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This story has been updated.
Qorsho Hassan, an elementary teacher in Burnsville, has been selected as one of 10 finalists for the 2020 Minnesota Teacher of the Year award.
Qorsho, one of the few Somali teachers in the state, teaches fifth-grade at Gideon Pond Elementary. She has previously been honored as a leader in equity and inclusion and an advocate for students and staff of color.
When Qorsho first heard the news, she said she could hardly believe it.
“It felt surreal,” Qorsho told Sahan Journal. “I see it as a representation. I see it as being seen as more than just the help in a school setting.”
In her first year at Gideon Pond, Qorsho worked as a learning specialist alongside Laurel Mirs. The two shared an office and assisted teachers in the classroom with lessons and activities. Mirs continues to work closely with Qorsho in her fifth-grade classroom, which she regularly visits to teach math. After years of working together, Mirs said she still remains fascinated by Qorsho’s relationship with her students.
“It’s unlike anything I’ve ever seen,” Mirs said. “She has a way of connecting with kids and honoring where they’re at and where they’re from and making sure that they know they’re valued for who they are, not what they’re going to be. She grows with them.”
Qorsho has worked in education for eight years, including four of those years inside a classroom. This is her second year teaching fifth grade.
At first, Qorsho was a bit intimidated by the size and attitude of her fifth-grade students, but soon found their personalities to be a good mix of independent and collaborative in the classroom.
“It’s actually a good combination,” Qorsho said of her fifth grade class.
She described Gideon Pond as “well integrated” and inclusive.
“The teachers and staff there really work hard to get to know the students as individuals rather than units,” Qorsho said.
She sees her own diversity as an asset to her teaching and finding ways to connect with her students on a deeper level. Qorsho said she wants to be known as a Somali teacher, but also hopes to be seen as an educator who creates rich experiences for her students.
Qorsho makes a point to involve parents intimately with their children’s education.
Hamdi Dahir is a mother of two children that attend Gideon Pond. Her daughter, Amira, is one of Qorsho’s students. Hamdi and Amira were already familiar with Qorsho and her teaching before Amira enrolled in her class last fall.
“She was so happy when she found out,” Hamdi said Amira felt when she was enrolled into Qorsho’s class.
Hamdi described her experience working with Qorsho as comforting. For years, Hamdi found difficulty communicating with teachers, but when she works with Qorsho, she feels understood as a parent.
Amira and Qorsho have a great relationship, Hamdi said, and she hopes Qorsho can continue inspiring young girls like her daughter.
“It’s very important for them to see a teacher like her go so far. They can take up after her example,” Hamdi said.
Chris Bellmont, the Gideon Pond Elementary principal, previously described Qorsho as a “game changing educator.”
“She is able to partner with families, students, and colleagues in creating a sustained, extraordinary trajectory for student academic and social growth,” Bellmont wrote last fall in a school district newsletter. “There is no limit to the positive impact Qorsho will have on students and our entire community.”
The winner of the statewide Teacher of the Year was scheduled to be announced at a May 3 banquet at the Saint Paul RiverCentre but has been postponed until further notice because of the COVID-19 pandemic, according to a press release from Education Minnesota, the statewide educators’ union that organized the award.
A selection panel comprising Minnesota leaders in education, business and government, will pick the winner after they interview the finalists in June, according to Education Minnesota’s news release.