Ramadan Day 29: During Ramadan, Everything I have Done is Perfect

Today, the last day of Ramadan 2015, and I am travel.

I am weightlessness.  I am ground.  I am sky.

I am the weight.

Frustrations and gratitudes.




The last few days in the classroom, 10th graders, students of color, trying to be the first in their families to go to college. I’m swimming toward my students.  There was some kind of lethargy in the air, and I’m doing the crawl and the backstroke to reach them. Many of my students are using new words to grapple with ideas they don’t comprehend.  They’re upset with me because I tell them that they can’t sleep in my classroom, can’t talk to their friends, can’t drink sugar water.  They are making mistakes, and they don’t like what I’m saying.  I’m confused and continue to ask – and? why? what does _____ mean to you?


Today, I will tell them how learning feels.


They took my student out of the room.  The student I wrote about, a few posts back — the one I took aside because she was constantly talking to other students or sleeping.   The one I said was really smart, and that’s why she was bored.  I told her that she could help me by participating.  She did.

I sent her out of the classroom again, yesterday, when she was dozing off in my class.  I told the teaching assistant (basically, a recent high school grad) to talk to her, but I saw him poke her shoulder a few times.  I tell him if he has something to say to talk to her outside.

Somehow, she doesn’t come back.  An administrator transfers her without talking to me because she complained.  I didn’t get a chance to talk to her. To tell her how smart she was, again.  To explain.  I want this student in my class.  I believe in this student.

They don’t know me. How angry I am.  How the anger propels me forward.  How hard I work for people because justice is in my bones.

They took my student out of my room.  This is the room where I teach.  This is the room where she was a student.


I sit in a conference room at twenty and wish I’d learned Chinese.

In the car, blasting tunes, I wish I’d learned Spanish at 30.

I’m close to 40, I’m in the subway, wanting to learn Arabic.

Have I spent too many years on English.  Am I the tool – the master’s tool?

Allah, take this pen and dismantle me.


A white woman I’ve never met before comes into my classroom and says she’s in charge.  She lays into me:  You are too strict.  Don’t give them homework.  You don’t know how hard their lives are at home.  You can’t expect them to do all their work.  If they want to sleep, send them away to a lounge and let them lie down.  You can’t teach them at the college level.  They have hard lives.  They’re intimidated by you.  They’re in high school.  You’re not supposed to treat them like college students.


Dear Students,

Do you know what privilege is?  Privilege is in many classrooms.  In those classrooms, teachers expect you to listen, to behave, to write beautiful sentences, and when you sleep in class or don’t pay attention or chat with your friends – the teacher doesn’t tolerate it.  They ask you to stop, and the expectation is you stop.  Privilege is everybody always expecting the best of you because you have the best – you are the best.  Privilege is the opportunity to learn with a teacher who expects that the class wants to do well.

Do you know what oppression is?  Oppression is when one group has power over another and mistreats them or treats them unjustly and poorly.  We see oppression all the time with race and gender.  You’ve seen it in your classrooms.

For me, oppression can also happen when you’re told by teachers that you don’t have to pay attention, you don’t have to do your homework, you don’t have to learn because you’ve had a hard life.  I feel that you deserve as good an education from me as anybody in any classroom anywhere, no matter your race or how much money your parents make.  I will call on you and ask you to speak because every one of you has something worthy to say.  I’ve read what you wrote, and you’re all really smart.  I want to hear what you have to say.  I may be strict.  I understand that makes you uncomfortable.  That’s okay if you’re upset at me, and I hope you’ll talk to me about it.

But know this – I refuse to oppress you.

I believe in you.

[delivered in New Jersey to a small class of 10th graders on the last day of Ramadan 2015]


I go home.  I’m in a rage.

I’m sorry this happened.  I’ll sort it out, the program director says.

She was sleeping in the classroom, and they told you to let her take a nappie?  I can’t even.  That’s terrible, T says.

I hear Debbie’s voice.  Take the Best, Leave the Rest.

At first, Maybe I’m not fit to teach high schoolers.

Later, she’s right about some stuff:  I need to connect emotionally – I’m too something, too authoritarian? hierarchical? Maybe I’m intimidating. Maybe it’s time to listen.


Dear Students,

What do you want to learn about essays?

What can I do for you to help make this material more clear, or easier?

What’s confusing you?

How can I take material you find boring and make it interesting?

What do you want me to teach you?

[hands shoot up in the air.]


My final day fasting, and for the last 48 hours it has been anger.  They took my student out of my classroom!  I march to the program administrator — how could you do that to her?  She was learning from me!  Now she’s getting the message that she can complain about an instructor for her own poor behavior and be moved around.  She’s so smart.  I told her that, and now she will only feel more validated that she doesn’t have to do the work.  If you don’t like my standards, then please get another teacher, because this is the best I can do.


on the train again

The fast is ending

the new moon beginning

i’m moving backward

to learn at the speed

of life is perfection


Professor, I’m sorry this happened to you.  It was because I wasn’t there, and so the person who doesn’t work with students handled it.

I want you to know how much I respect you.  I’m sorry you had to go through this.  In fact, I have something to tell you.  I was waiting to tell you.  Do you remember that one student, K?  In your class last summer.  Well, I wanted to sit in your classroom and learn from you after what you did for him.  He gave a speech to the student body the other day, and everybody clapped.  You were the first teacher who made him talk in any class.  I cried when I heard him.  You believed in him.  You work with students where they are.

Thank you for telling me that.  I needed to hear that right now.  I think that K was amazing.  Thank you for giving me the chance to be a part of his life, but I know that you did the most work with him.

Now, stop taking the students who have problems out of my class.  I believe in them.  Don’t give up on them.  I haven’t, and I want them to know how special they are to me.  I don’t want any student of mine walking out on a misunderstanding.  When can I see her?  If I can’t see her will you please mention to her that I discussed her performance with you and she was absolutely one of the smartest and brightest kids I’ve ever taught.

Of course I will.

[conversation with an administrator on 7/16]


Today is the last day of Ramadan.  My heart has been filled with anger and despair for many days of this fast.  My body is tight and uneasy.  At times it has been in pain.  There have been headaches and always the press of doubt.  I’ve fixated on questions of should:  should I pray now? should I fast now? should I sleep now?  I’ve been unable to fill my empty stomach on faith, or poetry.  I’ve done more things wrong than I’ve done right.  I feel especially bad about all the ways I’ve failed to be grateful or disappointed Penny or simply been absent from my family, how I’ve fallen down completely with writing my novel.

All I’ve done is two things – I’ve fasted, and I’ve written in this journal as often as I could.


Samira once taught me this game that I’ve played a few times with her and other friends.  Essentially, you ask the questions that really matter to you, and you answer them by flipping to a random page in a book.  Every book, like every question, leads to completely different answers, but the answers are always worth thinking about.

How do I end this post?

I don’t really know how to end this post.

I don’t even want to stop fasting.  It feels too abrupt even though the days have been dragging.  I don’t want to stop writing in this Ramadan journal.  But the buzzer just went off, and Heart is at my door for a final Iftar.  We’re going to go eat lamb.

The other night Penny was next to me in bed, and when I turned around, falling asleep, I heard her say, I miss you.

I don’t know exactly where I’ve been during Ramadan, but I can’t shake the feeling that I haven’t been here-here.  I’ve been over there-here.  With Allah despite the deluge of earthly feelings.  That surprises me.  That my closeness to God has been struggle.  And that during Ramadan, everything I have done is perfect.


God what should I learn this Ramadan?

Súra Hud 11.49


Such are some of the stories

of the unseen, which We

have revealed unto thee:

before this, neither thou

nor thy people knew them.

So persevere patiently:

for the end is for those

who are righteous.

-trans. by Abdullah Yusuf Ali



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