Graduate School of Education (GSE) alumna Nagla Bedir has been wearing a hijab, a traditional head scarf worn by women in Muslim culture, for seven years.
Bedir, a teacher at Perth Amboy High School, said that her head scarf at times “plays a role in how people look at me and treat me.”
Two years ago, Bedir met fellow GSE alumna and Franklin High School educator Luma Hasan at the Urban Teaching Matters conference at GSE. Using their experiences as educators through conversations and stories, they conducted a workshop at the conference to highlight the void in the education system regarding Muslims – whether they are students or 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,” said Hasan.
Together, Bedir and Hasan founded Teaching While Muslim, a multi-tiered organization that shares the experiences of Muslim-Americans in public schools and addresses implicit bias in education. It provides a nuanced discussion around experiences of Muslim educators and the lack of a support system for teachers like her.
The program offers teachers a meaningful and productive space to address their own biases and how misconceptions can affect students and educators negatively.
The organization provides classroom resources and research-based workshops that represent all of the different Muslim identities, including the often overlooked Black Muslim identity. 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, culture and much more.
Hasan and Bedir credit the GSE for inspiring their work.
“We have encountered a lot of wonderful professors at the GSE who really encouraged these types of conversations,” Hasan said. “However, part of what we experienced was a lack of genuine inclusion of people’s identities which is the gap that Teaching While Muslim is trying to fill within public education.”
Their goals include teaching cultural responsiveness, especially to education students at universities across the country.
“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 and fully equip teachers with the resources and empathy to teach all students.”
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.
“We’re hoping this program turns into a support system for educators, students, and parents,” said Bedir. “We also want to serve as a resource for people looking to understand the nuances of the Muslim-American Identity.”
A version of this article originally appeared on the Graduate School of Education website