Sharing her expert insight with us this month is Saraa Mahfouz; I met Saraa through a mutual friend last year, and I can truly say that she is a sweet and loving person, masha’Allah.
Saraa is a mother of a 20 month old energetic boy and is expecting her second child in early summer. She is a grade three homeroom teacher at the Edmonton Islamic Academy where she has been teaching for almost 6 years. Saraa’s hobbies are photography and looking for new ways to challenge her son!
In this post, Saraa shares her story of why she became a teacher, how she assists students with low self-esteem, her advice for parents, and how she balances her work life with her family life.
What is your educational background and field of work?
Bachelor of Elementary Education with ESL minor. I am a grade 3 homeroom teacher at the Edmonton Islamic Academy.
When did you know you wanted to pursue this profession and what inspired you to do so?
When I was in grade 9 I had an amazing teacher who inspired me to help children and become an educator. I loved doing crafts with children and teaching about Islam. I volunteered at the Sunday School at the Al-Rashid mosque as an Arabic and Islamic teacher when I was only 14 years old. So since then I’ve had it in my heart to become a teacher.
There’s always that student who has low self-esteem within the classroom, what do you do as a teacher to assist that child build up his or her confidence?
Let me share with you a story. I’ve had a student recently who has had low self-esteem with making friends since the beginning of the school year. He was trying hard to make friends but it was very hard for him, in fact he would always get into trouble instead. So one day at school it was Sports Day and the students were allowed to wear whatever they wanted to represent the class country. I had an extra scarf to give to a student to wear that day. I decided to choose a student to wear it for the day. Using my popsicle sticks, I peaked and chose that student on purpose knowing he needed a boost. He was ecstatic! He wore the scarf proudly and was so happy for the whole day. At the end of the day he came to return it to me. I decided to give it to him to keep. His smile was from ear to ear. After that day he changed so much! He made a best friend as well. And it wasn’t a boy. He was very brave to make a friend who is a girl in grade three. He was made fun of by the other boys but I stood up for him. When a student sees that the teacher is on their side and not against them they feel like they own the world.
What do you see as a concern for your students, and what advice can you give to parents so that they can help their children in this area?
Every year I have different challenges. One big concern that was a problem for me this year was how the parents were interacting with their children at home. I don’t see what happens at home but I am with their child for a good part of the day. I consider myself to be their second mom. I don’t just teach, I nurture. If I find they need love and care I give it to them first before any equations or facts about countries. I believe that the student should have a stress free and healthy mind and body before being able to learn anything. So what I find is that some parents are complaining to me that their child doesn’t want to learn at home (doing homework or studying for exams). As a teacher and a mom, I find that the home should be a relaxing place. A place where they can just be themselves and not worry about what people think of them. For example, a student who learned a new concept in class and understood it can easily do their homework and then have play time. They want to do their homework because it’s fun. I’ve had some parents call me and tell me their child doesn’t want to do their homework and makes it so stressful for them that they start yelling or taking away their play time as a punishment. I find that this is not the way to deal with the children. I don’t deal with them like that at school. How come they do their work in class with me but not with the parents at home? I found out that there was a problem with the environment. Parents should ask specific questions about school rather than be general. Instead of saying “how was school today?” a parent could ask “I heard you are learning about the rainforest in social class. What interesting fact did you learn about such and such animal?” When you are being specific you can trigger their thoughts and interest and get their attention focused. You can say something like “let’s go to the library and find a book about the animal you chose for your research project.” These children need their parents in their life to participate in their learning experience not to be on top of them and tell them “do it, or else…” It’s not all up to the teacher to teach just like it’s not all up to the parents to nurture. I gave these tips to the parents and I have already seen an improvement in their child. More students are coming to school with their homework done and excited to show me what they learned at home from their parents or older siblings.
How are you able to balance your work life with your family life? What advice would you give to other Muslimahs that may want to enter this field?
Already I can tell you it’s definitely not an easy job to juggle work life and home life. Being a teacher has its perks though. Alhamdillah this profession has a lot of days off on the holidays… The work hours are not long but you are constantly think about your class after school. There will be times where you might have to work overtime to complete some reports or marking. What I do is I put my son with my parents on the weekends and work on some things for school. I try to get my work done during my break time at school and I have been able to go home every day before 4:30pm. I do come home exhausted. So I make sure I plan my meals on the weekend. I go grocery shopping for everything I need so I don’t have to go out during the weeknights. My husband is also working so I prepare our lunches before I go to sleep. I always make sure our lunches are healthy and will give us energy to get through the day. I put my son in a dayhome. The dayhome provider prepares all the meals so I don’t really have to worry about my son’s lunch. When I come home I make sure I give all my attention to my son because he misses me so much! It definitely is a struggle and May Allah make it easy on all mothers who have to work and take care of their children at the same time. If I had to choose I would love to stay at home and raise my children but sometimes life has it’s challenges and an extra income is needed. Other people should not come quick to judge these working moms because you really don’t know everyone’s circumstances. I love to teach and Inshallah hope to continue teaching in the future. But for now I will have to put a pause to my work because Allah has blessed me with another child that I will soon come to take care of. I have become a mother now and that is my first priority, always!