The purpose of this paper is to look at some of the reasons individuals join the education profession, and the importance of education in general, and from an Islamic perspective. Some of the “dissatisfactions” of the professions, as well as a few benefits related to the profession will also be discussed. Finally, the author’s own reasons for wanting to be in this profession will be explained. It should be noted from the outset that the author has a degree in Islamic studies and Arabic, having graduated from a madrasah in Trinidad, and will be approaching this topic from that angle.
Teachers are like second parents. They, along with parents, help to mold children into the adults of tomorrow. They act as “the real makers of history” (Webb, Metha and Jordan). With this in mind, it is essential that teachers have good intentions when joining the profession. The responsibility that they are undertaking is not a light one, nor should it be taken lightly. Parents are entrusting their vulnerable children into the care of complete strangers with the hope that they will shape them into a shining star, able to navigate the rigors of life with success. Selfish reasons like: “job security, or something as forthright as the fact that their first career choices were blocked” (Webb, Metha and Jordan) should not be the prime motivation for engaging in this momentous task. They definitely should not be the primary reason. Far better reasons are those mentioned in Foundations Of American Education: “(1) a caring for and desire to work with young people, (2) a desire to make a valuable contribution to society, and (3) an interest in a subject matter field and an excitement in sharing it with others” (Webb, Metha and Jordan).
Without a doubt, education is the foundation upon which society is constructed. Man, in the Old English sense of the word, is born ignorant. He cannot speak the language of those around him, nor is he capable of walking, cleaning himself, putting on clothes, etc. The most simple of tasks are difficult. With reference to this, the Qur’an mentions: “And God took you out from the wombs of your mothers in such a state that you knew nothing” (16:78). It is only as an individual grows that they begin to acquire knowledge. This process of acquiring knowledge is by means of a teacher, as one hadith mentions “Knowledge is only by learning” (Al-Asqalaani). In some cases the teacher might directly impart the knowledge to an individual, for example in a school setting, while in other cases the knowledge is picked up by observation, as in the case of an infant acquiring their “native” language.
Education is something highly prized in Islam, for both men and women. When we look at the Qur’an we find that the first revelation that came to the Prophet Muhammad (May peace and blessings of Allah be upon him) commanded him to read, even though he was illiterate. Explaining those first ayah, the Muslim scholar, Ismail Ibn Umar Ibn Kathir (May Allah have mercy on him), stated the following: ‘The first verses of the Qur’an that were revealed were these blessed verses… In these verses it is pointed out that He created mankind from a clot, and that, out of His generosity, He taught mankind what they did not know. Thus the honor of mankind is because of knowledge, an ability that distinguished the father of mankind, Adam, from the angels…’ (Kathir) One hadith, loosely translated into English, states: “Seeking knowledge is obligatory upon every Muslim.” (Ghuddah)
Unfortunately, the society we live in does not seem to value teachers. CNNMoney put teachers, specifically high school teachers, as number fifteen on a list of the most underpaid jobs. They also claimed that 65% of teachers said their job was stressful. [Teachers] have to deal with meddling parents (some of whom do their children’s homework and put in ‘mistakes’ to make it look authentic) (Cnnmoney.com), and students who have no respect for authority. Another issue faced by teachers is a lack of funding for much needed teaching resources, something that has been exacerbated by “the nationwide recession which [sic] began at the end of the first decade of the twenty-first century” and “has resulted in cuts in public school budgets” (Webb, Metha and Jordan). Private institutions also face this lack of funding. I have been teaching at a private institution for the past four years, and have seen first hand the extent to which money has to be stretched to fill the needs of teachers and students.
Another challenge faced by teachers is the modern trend of multitasking. Using Information Technology mentioned that there is evidence that “multitasking degrades short-term memory and possibly affects areas of the brain…Multitasking depletes the cognitive ability and [there is more] frequent need for recovery time… They [students] expect that services will be available 24×7 in a variety of modes (web, phone, in person) and that responses will be quick” (Williams and Sawyer). Faced with low funds, meddling parents, and students who expect instant gratification as well as a lack of understanding that knowledge cannot be gained when one is disrespecting the instrument through which that knowledge is being gained (whether it be teacher, book, classroom, etc.) the ability to discharge the trust of educating future generations has become more challenging. As the poet said: “A teacher and a doctor cannot advise you correctly when they are not respected/that person who is disrespectful to his doctor will remain sick forever and a student who is disrespectful to his teacher will remain ignorant forever” (Ahmad).
Despite this, teachers should not give up, nor look for another profession. Forbes.com listed teaching as one of the ten most happiest jobs and says: “Teachers in general report being happy with their jobs, despite the current issues with education funding and classroom conditions” (Denning). Foundations of Education states that when asked if they would choose another profession if given the chance, “90% of teachers said they would choose teaching again and only 8% said they would leave teaching before retirement” (Webb, Metha and Jordan). No value can be placed on the ability to better the life of even one person. That person may go on to do something great, or help millions of other people. Alan Newland, a teacher for twenty years, said, “One day in 1984 a boy with learning difficulties is [sic] painting. It’s home-time and I ask him to pack-up. He says: ‘Can I stay here forever? I want to pain for the rest of my life!’ Twenty-eight years later, he invites me to his one-man show at a gallery in west London.” (Newland)
One of Douglas Carey’s sixth-graders, Kenneth Peoples, was an 11-year old with mild autism and a 7-year old’s behavioral patterns. Carey taught him to play chess and gave him one-on-one math help. Kenneth, who had never earned better than a D in math, earned a B. “There wasn’t a light there before, and when the light clicked on, then we had a different child,” said Kenneth’s mother, Dawn Ringo. “I appreciate that more than anything a person could give me as a gift.” (Dawsey)
Some satisfactions from teaching go beyond monetary compensation, and far outweigh tangible rewards that will eventually vanish. As the poet, Abu Baqaa’ Al-Andalusi said: “Where are the kings wearing crowns from Yemen…A matter that could not be repelled came to all/Until they were annihilated, then it was as though they had never existed”( At-Talmasani). A single life changed is worth more than a world full of gold.
The desire to help society by sharing beneficial knowledge is something that was impressed upon me constantly during the time I spent studying in Trinidad, especially towards the end of the five-year course. Particular stress was placed on reaching out to the younger generation. I remember one particular class where the principal of the Madrasah explained that the purpose of our studying was so that we would go back to our countries and teach, not stay in Trinidad. This is one of the main reasons I chose the teaching profession.
In addition, when we look at classrooms across the country, we see that they are multicultural, composed of students from varying backgrounds. “By 2050 the United States Census Bureau projects 50 percent of the U.S. population will be African American, Hispanic, or Asian. Given these steep demographic shifts, the performance of students of color and the characteristics of the schools they attend are important factors that must concern all Americans” (Alliance for Excellent Education). In such an environment it is essential that the teachers not only understand how to interact in this setting, but also that they reflect it in their makeup. For a student who may be a minority to see their selves represented amongst the teaching staff at their school would be a great source of confidence and inspiration.
I was homeschooled, and my first experience with the public school system in America was a college setting. I was extremely shocked to find that things I thought common knowledge were completely unknown to my fellow students. An example of this is the following incident. In my freshman year I was attending an English class. The teacher asked one of the students why Native Americans were discriminated against in ways that African-American’s would not stand for. The student replied that it was because they did not have any Martin Luther King or Malcolm X. I promptly interjected that this was not true, and that when we had the Black Panther Party they had AIM which was just as active, if not more, in trying to eradicate inequality.
This is only one example of the lopsided ‘me-centeric’ views that I have run into in college. I could quote others, but the basic point being drawn from this is that I believe that teachers have a responsibility to their students to prepare students for the rest of their life, so that they can face it with confidence and a skill set that will prepare them for success. “And when at last their work was done,/They were proud of what they had wrought./For the things they had worked into the child/could never be sold or bought!/And each agreed she would have failed/if she had worked alone./For behind the parent stood the school,/and behind the teacher stood the home!” (Swarat)