Un-Limiting What Education Is, For Me

tweeeeeeeeet rusul

There’s this bizarre notion that education happens only in the classroom, and life happens outside of it. This is why students these days are assigned more homework than ever before – in the name of ‘education’ – without the guaranteed correlation of “more work, better grades”.

Just to make this clear, I am a teacher. And I do give homework because some concepts are best understood through practice problems. But I make the distinction between a healthy “whatever you don’t finish in class, you finish at home” and “here’re 40 questions you must do all evening because my class is your life and I need to make sure you’re always in a state of “learning”” lines.

As a teacher, I take most pride not in teaching facts, but in teaching others how to teach themselves. Only in intrinsic motivation will students bring out the best in themselves and use their knowledge to better the world. Granted I am a very young teacher so I won’t declare I’m accomplishing my ultimate teaching goal, but I am aware of what I’m striving for and in the process of learning how to do so. The best way is to actually go through the process myself.

How am I going through the process? A bit of context first: I graduated from McGill University with a double bachelor a little over a couple years ago, and since then have been of two hearts. One part of me wishes to jump right into a Masters degree (though I still don’t know what); the other is simply in a mood to acquire knowledge from the real world at her own pace. (And yet, I really do miss rigorous learning which requires self discipline!) 

But life throws things in your way for a reason, and it’s really up to you to recognize how to best use them. I am presently working in an edtech company, which is wonderful in the sense I am learning new skills and trends in the education world. At the same time, I’ve been tutoring physics and chemistry on the side for high school and CEGEP level, and this requires me to continuously brush up on old concepts and delve deeper in them than I had back when I was a student. I’ve become aware to this inner part of me that thoroughly enjoys this; not only the tutoring-a-student part, but the preparation and revision that goes into the sessions beforehand. A new-found appreciation for chemistry & physics has blossomed once more!

Looking Down

Knowing that expanding knowledge begins with mastering the basics, I figure the best way to really understand something is to teach it to someone who knows little to nothing about it. Albert Einstein said that “if you can’t explain it simply, you don’t understand it well enough.”

As an educator, I constantly find myself questioning what is the essence of ‘education’, and what does it mean for someone to be ‘educated’. After all, is the acquiring of facts all of it? I really doubt it: “For thorough understanding, for understanding, you must also know what the significance of a fact is – how it affects the truth you are seeking. You do not know much if all you know is what the fact is.” (Mortimer J. Adler)

And yet, the way I’ve learned science all my life has mostly been about facts from textbooks that reduce enormous concepts into a few sentences, which could make perfect sense if someone had the background information on the research itself. The thing is,

  • Until approximately the end of the nineteenth century, the major scientific books were written for a lay audience.” (How to Read a Book, p.255)

… and then, they no longer were.

Scientific books are now written for other experts in the field. There are pros and cons to all of this, none of which I’m about to delve into. All I mean to point out is, unless one puts the conscious effort to really work into understanding the fundamentals, a surface overview is all they’re going to receive from classrooms. (Side note, that’s not always a bad thing. We don’t need to know everything about everything.)

However, Mortimer J. Adler’s book has made me want to challenge myself to not settle on learning scientific facts from books that have simplified the material, but from the direct scientists’ writings themselves. My Goodreads to-read list has grown considerably with additions such as Opticks by Isaac Newton, among others of his books. Hopefully I can eventually get around to Galileo, too.

What am I going to do exactly? Simply, I will read… well. I will try to understand what I can. I doubt I will become an expert down to every last word, and that isn’t my intention – but I want a fuller picture than I have now. Then, I’m going to create short Youtube videos on concepts I found particularly difficult or fascinating – just to drill it in deep for myself, and shed more light on it for others. I hope with my video-editing skills I can soon start to create videos in other areas, such as religion, ideas and more arts on my Vimeo account.

On another note about refusing to stop growing, I’ll be starting intensive French courses at McGill this month, and my aim is to get as good in French as I can before calling myself perfectly “bilingual”. Then I’m going to dramatically improve my Arabic grammar skills before confidently calling myself “trilingual”. (I mean, I am trilingual in speaking and reading these three languages, but in expressing myself fully in all languages? If I can’t write a poem in the language, I do not deem my level satisfactory. English definitely has the upper hand there.)

Yes sirree, 2016 is the year I make drastic changes to my schedule and assigned priorities for the sake of learning what I always assumed I already know.

2016 is the year I dig deeper into the basics in hopes to more easily get higher in knowledge.

2016 is the year I’m going to stop fantasizing about years ahead because I’m already starting to carry out the now.

2016 is the year I am going to un-limit what education is, for me. Who says it must take place in a classroom? Who knows, perhaps this solo path I’m taking will spark some remarkable ideas for a future Masters. But for this very instant in time, I’m taking it one day at a time.

2016 is going to be great. God willing, inshaAllah, it will be.

In the Backyard

Happy New Years!

 

And Allah knows Best.

A.S.

 

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(Not) Like A Fuse

You know that feeling of having survived an entire semester comfortably, and you’ve gone through 3/4 of your final exams when THAT sudden moment occurs in which you wearily wonder how on earth you’ll have the energy to do just that one more final exam? Believe it or not, teachers experience it, too… within the last two weeks of teaching. The following was written in THAT moment.

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After a laboratory activity in which my students observed the changes to a fuse filament under increasing current, I, too, couldn’t help feeling like a fuse myself.

Like the current intensity – the demands, duties, obligations, increased tasks, last minute requests, and rising levels of anxiety from my surroundings, have surmounted to something like a power surge – and I am about to be burnt out. Like a fuse.

Oh, but let me remind you what the function of a fuse is. It serves the role of protection: a fuse is placed in a circuit to protect in the case of a power surge. To prevent the light bulbs from breaking or other such damage, the fuse sacrifices its own frail filament by heating up until it breaks, cutting off the current flow.

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In a sense, a teacher is like a fuse. Except that unlike a fuse, a teacher is not replaceable.

It was that last thought that saved me; just as I was thinking “How much longer must I keep this up… I’m gonna burn out, like a fuse” – that it occurred to me I am so much more than that. I couldn’t be replaced, which meant I didn’t have the option to go out.

Which meant submitting to the idea that every teacher must eventually “burn out” is only true as long as one believes and, indeed, expects it.

Pressures likened to high voltages in the form of papers, deadlines, and even human beings – is that what it takes to burn me out? (Really, me?) If I am considering these as power surges, then that is only because I have my DC-current source all wrong.

Who better to keep you going, 

keep you working,

keep you glowing brighter without dimming the circuit components around you,

except the All-Mighty?

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This may appear to be a huge random leap in thinking, but this really happened. There I was thinking that a teacher is like a fuse, who burns herself out for the ‘protection’ of a younger generation – than God does not hesitate to make me laugh at myself.

All it takes is for I to take a step outside in the sunny humid weather outside, and become enthralled at the few sprinkles of cool water droplets falling from the sky… as though I am being told, “Chillax, kiddo. You’re no fuse on fire. If you were, this rain would’ve immediately put you out.”

And yet I still had that spark glowing brighter than ever in me, and all that the rain did was fill me with an indescribable sense of grateful joy.

Nope; God knew that I knew what I was getting myself into. And if He led me to it, He’ll lead me through it.

If I am to be compared to a protective device in a circuit, I would prefer being a breaker. At least those are reusable, resilient, as many times as it wills to be.

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“I’ll take a dandelion any day over a rose. Now that’s a flower. It’s humble, hearty, keeps coming back no matter what you do to it. And it always blooms a brilliant yellow smile.” (Mornings in Jenin, p.209)

That’s the kind of teacher I want to be: humble, hearty, and keeps coming back.

I am like a dandelion. Not like a fuse.

And Allah knows Best.

A.S.

 

 

Our Sweet Responsiblity

~

If you find yourself constantly running on adrenaline, these are the typical thoughts that go on through your mind:

 running on time

Monday. The dreaded day.

Tuesday. The never-ending day.

Wednesday. This week will never end.

Thursday. Are we there yet?

Friday. Can’t wait to sleep in tomorrow!

Saturday. Darn, I overslept. Now I’m too sluggish to do anything worthy.

Sunday. So stressed, so much stuff to get done for the week!

 

Such is a teacher’s life: a ceaseless chorus of waiting for Fridays, so we can be productive in a relaxed manner on weekends, yet somehow still finding ourselves wiped out on Monday mornings and not refreshed at all. We dream of the day that we can spend in luxury, doing what we want without the hanging weight of responsibility on our shoulders.

And then it dawned on me.

Teacher or not, every moment of our waking lives should be submerged in responsibility… if we have the right mindset, submerged in sweet blissful unburdensome burdens.

What?

Well: here’s my motto:

“Write it on your heart that every day is the best day in the year.” (Ralph Waldo Emerson)

wowness

Rather than dread Mondays, we are responsible for turning them into exciting promising moments of new potential.

Rather than sigh through Tuesdays, we are responsible for holding on tight and testing Monday’s broken roller coasters to see if they have been fixed.

Rather than moaning and groaning on Wednesdays, we are responsible to be determined to turn the middle of our week into the climax of achievement.

Rather than rushing through Thursdays such as to be unable to remember what happened, we are responsible to savour its every flavour and reflect on what worked and didn’t work… and be optimistic about it.

Rather than spend Friday daydreaming and anticipating the weekend that we may not even live to live through, we are responsible to start rewarding ourselves for the hard work we’ve been doing and intend to keep up.

Rather than waste half of it in sleep, we are responsible to use Saturdays to revive our inner creativity and pause the button of life’s rushing-ness… and just breathe, and wonder, and surrender.

Rather than panic and stress this Sunday, we are responsible to take self-care in order that we may fully care about our surroundings enough to make a positive difference.

 

Be responsible to be grateful.


And God knows Best.

Sunrise-High-Definition-54

A.S.

(Mar.31, 2014; written 9:20-9:50 PM on the metro)

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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)

Illustration-higher-education

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.

A.S.

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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The Decisive Element

The Decisive Element

“I’ve come to a frightening conclusion that I am the decisive element in the classroom. It’s my personal approach that creates the climate. It’s my daily mood that makes the weather. As a teacher, I possess a tremendous power to make a child’s life miserable or joyous. I can be a tool of torture or an instrument of inspiration. I can humiliate or heal. In all situations, it is my response that decides whether a crisis will be escalated or de-escalated and a child humanized or dehumanized.”

― Haim Ginott

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)

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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.