We caught up with Mareike Hachemer, a Top 50 Finalist for the Varkey Global Teacher Prize. Mareike gave an eloquent and inspiring Ted talk in Heidelberg, explaining the importance of teachers in society and how teachers, in fact, have the power to change their communities and in turn, the world.
1. You speak about the “boundaries” between teachers and innovation. Why do you think that teachers are portrayed this way? And how can teachers break the negative stigma?
Teaching and learning are very emotional topics. As students, we can be very fragile and moments of fear or humiliation can be deeply engrained in our memories. Out of the dozens of teachers we’ve encountered and spent 7,500 hours of our lives with, it is likely that we remember those that were scandalously boring, strict or mean because they played a huge role in our lives. They might have made us afraid or stressed and we are likely to remember that. The public image of teachers often focuses on those types of characters, as well. These memories appear to connect us as humans and seem like a commonplace challenge that many people had to face in their lives.
There is great relief when we exchange stories about them. Therefore, we tend encounter them again in stories, movies and the media. A movie about a good teacher is the exception. The numerous good teachers we had in our lives fade. As humans, we tend to think that our success is self-made, while our difficulties are caused by others.
To break the stigma, I think it’s important for teachers to know their impact. We should realize that we make a huge difference in the lives of many young adults. For some of our students, we make all the difference. We should look at each other in the same way — what is it about my fellow teacher that I appreciate? Just like our students, we grow from recognition. And if we had a few more stories about enthusiastic, positive teacher role-models, it would certainly make a difference for the next generation of teachers. We need the most inspired and inspiring candidates!
2. You also talked about the imaginary “boundary” between your students and being a change maker, and asked them what they could do to change the world in 4 weeks. Your students created and applied wonderful ideas! What advice would you give you teachers who are interested in carrying out similar activities for their students?
I’d say to expect to be disappointed at first. If you just go into a classroom and say, “You can be change makers,” your students might think you are crazy. Or, they won’t care at all. It’s likely that no one has ever talked to them like that. Get ready to be persistent. Let them know that this is something you are passionate about and you won’t stop challenging them until they find their own passion and drive. Challenge them to find out what they could be enthusiastic about and ask them how they can achieve progress. They might say they can’t. They might explain why they can’t. They might tell you whose fault it is that there is something wrong. Prepare yourselves to ask, “What can you do about it?” many many times. Stay positive, while you do that but be persistent. Then, help them come up with a realistic plan. Get them to anticipate challenges and setbacks, as well as a little vision!
3. When talking about inspirational teachers that you’ve met, you emphasize the importance of connecting with experts in different countries. How does a teacher go about doing this? Is it important to connect with other teachers globally?
Digital media makes the world a wonderfully small place. We recently contacted Sindiwe Magona, the South African author of the book we’re reading. It was as easy as this: we typed her name into Twitter, found an old account with a link to her website, went to the website and found her email. We contacted her and she said yes! My students prepared an interview with her and it was one of the happiest days of our school year.
Another day I wrote, “We are looking for international partners for a school project.” Within hours, we had other teachers reaching out to us from the French West Indies. We connected students in ten different countries who created a video together. There are websites that help. For example, eTwinning is fantastic for European teachers! #GlobalSpeedChat is easy, as well. Join an international teacher exchange or conference if you can. You don’t have to be a languages teacher to do so, but languages teachers at your school could be a great first resource.
Take a look at Mareike’s moving talk: