It’s The Kind of Tired

 

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Aching muscles down to the bone

Mild headache beginning to form

Lacking sleep, can’t wait for sunset-

Drained of energy, with a beyond hopeless mindset-

 

Such is the profession of teaching for me.

 

ACHING MUSCLES?

It’s the kind of tired after an intense workout session

The kind that makes you fall back happily onto a soft cushion

The energy released during a basketball game

Or post dabka-dance training kinda pain…

 

MILD HEADACHE?

It’s the kind of tired headache you get

From watching too many awesome movies on your TV set

Of living in a disconnected, different world temporarily

Where dreams and hopes are yet to be…

 

LACKING SLEEP?

It’s the kind of tired sleepy when you’ve

Been up til late partyin’

Except my partying these days is prepping for topics,

Laboratories and trying to keep it relevant…

 

DRAINED OF ENERGY?

It’s the kind of tired no-more-energy in me

Because I gave it to 100 kids today so freely

Yet it simply takes a nap or a jog

To kick-start the energetic me…

 

BEYOND HOPELESS?

It’s the kind of tired hopelessness

That I can find something as satisfying as this.

 

For every good day – positive adrenaline

For every bad day – determined adrenaline

For every adventure I have with my master key

Stealing moments in classrooms to pray within unseen…

 

It’s the kind of tired I’m happy to be.

 الحمد لله

 

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Written Nov.6/13 while waiting for the bus.

-A.S.

 

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Grades & Goodness

I know, I know– I should be studying right now.

In fact, I should be pulling all-nighters with Redbull (never tasted it… doesn’t appeal to me) with the amount of work I have to do in so little time. Yet I’m oddly very calm about it all– it’s very typical of me to remain always calm until the last possible minute when it comes to midterms and assignments. But despite my laid-back attitude, something just ticked me off right now– a simple comment, a simple sentence, and I just need to write about this or it will be very distracting while I try reading my bioinorganic chemistry textbook.

My friend, a fellow teacher, posted this on Facebook about 20 minutes ago:

i care more

Now. What do you do on Facebook when you like something?

You like it. So I ‘liked’ it.

You can also comment. So I commented my approval.

Then some guy writes this:

   “ya but it takes good grades for the most part to be the mover and shakers of society… “

I didn’t bother replying to that. I don’t know him, probably never will, and I’m not much of a debater… and even if I was, publicly putting him in his place would be more humiliating and a booster for my ego than anything else.

So silent I remained.  But my immediate thought was… “Really bro? Does it really?”

I’m not saying grades are irrelevant to getting good society roles– you need them for admission to college and university and so forth– but they’re not inclusively the only factor, if even one of the important ones. I think society values wealth, influence, connections, networking, and corporate interests far more than the percentage value you got on your grade eight science test.

This brought to mind something interesting my bioinorgic professor recently said (just quoting him is making me feel guilty I’m not using this time to study for his midterm!):

“I always wonder why schools and universities make you sit through examinations. It’s not representative of real life. Never after this will you be asked during your life to sit down and write everything you’ve ever learned to memorize on a piece of paper.” (Then he adds with a chuckle) “But of course, there is a purpose behind examinations. It’s the way humanity works. Many people won’t put in the effort to learn without being forced to.”

There is some wisdom behind that, I must say. I do see that many people wouldn’t bother to open up a textbook from the 80’s casually in their free time and use it for pleasure reading. (You never know, though!) But I think that the reason that people wouldn’t bother schooling themselves is really for the reason the school system itself is set up. They’re not against education, they’re against rote meaningless learning.

Back to grades– I think it’s ironic that the classes I got lower marks in, yet struggled and put in my all, I believe I understand better than classes I may have gotten 100% in high school, yet can’t for the life of me recall what I learned there. I struggled endlessly in high school physics– stayed after school every day until I understood the problem– and passed I did, but not with the 100% I got in biology. Yet I can honestly say I benefited more from that physics class until now, than I did in a biology class that I was simply expected to spew out the words I memorized off a diagram. After the final exam, I never thought about it again.

So are grades representative? Not necessarily. Did my 100% in biology high school indicate somehow I was going to become a biologist in society and make a difference? No. I instead opted for chemistry and physics, the things I struggled in, and made it my mission to help others see the relevance of seemingly irrelevant things (at that point of their lives).

To my dear my Facebook brotha-from-anotha-motha: To be a mover and shaker of society, you need something called courage and determination and strong will and a vision. These things are not learned from “punishments in the form of exams” (Sugata Mitra) and nor are they necessarily determined from the amount of information one can spew out. Because the sad reality is that school often feeds lots of information, and not necessarily always education, into young minds.

I do believe assessment is important, though.. but must every assessment be done so under pressure? Public speaking is critically important for future leaders– but must that one and only French oral presentation to be presented by a shy student who stutters and is an introvert have to be the one determining grade on whether or not he ‘knows’ French?

Grades frighten me a lot because I am afraid to fall into the same mistakes that I am criticizing. Will I be just another person imposing useless pressure on my students or will I actually somehow bring out the best of them? Will my classroom be just another dreaded hour of the day or will it be a safe zone, a community, a learning place for all?

I don’t know. But John T. Gatto’s words give me a sliver of hope:

“Now for the good news. Once you understand the logic behind modern schooling, its tricks and traps are fairly easy to avoid. School trains children to be employees and consumers; teach your own to be leaders and adventurers. School trains children to obey reflexively; teach your own to think critically and independently. Well-schooled kids have a low threshold for boredom; help your own develop an inner life so that they’ll never be bored… Challenge your kids with plenty of solitude so that they can learn to enjoy their own company, to conduct inner dialogues.”

… InshaAllah! Time will tell.

the short road

And God knows best.

A.S.

Yes, I Want To Teach Teenagers

*Dedicated to all my teacher friends, especially high school ones.

Whenever I am asked what I’m studying at McGill, I usually take a deep breath to prepare to say:

“It’s called a Concurrent BSc/BEd program, which is a double bachelor 4.5-year program that gives you a bachelor in science (major concentration chemistry, minor concentration physics) and a bachelor degree in education.”

This is often met with stunned, confused silence. I lamely add the magical comprehensive sentence, “Basically, I’ll be a high school science teacher.”

“OHHH!”  Impressed nods and raise of eyebrows ensue.

It makes sense all of a sudden. Then the predictable question (almost) always comes up:

“But why would you want to teach teenagers? Wouldn’t it be nicer to teach CEGEP level instead?”

My usual reaction is a grin, a shrug, and I reply, “I like challenging myself.”

But now, jokes aside, let us

PAUSE. RIGHT. THERE.

This question comes to me again & again, again & again, again & again. This question has practically exasperated me. I’ve been ignoring it and leaving it to the side for a while, but now that I am in my last semester, the sudden realization of what I’ll be doing come September (if I get a job inshaAllah) is striking clear to me now, and I have to come to terms with it:

I, Miss Salah, will be teaching teenagers.

And you know what? That’s exactly who I want to be dealing with.

The typical notifications come up: “But they’ve got so much attitude, but they hate school, but they’ll give you so much trouble, but they don’t take anything seriously, but they’re so immature, but they’re so rebellious–

Yeah, you know WHAT:

It’s precisely because teenagers are the outcasts of society that I want to work with them.
It’s precisely because no one takes them seriously that I think they’re worth listening to.
It’s precisely because they hate school that I want to work in one.
It’s precisely because they’re seen as over-aged kids, hence immature, that I want to help them grow as people.

The giving-me-trouble problem is not troubling to me at all, because it will merely teach me patience and a good character trait called 7ilm if I succeed in the ta7allum phase. [“الحلم بالتحلم”]

ImageNow I know people mean well when they recommend I teach college or university; they only want what’s most comfortable and beneficial for me, and I appreciate that. But I need to remind myself here that life isn’t about doing the easier thing, it’s about doing the right thing, what is more in need. I have to remind myself why I prefer dealing in the more challenging environment of high schools, because sometimes I start doubting if I’m actually setting out to do what I’m supposed to do…

So Aya, you like teaching. How about you do a Masters right away, and start applying at CEGEP? You’ll be teaching alright, but with added bonuses: higher pay, and plus the students are much more committed, mature, they have a better sense of direction for their lives, they’ll study harder on their own–

Oh, hold it there, misguided conscience! You’re telling me that the purpose of my life is to help already-dedicated people enhance in their growth? That is truly a noble feat, I must say, it really is. (And who would say no to extra money?)

But I think– it’s just a hunch I have– that I’m meant to accomplish more than that.

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  • What if my calling, as I see it, is to help unmotivated people find their way?

What if all it took is that one teacher who believed in your abilities, who saw something in you that no one else did, that made all the difference between a student seeking what he’s passionate in even though he’s deemed  ‘not good enough’, and pursuing a career that he would hate but seemed the only option for his low grades?

I don’t plan to simply teach content, I want to teach them how to teach themselves. I don’t want to simply raise awareness about the world, but I want them to learn self-awareness/ self-knowledge. {For instance: who says you can’t teach something like 7 Habits of Highly Effective People even in a chemistry class? Are potential future scientists not still people that want to be effective?}

  • What if my role as a teacher is not simply to impart/teach knowledge, but to awaken the love for learning?

It is unfortunate that rigid schooling systems force teachers to teach certain content, some of it not even relevant, with horrible pressures for final exams that the educators don’t even write, but the state does… Yet what if all it took was a bit of creativity in teaching the material, a bit more involvement on the part of the students, a different way of assessment to decrease stress levels, less homework at home and more dynamic learning during the day, to make the difference between rote memorization and active self-learning?

  • What if I’m supposed to not control people, but to teach them how to control themselves?

What if a teacher’s main concern was not classroom discipline, and focusing on how to shut up the students the quickest way, but rather he/she instilled the notion of respect and freedom of expression in the classroom so that it could be a community of some sort, rather than a prison?

  • What if I make my main objective in dealing with difficult cases a cause to grow in ta7allum, rather than using it as an excuse to avoid teenagers altogether?

In one of shaykh Rateb el-Nabulsy’s lectures about one of Allah’s names (Al-Haleem), he says that to grow as a person in patience, wisdom and tolerance (don’t know how to properly translate & define al-“7ilm”) one must be prepared to deal with difficult people in a beautiful manner. His exact words were:

“الإمنيح مو عاوزك؛ بطولتك مو مع الإمنيح”

So in all cases, whether I’m working with ideal perfect students, or unwilling disruptive ones, I now know why I’m supposed to work with teenagers.

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Alright, I’ll be honest: for all my grand words,

I have NO IDEA what it takes to be a great teacher.

I have inklings, and notions, and brilliant descriptions of what a great teacher would look like, but I have no concrete idea on how to go about becoming one. Knowing and being are two different things.

The rock that I am currently leaning against is my faith in God, my constant renewal of having good intention always, and hopefully, with His grace, I might (just might!) make a small little difference in even one person’s life, and this person can hopefully make an enormous difference in many others’, even if I’m not alive to witness it…

“I know I am part of a story that starts long before I can remember and continues long beyond when anyone will remember me. I sense that I am alive at a time of important change, and I feel a responsibility to make sure that the change comes out well. I plant my acorns knowing that I will never live to harvest the oaks. I have hope for the future.”

(W. Daniel Hillis)

 acorn

Most teachers will typically say they choose their profession because they simply love teaching, but that isn’t all for me. (I can technically create lesson plans and then teach to an empty room, that is no problem.)  When I want to describe how enriching and rejuvenating a long exhausting day was, it is hard to explain. It isn’t really the perfectly executed lesson plan that hits the jackpot– nor is it the paycheck, which isn’t much to go ballistic over– it’s hard to describe, but there’s something about connecting to different hearts and minds that opens my own heart and mind.

Because in all blunt reality, at the end of the day, no matter how complex they may appear to be, that’s what teenagers are– individual persons, each with a unique heart and mind, just like you and I.

They are not a bunch of nuisances in society that fit neither in the children category because they are too old, and neither in the adult world, because they are “too young”.

The dilemma of teenagers, in my perspective, is that they are not taken seriously enough,

are not given useful roles in society,

are not deemed worthy of anyone’s time–

Well, they are going to be worthy of mine.

May God make it easy for me, and easy for anyone who embarks on this great journey. (Amen!)

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And God knows best.

–A.S.

The Snowball Metaphor

*Dedicated to anyone who needs this reminder as much as I do.

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Ever feel like there’s a giant snowball rolling uncontrollably behind you,

growing bigger and gaining momentum & speed the faster you run away from it? You’re afraid to pause, to catch your breath, to do something spontaneous that you enjoy, because you know what will happen then! You assume (like most people) that if you halt momentarily, that angry snowball will collide into you with such force that you will be crushed– or at the very least, it will swallow you up and lose you in it, all the meanwhile getting larger and more chaotic. You assure yourself that it’s only a matter of time before spring is here and the snowball will melt. Eventually anyways.

But it doesn’t. Whether it be winter, spring, summer or winter, it stays stubbornly round and frozen, consuming your energy and health, while you continue to jump over obstacles and hurdles in an attempt to get away from it. It seems that the faster you run, the more persistent the snowball becomes. It finally consumes you, destroys you, just like you earlier predicted… except it did so while you were trying to escape it.

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Do you know why the snowball-monster never melted? Do you know why you were never allowed to take a break?

Because you never deliberately make the time for it.

(What’s that, you don’t ‘have’ time? Nope, excuse doesn’t work. Been there, done that.)

Has the possibility ever crossed your mind that maybe, just perhaps, however incredulously– but just humor me here!– has it ever crossed your mind that if you paused for a bit, took a bit of deep breaths, stretched a bit, laughed a bit, prayed a bit, ate a bit, worked a lot, ate some more, stretched some more, prayed some more, worked much more, and on and on– have you ever considered the possibility that perhaps, if you ignore the snowball and continue living at a steady, walking pace, you might actually get things done efficiently?

Won’t the snowball collide into me? You wonder in wonder. Won’t I be forever lost in the coldness and darkness of it all?

No, you won’t. I assure you, you will be fine. 🙂 You see, that snowball is the metaphor of your thoughts. It doesn’t actually exist. Its fictitious appearance has a sole function– to chase you. The moment you stop running, it will merely pose near you, waiting for you to start panicking and running full-blast again. It’s a sick game it likes to play with your mind– just like your thoughts sometimes mess with you. But if you merely continue taking things one step, one day, one hour, one minute at a time– eventually you will amaze yourself at how much you accomplish! And the whole meanwhile, that bored snowball is melting.

Yet you still don’t acknowledge it. Melt, melt, melt! You can’t afford to have mercy on the snowball. That snowball is symbolically hinting to you that you should work from dawn until dusk with no breaks, because you can’t afford any. You should be one of the many unfortunate billions of people who exist, but don’t truly live.

No, you don’t need a break to pray, He’ll understand, Mr.Snowball says– for I will crush you if you stop doing whatever it is you must urgently be doing.
No, you can’t spare five minutes to call up your mother and make her day, she knows how busy you are– for I will crush you.
No, you shouldn’t take up any kinds of sports, or do any kind of art for fun, or relax at all, for academics are too important, it says. Besides, I will crush you.

But you decide you absolutely MUST ignore his words, for you acknowledge he’s only a figment of your imagination after all. He will slowly disintegrate until he’s a harmless puddle of water.

Image“I’ve had thousands of problems in my life, most of which never actually happened.”

(Mark Twain)

Moral of the story? Take things one step at a time. Don’t start running, thinking you will get to your destination faster. If you must run, take breathers along the way: take those yoga classes, have discussions with friends over coffee, read books, eat good food, make new friends, try new things, be more courageous…

Above all, transcend from merely remembering yourself and remember your Lord often, especially when you ‘don’t have enough time’. Even if that’s as simple as taking a moment in your hurried walk to smell a flower and glorify the Creator through His creation…

Just keep living with purpose. Make the moments count, and not the counting make your moments.

RABBIT

~And Allah knows Best.

-A.S.