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  • Writer's pictureStacey Chiew

The Difference A Teacher Can Make - The Story of Mareike Hachemer

“Your life is your message to the world. Make sure it’s inspiring.” Anonymous

If you think a teacher’s job is to stay behind closed doors teaching a group of students, marking paper, writing lesson plans, assisting the school with administration work, going on expeditions and field trips, think again. Some teachers will go above and beyond to make a positive change in their students’ lives and the world.

A top 50 finalist in the Global Teacher Prize 2015, Mareike Hachemer is not your ordinary teacher. She does more than just teach. Besides being a teacher of English, German and Drama, she also spends time educating children and teachers about the importance of achieving the United Nations 2030 sustainable development goals (SDGs).

Mareika is also a TEDx speaker, a co-founder of the UN TeachSDGs Ambassador, a UNESCO delegate for the role of education for peace and sustainable development and the list goes on.

There is a saying, an ordinary teacher teaches, a great teacher inspires. Mareike has a big vision. To be precise, a global vision. Just like Nelson Mandala once dreamt of a prosperous and unified South Africa, she is dedicated to equipping children with the right tools to make the world a better place.

Mareike is determined to turn her vision into reality. With each talk, she builds bridges to new knowledge that will benefit thousands of children. With each action, she is one step closer to achieving her goals. With each hope, she discovers that there are multiple ways to plant new seeds in young minds.

1. What makes a good teacher? What are the most important qualities that a teacher should have?

Firstly, a good teacher is aware of their own health and resources. That might be a surprising first answer because we often think of the good teacher as the candle that burns and pours their own wax onto the children so that they can shine, but over the last years I have learned that it is very important to put on your own “safety belt” first so that you can continue to help others for a long time. I see many exceptional teachers who go the extra mile every day and every hour, but how long can we go on, if we ignore that we are humans who need rest and recovery too?

Secondly, a good teacher encourages their students to know what keeps them healthy and motivated and how to discover their interests that can help them learn and have an impact.

Thirdly, a good teacher connects their students to the world, helps them discover the issues that are important to all of us and navigates resources that let students examine the world.

2. Why teach the UN's 17 sustainable development goals? Do you think it’s necessary for teachers to include the UN Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) in their teaching, students’ learning, and assessment?

I think it is absolutely crucial to #TeachSDGs. Making learning real, relevant and meaningful. And what is more relevant than to learn about the most concerning world issues and their potential solutions? In 2015, more than 150 countries adopted the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) – goals for a healthier planet with education for everyone, peace and reduced inequalities. Everyone in the world deserves to learn about the goals so that we can all contribute to them and hold politicians accountable to create the infrastructure for achieving them. We are often asked, why everyone should teach SDGs? Really, I want to ask back: What is more important than learning about the SDGs?

And – to be clear – that doesn't mean there is no more space for Arts and Languages. As a drama teacher, I can say: The Arts are amazing helpers to create awareness and rehearse peaceful protest, and they are also valuable as connectors of humanity.

Recently, I wrote an article for Impakter, a magazine platform that supports the Sustainable Development Goals. I asked the question “How would we teach if the world was 100 people all living in one house?” I believe that if you shrink your image of the world to a number of people that you can easily comprehend and imagine in your surroundings, it becomes obvious that we need to focus on solving the world's main issues. We need to realize that we all share the same planet, and it's time to join all forces to help it heal instead of continuing exploitation in a race against one another.

3. How seriously should we take sustainable development in education?

We should take sustainable development seriously in general if we want to survive and live in peace and dignity. But also in education: We are 60 million teachers and 1.2 billion students: a powerful group that grows every year. If we define learning as getting to know the world, emotionally connecting to it and actively impacting on it, we can make a huge difference. In my TEDx talk “Empowering Educators for the Global Goals” I give a few examples of how teachers and their students make a difference. Like Bijal Dhamani from India, who teaches her students business so that they can earn funds for other children's education or Mike Soskil who has connected his primary school students to more than 70 countries and the International Space Station through video conferences.

4. How can teachers help to promote UN Sustainable Development Goals at school?

In some countries, for example, Malaysia, some teachers are not familiar with teaching sustainable development goals to students.

I suggest a seven-step-plan:

1. PUT UP A POSTER of the Global Goals in your classrooms and school corridors. Inform your students and fellow teachers and discuss the goals.

2. FOCUS ON SDG-RELATED TOPICS in your classes. Research poverty, climate change and peace. Work on suitable material and get inspiration from The World’s Largest Lesson. Let school book publishing houses know there is a need for more SDG-related material.

3. ENCOURAGE PROBLEM-SOLVING AND MEANINGFUL ACTION! Add a new focus to your teaching units: ACTION! What can be done? And how can we do it? Your students will experience self-efficacy!

4. DEDICATE A DAY OR WEEK to the Global Goals: Are you looking for a theme for the school fair? Or planning a Week of Project-Based Learning? The Global Goals are an inspiring theme and you can get your whole school on board.

5. MAKE LOCAL AND GLOBAL CONNECTIONS! Connect subjects! Research the chemistry and construction of water filters, develop an action plan, write a proposal for funding, and create a convincing video: all subjects contribute. Also, connect with experts for advice! And reach out to students in other countries via video conferencing. Your students will love to be connected and will understand how collaboration works.

6. ENCOURAGE STUDENT LEADERSHIP! Let your students be in charge. Help them find the support they need. Be brave! Your students will be the experts, you will be their assistant.

7. CREATE A CULTURE OF APPRECIATION AND GROWTH! Provide encouraging feedback to your students as they are moving toward achieving the Global Goals! We need a culture of appreciation in our schools and in society. Why not create an additional certificate too?

5. What are the challenges or barriers linking education to sustainable development?

I believe the biggest challenges are in the mindsets and habits of teachers and students. Many of us have grown up to believe that we cannot make a difference. Many of us have been influenced by the daily dose of bad news that surrounds us and have lost hope. Few of us know that the trend lines of humankind are positive, like how humanity has cut extreme poverty in half over the last decades. Also, we are used to a history and narrative of teachers and students being opponents at school which makes it difficult to establish new relationships that focus on working toward goals together. Who trusts that a teacher will support them in achieving their goals instead of observing their work and waiting for mistakes to happen that can be graded? A lot of teachers already see themselves as supporters of their students, but the historic relationship between archetypical teachers and students in many contexts is teachers oppressing students or students and teachers fighting with each other about power over the other. We need a lot of communication and willingness to start new to really trust each other that with common goals teachers will do their best to help students strive and students will want to learn and make an impact. With regards to school infrastructure that means we need a new culture of assessment and bigger steps toward describing and celebrating students' achievement versus documenting their mistakes.

6. What are the strategies for engaging sustainable development goals in the classroom?

I'll give you a few resources.

For students of any age, connect with @TeachSDGs on Twitter and make yourselves familiar with and The World's Largest Lesson. On the TeachSDGs website, you can take a pledge and read several blog posts about how other teachers TeachSDGs. Check out the online course for teachers on Microsoft Education.

If you teach young students between 7 and 11 years, consider signing up with Empatico. On their platform, you can have your classroom matched with another group of students from some other place in the world within clicks. There are nine lesson plans and three of them feature the SDGs. The goal is to connect one million students by 2020 and to create empathy for each other. It's a great opportunity for the really young ones to learn about the world from other kids.

If you teach teenagers or grown-ups, I recommend using the roundtable lessons on the Parlay Universe, created by Ada McKim, the co-founder of the TeachSDGs movement. She has created 17 lesson plans – one for each Global Goal – that zoom in on important issues like the role of mosquitos for malaria or the lack of sanitation in certain parts of the world. Students can find powerful resources like videos and newspaper articles to learn more about these issues. Impulses for classroom discussion help students develop a culture of debate, another crucial tool for 21st-century communication.

7. Do you think our school systems in general focus more on acquiring knowledge and not so much on character building?

After five years in “global education”, I think it is impossible to even describe school systems because there are so many and they are quite diverse. I think it is important not to look at knowledge and character building as opposing goals. Knowledge is important. And so is character. But while knowledge generally includes the facts that we all agree on as truths and hopefully is based on the latest findings of science, character is a very broad term that can be misused.

As a UNESCO delegate for education, I love to paraphrase their definition of Global Citizenship Education: It is essential to help students acquire knowledge of global issues, develop analytical and critical thinking, discover a sense of empathy and responsibility and gain the ability to act on behalf of people and planet. I believe that our students seek purpose. And that they can become happy and healthy humans on a healthy and healing planet, if we teach them how to leave their footprint on this earth in a positive way.

Article published in Dreamic educational magazine, 2019.

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