My belief and approach is that education provides students a better understanding of their world. It helps them build an informed worldview so they can navigate their journey. I strive to present my students with a multitude of experiences, aiming to arm them with the tools they need for success in work, relationships, and other aspects of life.
However, there are times I wonder, “Is this worth it? Do they care about this topic? Are they even listening?” Yet, time and again my students surprise me with the connections they make and how they apply their learnings to their life in such remarkable ways.
A recent incident this year illustrates my belief and approach.
I teach in an all-female third-grade class in an International school in Saudi Arabia. This Fall, our social studies focus was on how societies organize themselves, specifically governments. It felt strange to introduce this topic to third graders since politics and government are not commonly discussed with children.
The parents were perplexed at first. As one parent put it, “They are too young to be learning about all this unpleasantness.” To them, it felt like a waste of time to engage the students in something they could never change or get involved in.
I felt differently. While it is true these girls will grow up in a region where the power is concentrated in the hands of a few, they should still have an understanding of how that power is regulated and distributed. In addition, I felt it was important to touch on American government since our school follows an American curriculum. Furthermore, many of the students in my class are either US citizens or have family members living in America.
By Election Day, we had spent a month learning about monarchies and democracies and how the two function. Due to the time difference, the results were reported as the school day started. As I got ready for the day, I streamed one of the news channels on my laptop. When the girls came in, they asked that I project it on the board so they could watch as we got ready for our first class.
A little before lunch, we learned Donald Trump had won the election. A torrent of emotions ripped through the school. Teachers and students were either overjoyed or heartbroken. A Muslim student in fourth grade burst into tears, convinced she wouldn’t be allowed to visit her grandmother in Texas anymore. I felt helpless for those children who were distraught, not knowing how to soothe their anxiety. The students went to lunch, and I could hear them whispering to one another about the election results with worried looks on their faces.
Halfway through recess one of my students returned to class. She asked me if she was allowed to take her social studies notebook out to the playground. “Why on earth would you want to do that?” I asked. “So I can show the fifth graders about the three branches of the American government. I want to show them how the system of checks and balances works, so one person can’t do whatever he wants. They don’t believe me.”
I was floored by this young girl’s pragmatism. Throughout our meetings and planning for the unit, I and the other teachers doubted the relevance of teaching how the American government works. We were concerned it would take too much time and the girls wouldn’t benefit from it. How wrong we were!
In this moment, I saw the time we spent teaching about the workings of the American government was well worth it. Perhaps I shouldn’t have worried. This student was able to find a use for the information on her own. She saw a situation where she could explain the facts, allay fears, and use her education to do so. Isn’t that the best we can hope for?
Imaan Murteza is a 3rd grade teacher in Saudi Arabia. She chose to teach internationally because she believes that helping students, especially expatriates, understand the complexity of who they are goes a long way in helping them understand others' points of view and fostering an international mindset. Her happiest teaching moments are when her VERY international class is able to respectfully discuss international events from multiple perspectives.