From an early age, Samina Hadi-Tabassum, EdD, saw how a child’s experiences are shaped by culture. Born in Hyderabad, India, she and her family moved to the United States when she was 5 years old, first to a diverse Chicago neighborhood and then to a more culturally homogeneous suburb.
“We were the first non-white and the first non-English-speaking children in the school district,” she says. “I saw firsthand how children become racialized beings. I was placed in special education in third grade with children who had physical and cognitive disabilities. I was one of many children who come to this country who are mislabeled and misdiagnosed.”
Those childhood experiences — combined with a passion for early childhood education and a background in science — continue to shape her work. As an Erikson Institute faculty member, she prepares teachers and child life professionals to work with families that represent many different cultural traditions, stressing that approaching culture and language as strengths can help lead to better outcomes for children.
“We have a generation rapidly losing their linguistic and cultural identities,” she says. “There are many misconceptions about language, culture, and identity. Families assume they will do better if they assimilate, but those who do best are the ones who hang onto traditions.”
Throughout her career, she has worked with teachers — many in the Chicago Public Schools — to improve their practice and better meet the needs of their students. Prior joining Erikson, she focused on helping first-year teachers in Chicago build a framework that would support both academic success and healthy behavior in their students.
Having strong professional support and mentorship is important for teachers just beginning their careers, particularly those who work in urban and other high-need districts, Dr. Hadi-Tabassum says. These teachers often experience stress due to under-resourced schools and administrators who emphasize controlling student behavior through classroom management. Through her work, she helps them understand how the right curriculum can lead to better behavior, a message she says new teachers don’t typically hear.
“All first-year teachers are placed in different situations, but they all are trying to figure out the basics, from how to function in the classroom to creating a curriculum to just getting through the day,” she says. “For me, the key is empathy. If they have someone there to guide them, they will have a more successful first year.”
Dr. Hadi-Tabassum’s research has also focused on the intersection of race, culture, and language in the classroom. Her first book, “Language, Space, and Power: A Critical Look at Bilingual Education,” published in 2006, is an ethnographic study of dual-language classrooms at a New York City school that takes a child’s perspective on language. Currently, she is finishing a new book that examines race relations in a suburban Chicago school district that is undergoing a demographic shift from black to Latino.
“What I love about Erikson’s faculty and staff is that they are looking at the practical implications of their research in the schools,” she says. “All the faculty make a concerted effort to be on the ground, in the field — that’s really different from any other place.”
Outside of her academic work, Dr. Hadi-Tabassum pursues creative writing. She recently published her first book of poetry and is writing a play based on the true story of a young girl’s tragic death in Chicago’s Austin neighborhood.
- BA, English Literature, Northwestern University
- MEd, Bilingual Education, University of St. Thomas
- EdD, Curriculum Studies, Columbia University
Areas of Expertise
- Bilingual education
- Language development
- Race and identity
- Culture and identity
- Science education
- Multicultural education
- Hadi-Tabassum, S. (2017). What is Race? A Compelling Question with a Complex Response. In P. Chandler & T. Hawley (Eds.), Race Lessons: Using Inquiry to Teach About Race in Social Studies (p. 297-318). Charlotte, NC: Information Age Publishing.
- Hadi-Tabassum, S. & Reardon, E. (2017). Bridging Language and Content for English Language Learners in the Science Classroom. In L. C., de Oliveira, & K. Campbell Wilcox, (Eds.), Teaching Science to English Language Learners (p. 31-57). New York, NY: Springer International Publishing.
- Hadi-Tabassum, S & Gutiérrez, I. (2017). The First of the Firsts: Leadership and Legislation for Bilingual Preschools in Illinois. Journal of Multilingual Education Research, 7, 73-103.
- Hadi-Tabassum, S. (2017). Found Poetry: Bridging the Reader and Writer as well as Fiction and Non-fiction. Michigan Reading Journal, 49, 3, 20-29.
- Hadi-Tabassum, S. (2006). Language, Space and Power: A Critical Look at Bilingual Education. Clevedon, UK: Multilingual Matters.
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- Hadi-Tabassum, S. Teacher Evaluation and Measuring Student Growth. Paper presentation at the CUE Urban Ethnography Conference at PENN, Philadelphia, PA, February 24, 2017.
- Hadi-Tabassum, S. Black and Latino Dual Language Programs. Paper presentation at the CARLA Conference, Minneapolis, MN, October 26, 2016.
- Hadi-Tabassum, S. Majority Minority Schools. Paper presentation at the Oxford Ethnography Conference, Oxford, UK, September, 2016.
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Related professional experience
- Northern Illinois University (2015-2017): Taught graduate and undergraduate courses in the College of Education. Developed hybrid and online courses as well as doctoral seminars.
- Dominican University (2002-2014): Taught courses in early childhood, literacy development, assessment, multiculturalism and science education as an associate professor. Director of the Bilingual and ESL Program.
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