Meet A Teacher: Meera Patankar
The 6th graders are having a blast as they take turns dramatizing tales from “A Thousand and One Arabian Nights.” They hoot appreciatively as the miser Abu Kassim’s worn-out, stinky shoes bring about his downfall. They ooh as the humble but clever fisherman tricks the malevolent jinni back into its bottle.
The tales are pure fun, and they are also more than “just” fun. In Meera Patankar’s social studies class, East Meets West: Exploring the Silk Road of the Past, Present, and Future, they become one of the windows through which the 6th graders view Islamic culture.
The parables, she explains, trace back to the late 700s and early 800s C.E., and were passed on by traders along the Silk Road. They are replete with universal truths as well as history, religion, geography, and morals and messages of Islamic culture.
“A typical history class covers the Five Pillars of Islam, the life of Muhammad, the expansion of the Islamic empire,” she notes. In “Arabian Nights,” she saw an opportunity to add another layer to students’ understanding with an interdisciplinary drama and social studies project that would also engage students’ creativity and imagination.
After “Arabian Nights” the class reads “I am Malala,” by Malala Yousafzai, the Muslim teenager from Pakistan who was awarded a Nobel Prize in 2014 for her global education advocacy.
“Global citizenship is a fundamental value at Lakeside,” she notes, and one she embraces passionately. Patankar, who has a bachelor’s degree in anthropology and environmental science and a master’s degree in education and integrative curriculum, has worked hard to deepen her own knowledge about Islam. The 6th-grade class’s curriculum covers religions of Asia. Islam was the one she was least familiar with, so several years ago she began taking advantage of every related professional enrichment opportunity she could. She has attended numerous workshops and conferences, including those sponsored by the University of Washington and the World Affairs Council and state and national social studies conferences. A lifelong learner, Patankar models lifelong learning as she inspires her students and helps them expand their world view.