When Teachers Become Students Again

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.

Nadeem Memon

About Nadeem Memon

Dr. Nadeem Memon serves as Director of Education for Razi Education. He holds a Ph.D from the Ontario Institute for Studies in Education at the University of Toronto on the history and philosophy of Islamic schooling. He also serves as Program Director for the Islamic Teacher Education Program, a project of Razi Education.
Click here to read more posts by Nadeem.

  1. Assalamu alaikum Br. Nadeem,

    Mashallah your words ring true. As a teacher, I always look forward to any free time (away from my students) to do things for myself (such as catch up on my reading, do some professional learning, sit and reflect, etc). With Ramadan in the summer this year, maybe Muslim teachers around the world can actually devote it fully and for his sake alone and maximize the time spent in tahajjud, reading Quran, pondering the signs if Allah, dua, istighfaaaar, and shukr. May Allah bless this Ramadan and Allah all of us to be among those fortunate servants whom Allah pardons with his mercy and frees from the hellfire. Ameen.

  2. Assalamu Alaikum,
    This was a pleasure to read and does ring a few school bells for me at least. I think we should plan ways to do just that. I appreciated hearing about your experience and now you have to share back to those you teach. Inshallah you will. The scholars whose knowledge we benefit from as teachers will benefit as we teach a new group of students year after year after year. It occurs to me every now and then, WHY would anyone chose any profession other than teaching?
    Thanks, for sharing. Have a safe journey home.

  3. Very important reminder mashaAllah. As someone already mentioned, having Ramadan in the summer this year is the perfect time for us to take full advantage of it free from regular teaching obligations.

    As a second note, this is a good reminder also for when the school year begins. We may not invite our students to the front of the class to teach beside us, but that doesn’t mean we have nothing to learn from them.

    We all still have so much to learn.

  4. As-Salaamu-Alaikum
    Teaching and learning are opposite sides of the same coin. They must necessarily go together if either is to be of benefit to self and others.

    Learning from students takes humility and patience.If we learn nothing more from our students than how to best teach them, recasting them as our teachers helps us become better at the craft of teaching.

    InshaAllah our efforts will help to reestablish the honored role of teacher in the hearts and minds of the contemporary Muslim community.

    Just as an aside. A few years ago I spent time studying Islam in Turkey. It was one of the most powerful experiences of my life. There I saw teachers with such dedication, knowledge, insight and character that I dream of returning one day.

  5. this also reminds us that a big part of education is simply presence. Being in the presence of those who are Present with their Lord.
    When you are with someone like this, as your friend mentioned, all you have to do is breathe in that air and fall into the flow of their adab (behavior – details and manners of moment-to-moment life).
    *That* is education.
    If we, as educators, had this kind of presence with Allah, we’d affect our students far more than we do in exquisitely crafted lessons that tire us out in their making….and may not hit all their targets….let us take the shortcut. Let us become people of Tahajjud and pray for our students in the quiet of night, and then go work hard and smart during the day.
    This combo will win inshaAllah – at least win us a good place with God.

  6. Assalamoalikum! The poet of the EAST, Iqbal (RA) says. Khamosh aiy dil bhari mehfil main chillana naheen acha, adab pehla qareena haiy, mohabbat k qareenon main. Meaning (Mafhoom), the scenario is a “halaqa” of students and ustads; Oh! my heart keep quite, its not nice to shout in a “halaqa” like this, “adab” is the first step (etiquette) on the steps to love (passion, learning, education etc)……… I shall always be a student……….I shall try to live like a student, eat like a student and sit like a student and respect youn as a student…….

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