I’d like to share a learning experience I recently had.
For the past few weeks this summer, I had the honour to travel and study Islam in Istanbul at the feet of some very special teachers. Before leaving home, a close friend and mentor of mine told me to not stress over the textual learning. Rather, he said, just breathe the air of the scholars and take from their adab (etiquette). This became my focus.
In the first week of classes, I noted something simple yet profound (at least to me) that taught me about the essence of professional learning for us as teachers. Given that it’s July and it’s the time that most of us are trying to make the most of a summer break from an exhausting school year, I found this moment particularly transformative.
I was sitting in a class that was being taught by one of the elder scholars at the retreat. While he was teaching, he invited one of the relatively younger scholars who was sitting at the back in the audience to sit beside him at the front. He called the younger scholar to the front to sit with him because in his words (paraphrased) it’s not necessarily the age of a scholar that makes a scholar but who one’s teachers are.
Soon after that class, a second noteworthy instance happened. Both of the scholars – the elder and the relatively younger one – came away from the front of the class after completing the lesson, and came and sat in the audience with the students for the next class.
I found both of these instances to be particularly profound. Firstly, thinking about the statement that what makes one a scholar is who your teachers are made me realize the esteem of the legacy of a teacher. In classical Islamic learning, students were known by their teachers. And a lay person would identify the worth of a student by their teachers.
On the second point of both scholars coming and sitting on the floor for the next lesson, the humility of learning was reinforced. It reminded me of the Prophetic tradition when the Prophet Muhammad (s) said: “Rather, I am a servant. I eat as a servant eats and I sit as a servant sits.” Similarly, teachers are at their essence students. We inevitably and forever will sit as students and learn as students learn.
The lesson for me in this month of July is that we as teachers need to remember that during the summer we are granted a great gift of leisure time that can and should certainly be used to relax, recuperate, and rejuvenate.
But it should also be used to become students again. This is the essence of summer.