GSE Alumni Launch Teaching While Muslim

April 02, 2018

GSE graduates Nagla Bedir and Luma Hasan founded Teaching While Muslim which is intended to be a multi-tiered organization that shares the experiences of Muslim-Americans in public schools and addresses implicit bias in education.

Luma Hasan graduated from the Social Studies Education program at the GSE in 2016 and participated in the Urban Teaching Fellows. For the last two years she has been working with mostly freshman and seniors at Franklin High School.

Her hope for the Teaching While Muslim program is to offer teachers a meaningful and productive space to address their own biases and learn more about the complexity of Muslim identity.

Nagla Bedir is a 5th year teacher in Perth Amboy High School. She student taught in Perth Amboy through the GSE, graduated in 2013, and has been there teaching ever since. Outside of teaching in Perth Amboy, Bedir also teaches for the Johns Hopkins Center for Talented Youth in the summer and teaches for the Teen SHARP program at Rutgers-Camden on Saturdays.

The Teaching While Muslim organization provides a nuanced discussion around experiences of Muslim educators and the lack of a support system for teachers like her. “I have been wearing the hijab (head scarf) for 7 years and at times this plays a role in how people look at me and treat me,” Bedir explains.

Hasan and Bedir connected two years ago through the Urban Teaching Matters conference at the GSE. Using their experiences as educators through conversations and stories they highlight the void in the education system regarding Muslims, whether they are students or educators.  “That isn’t to say that Muslim educators don’t exist, because they do, but we are a super small percentage of educators.”

 “The first workshop was conducted at the GSE Urban Teaching Matters conference and that was a general overview of the Muslim-American identity and the misconceptions people have because of what they see in the news and movies,” Hasan explains.

In advocating for social justice, Hasan emphasizes the basics of the Muslim identity and how misconceptions can affect students and educators negatively. Their workshops are based on research which represents all of the different identities, including the Black Muslim identity which is often overlooked.

Some specific workshops include: supporting refugee students, being an immigrant, dealing with xenophobia and islamophobia, navigating citizenship, Arab-American identity, the history of stereotypes for Arab-Americans, as well as resources such as literature that reflect the Muslim identity, how to teach about the Muslim identity, holidays and culture, and much more.

Reflecting on her own experiences at the GSE Hasan says, “We have encountered a lot of wonderful professors at the GSE who really encouraged these types of conversations. Dr. Rubin and others have had essential discussions with us around our impact in the classroom and how we are responsible for our students, sharing diverse perspectives, and reflecting on our own experiences as students. Being a part of this program was very helpful to see ourselves as change agents who can have an impact. However, part of what we experienced was a lack of genuine inclusion of people’s identities which is the gap that TWM is trying to fill within public education. We want to take that sense of responsibility that we have developed as educators and bring it back to pre-service programs like the GSE in order to fully equip teachers at all levels with the resources and empathy to teach all students.”

“The Urban Teaching Fellows Program gave us the opportunity to talk about and reflect on issues that meant a lot to us. The Youth in Action Project was a valuable experience that demonstrated the change that our students can make in their own communities,” states Bedir.

Bedir is driven by her belief in the progress and impact of Teaching While Muslim. Her vision is systematic change in education across the country. She hopes that Muslim parents, students, and educators will amplify their voices and discuss their experiences in the public-school system. “In terms of systematic changes, our goal is to teach cultural responsiveness, especially in schools of education across the country.”

“We’re hoping this program turns into a support system for educators, students, and parents as well as a resource for people looking to understand the nuances of the Muslim-American Identity,” says Bedir.

Hasan and Bedir envision building a strong network of Muslim educators across the country and potentially building chapters of the organization across different states that further their mission to advance social justice and equity in education.

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