I was passing by her classroom and heard her telling the students off. Like really telling them off for not revising, for not doing their homework. Telling them off for not appreciating the value of their religion and faith. For not having that pride that would make one strive and put in the effort.
I do not know the trigger for all of this but I have an inkling for how it managed to progress to projecting the future of the Ummah. In her words and the deep emotions they carried I heard myself. Once upon a time I was also a teacher of young people and teens. I had felt so much frustration in their indifference. In their attitude that came across as if they were doing me and their parents a favour by attending the school on the weekends. I on the other hand felt like it was their duty to attend. How else will they learn their deen?!
After what feels like a million years and many tough lessons I believe the frustration was coming from within me because of me.
In those formative years I had loads of energy and enthusiasm, masha’allah. I was putting in the effort in preparing and showing up for my lessons, covering for other teachers if needed and attending meetings etc. It was a lot of hard work and that should’ve been enough to show the kids of the importance of this learning! Shouldn’t it? The lack in experience and specific teaching skills is key here. I probably focused on the so much I was doing while not considering what am I not doing. What was missing? Instead of putting the blame completely on the students, and at times their parents, it would’ve been insightful to think about what I and the school could’ve done to engage the students.
I did not know it at the time but I did feel unappreciated. As a volunteer teacher, “I am giving up my time to come and teach you. I spent how many hours preparing for the lessons and got to the school earlier to set the classroom, photocopy handout etc. etc. etc. but you are showing no appreciation for my work!” My folly was linking the worth of my effort with their effort in studying. I feel that many of us Muslims talk about sincere intentions but do not know what that means in reality. I hope that I began teaching sincerely for the sake of Allah. What could’ve happened is that during the process I began to lose track and seek people’s approval and gratitude. The students’ inattention to their homework and revision were to me a sign of ingratitude.
I commend teachers who enjoy and find teaching rewarding. I am more of a trainer facilitator and believe me the two are different. So why did I stick with teaching for so long? I asked myself the same question and the answer was, ‘I was good at it’. It was safe, predictable and still useful. It was good enough. For someone who struggled to feel good enough within herself, good enough was an achievement. Putting the deep rooted issues aside for now, a good enough role was becoming increasingly frustrating in itself. Contribution is a big thing for me and I have a vision of contributing to society with joy, even if it involves hard work, in a way that is pleasing to Allah. Teaching in the way I did not fit into that vision.
So, where do we go from here?
There are so many good causes and needs in our communities. Each one of us can contribute in different capacities. Let’s consider the reasons of how we CAN rather than on the reasons we can’t.
I think that there has to be categories of types of volunteering clearly defined and supported by the charity. Some would need no particular skills or experiences and in a way would be a great introduction for individuals to the work of the charity; on the day help on a stall, gardening projects, feeding the homeless, stewarding in events etc. Other categories the charity could provide specific training to the volunteers and allot them specific times and resources to carry out those tasks; help line support, running youth activities, filming events etc. There will be a need for an expert category; teacher trainers, counsellors, advisors in certain areas. This category need clarity of purpose and mutually agreeable time requirements otherwise they won’t be inclined to be involved.
This is a powerful thing. It’s almost like a compass that directs the focus. Why do we do what we do? Be honest. Is it because it is the place where you find company and friends? Is it because it is going to help you with your study and career prospects? In reality some or many of your reasons will be in the realm of the permissible and commendable. That is absolutely fine. I suggest that you rearrange those so that it reads something like ‘O Allah, I seek you and your pleasure through a, b, and c. If these are good for me in this life and the after making them easy and if not then I am content with your decree’. Does that sound familiar? Yes, it’s a rephrase of Dua Al-istikhara. We also tend to forget to renew our intention and that would be a great time to reassess what we are doing. Are these things still serving us or is it time to move on?
You remember the frustration I felt when I thought I was being unappreciated in spite of all the work I was doing for the community. Yet, I still kept at it! Pay attention to yourself. Much of my frustration was coming from my tiredness. I was physically, mentally and emotionally drained. It wasn’t surprising that I was not in a resourceful state to notice what the students really needed in order to learn or I to teach effectively. I come from a culture that I feel undermines anything related to self-care. So many previously dedicated volunteers left because of burnout yet, bless their heart, feel guilty that they aren’t active in the community. Others are carrying so much resentment because they felt used. Yes, the community asks so much of you and it will keep asking. It is YOUR responsibility to take care of yourself and manage what you need to do so you are accomplishing outstandingly with ihsaan. Paying attention, practicing self-care and having clear boundaries will help you identify roles that you find yourself in. Because it will be OK to try something new and different and learn something new that will help you gain skills and experiences to support you in your other life roles.