Yesterday, I had the pretty unique opportunity to teach approximately 500 7th/8th graders about Islam.
Since participating in AMCLI in October 2017, my personal/professional goal has been to not say No to any invitation for a speaking engagement, unless it conflicted with my schedule or was on a topic completely outside my knowledge base.
For as long as I have been able to speak, I have struggled with public speaking. And while I’ve put myself in situations where I’d be forced to speak (joining Speech club in 9th grade, joining Mock Trial in college), I’d either prematurely quit or would try to quit.
With Mock Trial, I vividly remember sitting in my Con Law professor’s office, crying and pleading with her that I couldn’t continue. She wouldn’t let me quit. In hindsight, I am glad she didn’t. I think she knew that I was letting my nerves get the better of me and believed I could push through it. Analyzing Supreme Court cases and precedent? Loved it! I still have a special place in my heart for Con Law. But pretending to be a lawyer? Oh God, no! While getting the Mock Trial award later that year was an accomplishment I could be genuinely proud of, I was fraught with fears that she only chose me because she knew how much of a struggle it was for me. Was I the best fake attorney? I didn’t think so and I’m sure my other co-attorneys agreed. I could feel the shock emanating from them as I walked up to retrieve my award.
But maybe I was harsher with myself than what was objectively true.
I’ll never forget one particular comment from a female judge at one of the tournaments: how she appreciated how I held my own in a room full of male fake lawyers, something about my feminine insights or perspective. At the time, I felt that she had to say that, because she felt sorry for me.
But again, maybe I was wrong about that as well.
I know for sure acting is not one of my talents, but maybe I do have something unique to share in and with my speaking.
Regardless, yesterday was an opportunity to teach post-9/11 kids about Islam. If not for wanting to improve my speaking skills, I felt it almost obligatory, as a form of da’wah. Even though I had to cancel the originally scheduled date because I was sick, when the Social Studies teacher asked if I would recommend someone else instead, I was like, “No, I want to do this.” Also, I had already paid 12 bucks to get a background check done – things have changed since I was in middle school! – and I was not about to let that go wasted. I’m Indian, of course! :)
I was worried about how my mouth would feel after teaching 7 periods back-to-back though, so I took some Ibuprofen as a preventative measure. Alhamdulillah, even though I came home with tired feet (is this what teachers deal with everyday?) and an aching tummy, none of that had to do with the actual teaching experience.
I was a bit nervous to teach a bunch of middle-schoolers, I will not lie. Middle school induces memories more painful than high school for me. Sure, I was much bigger in high school, but by then the bullying about my brownness/weight/shyness (I honestly don’t know what it was about me those kids had an issue with) had stopped. But surprisingly, the kids for the most part were really respectful. One even apologized to me after class for being on his iPad during class – I honestly had not noticed.
I was humbled by the kids with special needs, especially. There was one in particular who wowed me with his questions and knowledge. His teacher later told me that when they first covered the unit on Islam, the student had told him, “Islam is so mysterious. I don’t know anything about it!” And then after class, he did his own research, which was obviously reflected in the questions he asked me. At first I didn’t realize that he was with special needs and so while the interruption during my presentation was unexpected (I am not a teacher, alright?), it gave me a real sense of what teachers do.
I found myself forgetting if I had said something to a particular class or not, because I was essentially repeating the same thing each period. But I survived and noticed that I got more comfortable as the day progressed.
Overall, the kids had some really great questions. Some of them were expected – like, why do Muslim women cover their hair – and some floored me – like the kid I mentioned, especially his question about Madinah being the site of the Islamic calendar. That he would even think to ask such a question was clear proof that this boy really invested his own personal time on learning more about Islam. I was touched. I even got some questions on Islamic eschatology! Was not expecting that at all. The innocence and curiosity of these kids! Man, I really needed to witness that, because lately, I’ve become really pessimistic about humanity.
Overall, I had really good experience. I have a newfound appreciation for teachers and the profession in general. Am I rethinking my professional goals? No. I don’t mind teaching, but I don’t think I could do it full-time. I like being able to sequester myself away from people for blocks of hours/days. LOL. But I am very glad that I decided to say Yes to this particular teaching opportunity. It really was a nice way to end the last work week of the year.