A hadith in Riyadh al-Saliheen helps define what it means to be wise, intelligent, and astute (كيس) in Islamic terms.
عن أبي يعلى شداد بن أوس رضي الله عنه عن النبي صلى الله عليه وسلم قال: “ الكيس من دان نفسه، وعمل لما بعد الموت ، والعاجز من أتبع نفسه هواها، وتمنى على الله الأماني” ((رواه الترمذي وقال حديث حسن)).
Shaddad bin Aus (May Allah be pleased with him) reported:
The Prophet (s.a.w.) said, “A wise man is the one who calls himself to account (and refrains from doing evil deeds) and does noble deeds to benefit him after death; and the foolish person is the one who subdues himself to his temptations and desires and seeks from Allah the fulfillment of his vain desires”.
Riyadh al-Saliheen Sunnah.com
Taking ourselves into account is essential if we want to reflect Islamic ethics and the Prophetic example in how we educate members of our community. I have taught all ages, from kindergarten to senior citizens. No matter what level you teach, there are going to be triumphs and stumbles. Whether teaching a college class or first graders at a summer camp, the teaching profession is humbling. Perhaps more than any other job that I ever had, teaching has made me take stock of all my shortcomings. There are always things to improve upon. There are always new methods to learn, better ways to prepare, more techniques that can be used to refine one’s craft.
There seems to be two camps in the world: those who blame teachers for the failure in American education or those who see all teachers as heroes. The truth is, teachers are human. We are part of the problem; Likewise, we are part of the solution. But since we are human beings, we are not magical creatures that can solve all the personal problems that keep our students distracted from work or create infrastructure within a school administration that will prevent our talented students from falling between the cracks. From K-12, parents, administration, and teachers serve as a tripod to help hold up the students’ education process. For our young adults, professors collaborate with their students and administration to facilitate the education process.
Just like our students, we are critiqued and evaluated. Sometimes the candor hurts. I have read student reviews and some pulled no punches. Sometimes our feelings are hurt and when someone sits in our class to evaluate us, we get nervous too. I have had many conversations with teachers about some of the problems in Islamic schools, and often the teachers have pointed to lack of support or lack of student preparation. Without doubt, unprepared students and the lack of teacher support are major problems.
However, when we blame our students, our parents, our administration for our failures in the classroom, we miss important opportunities to refine our trade and our, importantly, character. The support of parents and administration will help us be effective teachers, but when we fail to look at ourselves and our shortcomings, we are neglecting our duties as teachers and Muslims.
Looking back at my own experience, I can think of numerous times when I was overwhelmed with the workload and didn’t have enough time to prepare. I had minimum training and learned through trial by fire. Better training would have enable me to be a better teacher. Often, I think about how I could have done things differently or how I could connected with my students better.
I have to think about better ways to give timely feedback to help students improve. I need to be more organized and connect concepts better. I have to take an honest look at myself and my past actions in order to better prepare for the next semester.
As someone who cares about community, I know that training is important. We have to promote a culture where our teachers can take stock of what works and what doesn’t work, without shaming. At the same time, we have to also encourage everyone involved in educating our community becomes more professional and thinks about how they are contributing to the problem. When we stop being defensive, and put our egos aside, we can take a look at the ways in which we may undermine the very work we are hoping to do. We have to be able to look at our own lack of professionalism our own character flaws and find ways to improve them.
As educators, we cannot look for validation from our parents and students, but rather see this work as part of God consciousness “Taqwa.” We take ourselves into self account in order to improve our standing with our Lord. With that as the motivating factor, we can make a huge difference by promoting a culture of excellence.