On April 6, Ayesha Rabadi-Raol successfully defended her Teachers College dissertation, titled “But what if you just listened to the experience of an immigrant teacher?”: Learning from Immigrant/Transnational Teachers of Color.”
In a way, the outcome was unsurprising, because Rabadi-Raol had already been charming a much broader audience with the same idea on “Tell-a-Tale,” the noon-time read-along she has conducted every Monday and Wednesday on TC’s “Come Together, Right Now... Virtually” website since the COVID crisis began.
Consider her selection for the show’s first airing. Where Are You From? written by Yamile Saied Méndez and illustrated by Jaime Kim, is about a girl who repeatedly is asked the book’s title question, but has trouble answering until her abuelo (grandfather) steps in to explain. The book encourages immigrant children and the children of immigrants to understand and develop pride in their heritage, and know that they come from the love of their ancestors.
More than 300 viewers watched that segment.
“I didn’t expect so many people to watch and respond,” says Rabadi-Raol. “I heard from people I hadn’t heard from in a long time.”
I’m looking at what we can learn when the experiences of immigration and race come together in early childhood teacher education through poetic counter-stories and poetic testimonial.
Though Rabadi-Raol reads from children’s books during each 30-minute episode, her selections address race, class, gender, (dis)ability, multicultural experiences and other themes calculated to engage listeners of all ages around. She reserves time at the end of each session to address teachers, parents and guardians about ways they can help children respond to the text — for example, by discussing the story or by drawing a picture, creating a dance or writing a poem.
Ayesha Rabadi-Raol reads Bringing the Rain to Kapiti Plain on Wednesday, April 15. Written by Verna Aardema/ illustrated by Beatriz Vidal.
It’s a formula that, along with Rabadi-Raol’s upbeat, lyrical delivery (and promotion by TC on its social media accounts) is proving to be quite appealing. Children ranging from ages 2 to 14 have been sending responses via email, text message or social media, including photos, videos or voice files of themselves or their own projects. With a supervising adult’s written permission, Rabadi-Raol holds these contributions up to the camera during the next session. And as COVID-19 forces a growing number of people worldwide to seek entertainment at home, the show’s following continues to grow. Rabadi-Raol’s sister in India promotes the readings on Whatsapp; a new Twitter friend logs in from the Bookworm Cafe in Lagos, Nigeria; and there have been viewers from Indonesia, the United Kingdom and Canada. She now has a Facebook page for Tell-a-Tale, where the broadcasts have received more than 1,300 views.
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Rabadi-Raol, who broadcasts “Tell-a-Tale” from Toronto, where she is riding out the crisis, grew up in a middle-class family in Mumbai, India, where she earned a bachelor’s degree in applied art and taught at a child-development center for 14 years. Assembling scholarships from organizations among her Zoroastrian community in India, she immigrated in 2014 to work on her master’s degree at Teachers College.
Rabadi-Raol subsequently was encouraged by TC Professor Mariana Souto-Manning to apply to the College’s doctoral program in Early Childhood Education. “I said ‘yes,’ but I don’t have any money,’ she recalls. But with financial assistance that has included a Harry Passow Scholarship and later a Milman Literacy Fellowship — through which she worked with special-needs children in Harlem schools, and as a Doctoral Research Fellow at TC’s Rita Gold Early Childhood Center — she completed her Ed.D. requirements this spring. In her first year as a doctoral student, she earned a “distinguished pass” on her doctoral certification exams and is very grateful to the TC community for all the support and encouragement she has received.
Doing these broadcasts during this period of isolation gives me a sense of contributing something, a sense of routine,” she says. “But I also need children in my life, and this has enabled me to connect with them.
Her dissertation and the “Tell-a-Tale” project highlight Rabadi-Raol’s commitment to educating teachers about equity and justice — work she will continue when she assumes her appointment this summer as an assistant professor at Sonoma State University in California.
“I’m looking at what we can learn when the experiences of immigration and race come together in early childhood teacher education through poetic counter-stories and poetic testimonial,” she says of her dissertation.
Rabadi-Raol would like to expand the “Tell-a-Tale” project — possibly beyond the duration of the COVID-19 pandemic crisis — to include TC students reading books in Spanish and other languages. She herself speaks four languages, including English and Hindi, she notes, but none of them, except English, are very widely spoken in the United States.
As much as she enjoys interacting with TC students and other adults, Rabadi-Raol cares most about working with children.
“Doing these broadcasts during this period of isolation gives me a sense of contributing something, a sense of routine,” she says. “But I also need children in my life, and this has enabled me to connect with them. And that is a source of joy.”