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Formidable Women Teachers in History

International Women’s Day is a strong reminder of the rocky road women have trailed for equal rights and eliminating female discrimination. Yet sadly, the world over, this fight persists in the present day for not all understand that women are essential contributors to global development! So today, in honour of women worldwide, let’s take a look back in history at five formidable women teachers whose impact on education and people you can be inspired by to be a greater TESOL teacher in the online or abroad classroom.

Savitribai Phule (1831 – 1897)

Regarded as the first female school teacher in Indian history, Savitribai Phule played a critical role in improving Indian women’s status in a society where women’s rights were non-existent. With the help of her husband Jyotirao Phule, who believed in human equality, she established the first all-girls school for different castes, starting with a class of just 9 girls. Society was unaccepting of this feat, continuously sabotaging the duo. Yet, Savitribai persisted to provide emancipation for women through education and ridding society of some culturally heinous practices. Savitribai’s legacy demonstrates a woman’s influence on initially just a few ultimately influences entire generations. Your contribution in society may be teaching English to only a handful of students, yet your influence will affect their futures as well as their progeny. 

Anne Sullivan (1866 – 1936)

In 1887, 20-year-old American Anne Sullivan hardly understood what she’d be undertaking as governess for Helen Keller. Due to an illness believed to be scarlet fever, Helen lost her hearing and sight as a toddler. Anne and Helen’s journey together started when Helen was 6 years old, and Anne began teaching her fingerspelling to connect to the world. In a few short months, Helen learned over 600 words, how to read Braille and mathematics. Eventually, Helen grew up to be the first blind and deaf person to earn a degree. Anne worked with Helen for 49 years!  From Anne we learn the importance of enduring your teaching position with determination and never giving up on any student, even the most challenging ones, for you don’t know the potential within each soul you encounter in the classroom.

Gabriela Mistral (1889 – 1957)

Chilean Lucila Godoy Alcayaga, known best by her pseudonym Gabriela Mistral made her mark in history when as a young elementary school teacher, she used her gift of writing to fight for women’s education, publishing an article at just 17 years old. Her published works earned her the promotion of director of a girls high school, and she wasted no time to instil initiatives to uplift the poor with education. She also taught in schools across Chile; aided in rebuilding Mexico’s education system after the Revolution; taught classes in prestigious colleges; served as secretary of the Latin American section in the League of Nations in Paris, and was the first Latin American to receive a Nobel Prize in Literature. Gabriela’s example denotes that age is inconsequential when it comes to making a significant impact in the classroom. She recognised her ability to uplift those in her influence and then acted on it. As TEFL teachers, we too can channel our teaching for good in uplifting the communities we’re fortunate to be guests in. 

Jeanne Daman-Scaglione (1918 – 1986)

Young Belgian teacher Jeanne Daman-Scaglione was asked to join the school ‘’Nos Petits’’ for over 300 Jewish children in 1942. Witnessing the discrimination against the Jewish community, she eagerly served as headmistress. When danger increased, Jeanne risked her life in rehousing the school’s children with Belgian families. She continued keeping in touch with her students, letting mothers know of their children’s whereabouts, and aiding others to safety, when Jeanne was made an Intelligence officer, working for underground liberation networks. After WWII, she assisted in returning orphaned Jewish children from concentration camps to their families. While you as a TEFL teacher may hopefully never be involved in such drastic times, Jeanne teaches us the essential characteristic of a good teacher is care for your students’ education and wellbeing. Additionally, your role as a TEFL teacher may lead to other opportunities for good. 

Yvonne Connolly (1936 – 2021)

Jamaican native Yvonne Connolly immigrated to the UK in 1963 with only 3 years of education training. Just 6 years later at age 29, she shot to fame for becoming Britain’s first Black female Headteacher. An onslaught of racist threats for her position necessitated a bodyguard to accompany her to school. Yet, this did not deter her from making a profound impact on education and becoming a modern-day pioneer for Black teachers. She advocated for additional resources and framed policies that promoted embracing multiculturalism, anti-racism and anti-bullying in the classroom. Today, tributes pour in from admirers worldwide for her achievement and legacy. Yvonne’s exemplary of being courageous despite obstacles in the classroom and developing a mindset to reduce teacher stress.

How to honour women in the TEFL classroom? 

  • Read poetry, books or excerpts from books written by talented women authors with or to your students. This activity can lead to discussion questions to increase student talking time. 
  • For lessons about superheroes, shift the focus to real-life heroes, and highlight women who have made a difference in society in various career fields. 
  • To practice writing skills, have students write a letter to a special woman in their life who has inspired or helped them.

Clearly, the world has benefited and will continue to profit from positive, courageous female teachers. Unleash your own powerful English teaching potential by registering for our 120-Hour TESOL certification course or 220-Hour Master TESOL certification course and qualifying for your dream TEFL job in the abroad or online TEFL classroom.