By BECKY Z. DERNBACH
Friday August 7, 2020
Qorsho, the first Somali American educator to receive the prestigious honor, was selected out of 134 nominees. The principal at Gideon Pond Elementary School in Burnsville, where Qorsho taught fifth grade the last two years, described her as a “game-changing educator.”
Qorsho Hassan, Minnesota’s 2020 Teacher of the Year, holds her makeshift award in front of the state Capitol Thursday night. The frame will be replaced with an engraved plaque. Credit: Jaida Grey Eagle | Sahan Journal
Qorsho Hassan, a 30-year-old Burnsville elementary school teacher, was named Minnesota Teacher of the Year in a ceremony on the lawn of the State Capitol Thursday night. She’s the first Somali American to receive the award.
In her acceptance speech, Qorsho, who grew up in a predominantly white Ohio town post-9/11 when Islamophobia was rampant, said that she wanted to be the teacher she never had.
“I am radically student-centered because I’m constantly trying to be who I needed when I was younger,” she said.
Qorsho noted that her students call her by her first name and help direct their own learning. “They run the classroom with me,” she said. “I refuse for anyone to dim the light of my students.”
The Minnesota Teacher of the Year program is sponsored by Education Minnesota, the state’s largest educators union.
Qorsho was selected out of 134 nominees. Her colleagues and students’ parents showered her with praise. The principal at Gideon Pond Elementary School in Burnsville, where Qorsho taught fifth grade the last two years, described her as a “game-changing educator.”
Hamdi Dahir, whose daughter Amira was in Qorsho’s fifth grade class at Gideon Pond Elementary School last year, told Sahan Journal in April that Amira was thrilled and inspired to have Qorsho as a teacher.
“It’s very important for them to see a teacher like her go so far,” Hamdi said. “They can take up after her example.”
In an interview with Sahan Journal, Qorsho said her student-centered approach meant developing relationships and trust with students, and letting their questions guide their learning. For example, when she was teaching about Native Americans, her students had questions about the boarding schools where many Indigenous children were sent in the 19th and 20th centuries, and drew connections to the discrimination Native Amercians face today. Qorsho created space to let their questions guide the unit.
This year, Qorsho will be teaching fourth grade in Rosemount-Apple Valley-Eagan schools. Despite high praise from her colleagues, she lost her position at Gideon Pond Elementary in budget cuts this spring.
Qorsho said she wants to use her position as Minnesota Teacher of the Year to advocate for better retention of teachers of color and encourage anti-racist training for white teachers.
“It gives me a platform to illuminate some of the issues that I face as a Black educator with retention and support for staff of color,” she said.
Though the last year was challenging as teachers and students suddenly had to transition to distance learning because of the coronavirus pandemic, Qorsho said being able to connect with her students remotely kept her going.
“The beauty of teaching and being an educator is that our students are our hope,” she said. “That is what grounds me all the time.”