The Critic and the Doer

The Critic and the Doer

“It is not the critic who counts;
not the man who points out how the strong man stumbles,
or where the doer of deeds could have done them better.

The credit belongs to the man who is actually in the arena,
whose face is marred by dust and sweat and blood;
who strives valiantly;
who errs, who comes short again and again, because there is no effort without error and shortcoming;
but who does actually strive to do the deeds;
who knows great enthusiasms, the great devotions;
who spends himself in a worthy cause;
who at the best knows in the end the triumph of high achievement,
and who at the worst, if he fails,
at least fails while daring greatly,
so that his place shall never be with those cold and timid souls
who neither know victory nor defeat.”

(Theodore Roosevelt)


Efficient vs. Effective Teaching

“Some inner clock is ticking in every life, warning us we have appointments to keep with reality: real work to do, real skills to learn, real battles to fight, real risks to take, real ideas to wrestle with.” (Weapons of Mass Instruction, John T. Gatto, p.96)


A dilemma many people face in their personal and professional lives is the basic question:

  • Should I be efficient or effective?

Effective: to do something that accomplishes a specific purpose. Meaningful = check.

Efficient: to get something done in the quickest manner possible. Meaningful = maybe or maybe not.

So, to repeat that question: should I be efficient or effective?

This dilemma is particularly the nightmare of well-meaning and good-intentioned teachers, who constantly battle the crisis of should I spend more time on this material and make sure we all get this (effective) or I must move on or else they’re going to flunk the final exam (efficient).

Efficient, effective. Why can’t it be easy to be both?

Busy man

As a new teacher, I struggle to make learning ends meet. See, there are several teachers perhaps teaching the same subject in the same grade yet ultimately there are the same tests, and the same finals for all students at the same time; this makes it difficult to spend a larger chunk of time on the more difficult concepts because quickly the efficient voice in your head reminds you the material won’t all be covered in time (and then is it effective to later be tested on material you did not have time to cover?)

I am a big rebel when it comes to labeling students’ intelligence on mere marks. I have seen firsthand what simple stress can do to marks. Time and time again I give my students exit/entrance cards… mini assessments that count for no marks, whose purpose is simply to see how well the students understand the concepts. With the stress removed, on the whole, students always do fairly well! They appreciate this strategy and actually thank me for it.

These informal assessments do take up precious class time, however. And that is besides the random but brief life topics we bring up. And those are besides the regular short TED-Talks or other thought-provoking mini videos we watch at the end every few classes… and occasional logic puzzles… and playing them some classical music during work periods…

Yeah OK, this isn’t looking very much like a science class, is it? (Trust me, we do science. But I try to bring simply “life stuff” in, too.)

Time consuming, yes, but I think it’s worth it and more effective for their lives. With their reality.

For some teachers, however, it’s only efficiency that matters. Student brains are our experiments to see how much new data we can squeeze in their heads in a certain period of time and then test how well they absorbed it all. The hypothesis is technically “If I teach this-and-that in this period of time, then so-and-so should be able to do well.”

Well, the hypothesis often fails. Some students need more time to absorb things like a sponge. Some students know this stuff already. Some students can do well, but they need extra support like longer testing periods or someone to read over the questions with them.

In clear terms, most students are simply not machines.

Efficiency is good in general, but when it comes to human beings, it simply cannot be enough to go on. We are dealing with lives here; I know a mere percentage on a paper should not matter too much, but the sad fact is that for a teenager, this is the center of their universe, the reason they exist, and the worth they measure themselves by. In my second week of teaching, it frustrated me to see students despair on a 90% when they were expecting a 100%.  I had to make a bold statement:

“Ask yourselves why you are in school… Yes, it is against the law not to be. And yes, you need the marks for college. And yes, your parents have very high expectations. But don’t let this limit your purpose of why you are here. If you don’t have a purpose, it’s good to start thinking of one! You are here to be prepared for the real world; and I’m going to be very blunt with you. In the real world, past university graduation, you will never again be asked to memorize a bunch of text and then spew it out on paper. In the real world, they are looking for skills like creativity, think-outside-the-box thinking, teamwork, dedication, perseverance… remember, the number you get is JUST a number. Does that mean it’s OK to flunk? I’m not saying that. All I’m saying is, the process is more important than the result. I don’t care about the final answer, I’m looking for the effort throughout.”

(And to emphasize the point, we watched The Surprising Truth About What Motivates Us)

Grand words aside, practically speaking, I want to be an effective teacher and give every student his or her time and resources… but I am only one person with as limited time to teach the curriculum to 85 different learners as they have time to study it. I want to be effective in as short a time as possible… but this is a fantasy of effectiveness being equivalent to efficiency, and this rarely ever happens.

For example, we’ve seen what “efficient” relationships have turned out to. With the rise of social media and technology, one can constantly be in touch with everyone at the same time… but is our community becoming stronger, or are we weakening? Are we getting closer together or becoming more lonely (yeah, we watched that, too) than ever? Is the reliance on communication behind keyboards and screens ultimately the same as traditional modes of communication?

Technology is wonderful, and organization is fabulous,

but only when they are means, and not an end.

Which brings me back to schools.

Textbooks and exam papers should be means to knowledge, and not the ends. Effectiveness should be the ends, and perhaps efficient methods may be looked into as the means.

But with human beings, I believe effectiveness comes before all else. In the wise words of Stephen Covey:

“You simply can’t think efficiency with people. You think effectiveness with people and efficiency with things.”

I believe in those words. Unfortunately, as a teacher, until I have learned how to fully teach others to teach themselves, I will need to continue trying to juggle being efficient and effective at the same time.

And Allah [God] knows Best.


Planning For The Broken Staircase

clock plan

You’re a planner.

Schedules, calendars, alarms and over-achieving to-do lists are all things you take pains to do, daily, in order to aspire you. Like the typical organized person, you tend to plan every meticulous step you intend to take.

This is not bad. Planning is a good thing. There is a memorable saying:

“There is no intelligence greater than planning.” [Hadith]

Another common expression we hear often is “failing to plan is planning to fail”.

So there you are, a planner of excellence, a planner of dreams and accomplishments… but there comes a time, if not many times, when the fruits of your effort get hit on a dead end.

One day you wake up and realize the staircase you meant to climb has missing steps. Tried as you might, you simply could not have foreshadowed that there’d be missing steps on the staircase you did not have access to until now.

No matter; there is a ladder conveniently next to it and you climb it instead, regardless of where it will take you…

staircase globe

Where you had pictured yourself to be, and where you are right now, are two very different things. After all your careful planning and deliberate execution, you had no choice but to climb the foreign ladder before you; and now that you look down from where you are, your eyes widen in pleasant surprise: what a lovely view from the top!

Such is life. You plan the smallest details for the grandest plans you have envisioned for yourself – as you should! – but it’s worth noting that what you plan for and what the outcome is, is often something you did not expect at all. In many cases, unexpected as it is, it is a most welcome surprise nonetheless, because you would never have thought of it otherwise.

And so, as of now, I will plan with a different mindset. I will plan for good things to come, but stop planning for my plans to come to be as I see them… because there is the Best of Planners watching over the whole scheme, who has a different view of things, a mightier, more complete, more merciful view…

An unknown author wrote this:

“The secret of unfolding flowers is not known to such as I

Allah opens this flower so sweetly, then in my hands they die

If I cannot unfold a rosebud, this flower of Allah’s design…

Then how can I have the wisdom, to unfold this life of mine?

The pathway that lies before me, only Allah knows

I’ll trust Him to unfold the moments, just as He unfolds the rose.”

 baby rosebud

As of now, I will continue to plan, but in the hopes of being pleasantly surprised with something better.

Wishing the same for you, all the best!


3 Types of People

*I know this blog post might make very little sense on a general level. On a personal level, though, it is everything.


Of the many kinds of people one can meet, I have most often encountered three types of people in my life:

a) Those with a backbone (self-made)

b) Those with a semi-backbone (tentative)

c) Those without a backbone at all (moldable)



These people have made great men and women of themselves against all odds. Now I am not talking about famous people that have made it into history books– I’m talking about individuals I know, be they family or friends or even merely someone I’ve heard of. These people who either lacked (some very simple examples) money, parental support, access to proper education resources, got bullied in school, or disadvantaged in any other way— and yet they defied every social assumption of being miserable and rose above what they were. If they were ignorant, they acknowledged it and sought out the knowledge; if they were financially limited, they were proactive and did not expect the money to grow on trees; if they lacked parental support, they did not lose all sense of morality and lose themselves in the vain pleasures of this world, but rather self-disciplined themselves and raised themselves better than any parent could.

There are so many more examples besides the ones I have just presented, but I think you get my point. These self-made individuals, in all cases, sought God’s help and had both hope in His mercy and fear (taqwa) of Him. These people are my role models and everyone I look up to, every single person, has in some way overcome difficult obstacles in their lives and risen above what they might have ever deemed possible.

 The fascinating thing about these people is that they are not always successful– they fail quite often. But they learn from their failures and refuse to let it define them. They live life– not let life outlive them.

These people, in short, have a backbone.



These people want to be great. In fact, these people look up to people of Type A, so they have their sense of priority figured out! However, Type B people want what they don’t work for– or rather, they just can’t bring themselves to work it. Procrastinators on a general than rare-exceptional level. These people may put the intention to work very hard for a specific goal, and may indeed aim pretty high– but then at the very tip of the finish line, at the very bare minimum, they give up and settle for the mediocre. They succeed, but only on a passing level– and yet if they put in their all, they can truly become something great.

The problem with these people are, they don’t have full trust in God– at least not always. When they remember Him they strive and strive, but in moments of forgetfulness, they give up, and sometimes lose hope in whatever endeavor they were working towards and hence never continue in its path. Instead they’ll seek something easier, something less tiresome but less worth it, and settle for the least.

There is still hope for people of Type B people to become self-made… but only if they develop an intense desire to achieve excellence and do things with ihsan. Otherwise, they will be stuck in this hole that most of society is content to be in, because it doesn’t realize it’s in it.

 The fascinating thing about these people are, they can easily be re-directed in the right direction. They just need a little (friendly) push, a word of encouragement, and purifying of intentions. All is not lost if you are a Type B person.

Your backbone is not born yet… Just be patient and you’ll grow a backbone!

But now… 

Type C

I don’t often run into these people, and when I do, I run the other way as soon as I can. These people are the very opposite of Type A except in one regard of the ‘final prize’. You see, just as Type A aims for the best, so does Type C. The difference?

Type A actually seeks God’s help while taking full means to achieve whatever reward is in store for them.

Type C, on the other hand, may or may not seek God’s help; but whether they do or not– they will not lift a finger to make their dreams come true.

Type C people are usually lazy, boring, lack personality and are easily mold-able depending on what they think society expects of them. Somehow they think the best of both worlds is owed to them. Type C folk believe that they are naturally special people who don’t have to do any self-development– yet still, miraculously. expect the best of everything to come their way. They either passively wait for destiny to sweep them off their feet while steadily becoming a potato in front of the TV, or they ask someone to do the work for them.

But time passes and Type C soon wonders, how come I’m not getting as much as Type B or Type A? What’s wrong with me? They’ll fail to realize it’s their lack of taking initiative, their passivity, their reactiveness instead of proactiveness, that is leading to their doom. Maybe when they hit their third or fourth decade of life, they might start seriously questioning their lives. But then this would lead to self-blame, and it’s easier to point the finger of blame at someone else instead.

The fascinating thing about Type C people is that they have extremely high expectations of everything and everyone around them– but none of themselves. They expect the world to be at the service of their feet, but they can’t even serve themselves, let alone serve others in return.

 These people, in short, do not have a backbone. They rely on others that do to give them their prizes so they can feel they do.


However, it’s never too late to be a Type B or Type A– but it will be just much harder and take a lot of sincere effort.

I know many Type B people and a few Type A– but alhamdulileh, praise be to God, many Type B people I know have realized their traps and are actively working their way to Type A. But sadly, and frustratingly, I’m increasingly meeting Type C people these days… I try to avoid them like the plague, because everything about their presence de-motivates and un-inspires.

I pray I, and you, and she, and he, and we can all be members of Type A: people who will make a difference, beginning with ourselves. Only with that can there be any hope be of, inevitably, changing the world.


And Allah knows best. ~

— A.S.