The Roman orator, lawyer, politician, and philosopher Marcus Tulius Cicero (106-43 BC) asked: “What noble employment is more valuable to the state than that of the man who instructs the rising generation?”
Many parents, however, discourage their children from pursuing a career in teaching for three main reasons: poor pay, stress, and lack of respect. In no time and place is there such a great need for teachers as now in the U.S. Whether it be teaching in Islamic, public, or private schools, having Muslim teachers as positive role models is vital to our community’s success. With the increasing number of Islamic schools opening around the country, and with the decrease in morals and values, it becomes even more necessary to have Muslim teachers.
Those who enter the field of education are not necessarily limited to being classroom teachers. Although the rewards associated with that position may be innumerable, there are other available careers: administration and educational leadership, school counselors and psychologists, careers in higher education as professors or researchers, curriculum and resource specialist, librarians, or in other staff member jobs. In addition, qualified people can teach distance education or online courses from their living rooms while being superb housewives or mothers. So, education is not just a rewarding field but also a very wide one. The 21st century has pushed education to the top of America’s political and social agenda as millions of dollars have been allotted towards school improvement plans and the opening of new schools. In order to produce a highly educated society that can be better prepared to meet the demands of a rapidly changing, diverse and technologically competent world, and the teacher education colleges are now held on the spot light. As more politicians, faith-based organizations, concerned parents, business and other key people in the community realize that it is time to “fix” our schools, one fact that remains undebatable is that the key to improve schools lies in the hands of the teacher.
At no time in the history of American education has there been a greater need for Muslim teachers and educational leaders as there is today. After the tragic event of September 11, Islamophobia has become a common topic in schools and colleges and in the society at large. Muslim educators can greatly help in combating the prejudice, stereotypes, and misinformation against Arabs in particular and Muslim in general. Muslim curriculum specialists and educational leaders can impact the publishers, correct the biased information in social studies texts, and influence and shape policies boards of education.
Teachers can be role models for children. Research shows that minority children have an even greater need for positive role models. Even more rewarding is educational leadership, as in being a principal or serving on the school board. In an age where character education has been lost, morals and values have been reduced to insignificance, and Muslims are portrayed in a negative and hostile manner, it is even more vital to provide Muslim educators for Muslim children, as this latter group could shape the future and thus reform society to “enjoin good and forbid evil.” To teach is to touch a life forever and building strong and confident Muslims can be a rewarding experience both in this world and the Hereafter.
Educational leadership is another highly important area, because a growing number of Islamic schools lack qualified and experienced educators. Most Islamic schools are run by non- educators who are learning, by trial and error, the art of supervising and administering schools. Professors from engineering and economics departments, medical doctors, and even veterinarians are filling leadership positions. Sometimes, board members or imams who have no experience with the American educational system are called upon to fill these positions.
The absence of principals who are both effective and have the suitable leadership skills is very detrimental to the future of Islamic schools in this country. As more and more people challenge Islamic schools’ curriculum and standards, along with their professionalism, the need to provide educational leadership becomes even more vital. Islamic school leaders should not be limited to the Muslim community; rather, they should be able to represent Islamic values and standards to the general population in order to influence the education system’s policies and procedures. Educational leaders should keep abreast of all relevant current and innovative practices and be able to present scholarly papers and Islamic models of education.
Islamic school principals also can be community builders, for establishing a school is central to establishing a Muslim community. For nearly half a century, Islamic schools have struggled with issues related to hiring teachers, curriculum development, Islamic studies, and Arabic. It is now time for these schools to refine themselves in order to shape a true Islamic community free from ethnic differences and cultural practices. Educational leaders need to be very competent so they may have an impact on the future of Islam in this country.
Stepping toward Leadership
As with everything else, a successful educational leader of an Islamic school can be produced only through a step-by-step process, such as that presented below:
- Enroll in a 4 year bachelor’s degree in education.
- Gain field experience by substitute teaching, volunteering, or working part-time in a full-time school.
- Go the extra mile during your junior and senior internships. Do not limit yourself to classroom experience, but try to learn about the total school structure and policies.
- Choose your specialization after acquiring an in-depth understanding and experience of that area
- Join such educational organizations
- Read innovative and relevant journals and research
- Begin your first year teacher program at public or private schools
- Enroll in masters of educational leadership or curriculum and instruction program.
- Attend professional workshop, seminars, and conventions and network with other professionals
- Be a co-presenter at conferences and in scholarly organizations.
- Complete your administrative internship
- Involve yourself in a local Islamic school to learn and compare non-Islamic schools to Islamic school
- Acquire a well-rounded experience of other stakeholders, and educate yourself about effective non-profit school boards, the PTA, fund-raising, and grant writing.
- Attend leadership workshops and seminars to refine your leadership skills on such issues as time management, conflict resolution, and communication.
As you begin your administrative career in an Islamic school, join the doctorate in education program. Acquiring expertise in education, teaching, and administrative experience, in addition to pursuing Islamic knowledge while being engaged in scholarly activities and presentations, will enable you to have a successful and rewarding career.
Serving as an educational leader is a very challenging and demanding job. It is also extremely stressful, for you to have a successful and rewarding career.
Serving as an educational leader is a very challenging and demanding job. It is also extremely stressful, for you will have to deal with challenges from the community, students, parents, board members, and teachers. Yet the rewards are worth the effort. What can be more rewarding than opening a full-time Islamic school and helping it achieve excellence in academics and morals, and seeing Muslim children blossom into strong Islamic personalities? No other career can do as much da’wah, for teaching is at the heart of community, and raising a Muslim community in the U.S today is more necessary than ever before. It takes a village to raise a child, and it takes an educational leader to shape this village!