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A Different Lesson

“What did you learn in class today?”

“I don’t know, the teacher spent most of the time dealing with problems.”

My parents and I had a yearly discussion over whether I had to go to Islamic school on the weekends. The conversation was not scheduled on any of our calendars, but I took up my cause again each year. They would tell me how important it was for me to learn Arabic, Quran, and Islamic Studies, and that I didn’t get that exposure in my public school classes. And I actually agreed with them. But I felt like I wasn’t getting much of that exposure in my weekend school classes either. Why attend for a day every week if my mom had to teach me most of the material at home before the final tests? 

Most of my teachers tried their best, and even as a student, it was easy to recognize that lessons started with good intentions and plans. Those plans, though, often detoured into behaviour management, dealing with our class of many mixed-ages, skill levels, and students who didn’t want to be there. Many of us just waited passively or entertained ourselves until the period was over. Pressed for time, the class often skipped or rushed through other materials to conclude the academic year. 

Some of these issues are hard to address structurally — not many students are excited about doing more classes on weekends or after school. But I would have had a much weaker position in my annual discussion if the teachers had the tools to effectively fulfill their intentions and goals. Developing necessary classroom management skills would also free up more space and time for pedagogical best practices and effective instruction, making the classes more engaging or accessible. The importance of these professional skills is only heightened when dealing with mixed groups of students, non-standardized curriculums, and weekly time constraints. 

These classes are often our earliest exposure to formal Islamic education. When young students compare their experience to the default public school structure, they are not likely to identify a lack of resources or structural issues and separate this from the pursuit of Islamic knowledge. Feelings of boredom or frustration or apathy can easily link in impressionable young minds — for many Muslim students, the idea of learning about Islam and the experience of attending Islamic school classes are one and the same. Improving Islamic education and demonstrating the ‘legitimacy’ of these studies as equal to weekday English or math classes, then, can have a significant impact on fostering lifelong learners. 

I saw many contrasts across my Islamic educational experiences: attending three years of full-time Islamic school, three years of weekend classes, and two years of twice-a-week private tutoring during weekdays after school. Teacher training is certainly not the entire solution to the many different challenges within Islamic education, across its many forms. However, it is essential to implementing those solutions successfully. 

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