They have gained what I believe are two of the most powerful gifts of all – grit and grace! They have gained the grit they need to meet with every challenge, obstacle and setback and they gained the grace they need to do so with empathy, kindness and a touch of humanity. The best thing anyone can do is to spend time with these students, talk to them, listen to them and decide what they need with them rather than deciding for them.
Question 3: Did I make it to your favourite students list 🙈?
I know that I have said to you before, that I have a problem with people calling you an “Inspirational Woman” and I would rather they see you as an “Aspirational Woman instead.” Because, that’s exactly the lasting impression you have left on me. Don’t just feel inspired by Malala, but aspire to do good, to be kind and help others too. Perhaps it is worth remembering that at school you “aspired” to many other things than the work you are famously known for. So in honour of that, and I will give you the following awards!
“Most likely to be late to absolutely everything” – Malala Yousafzai
“Most likely to hand in an essay at the very last minute” – Malala Yousafzai
“Most likely to say to me, 'Have you got a minute?' That never ended up being a minute, but more like three hours” – Malala Yousafzai
“Most likely to write an amazing speech under a ridiculous amount of pressure” – Malala Yousafzai