Monday, February 12, 2007

On Starfish

The famous cliche says time heals all wounds. I don't know if time heals much of anything necessarily, but perhaps it helps us forget. Recently a friend e-mailed her frustrations of working in public schools and it was as though every wound I thought I stitched up and replaced with fresh memories of smiling children and coloring books were knocked away, the wounds yanked open, salt spilling into their very crevices.

I don't care that Lizzie can't write her name- her mom threatened to sue so write in the C's and check off her promotion.

Yes he has cigarette burns running down his arm and I understand he said his dad beats him with a switch but the marks are old.

I know he's clearly autistic and sits in the corner rocking back and forth, but there is no way we can test him until next year.

I know he attacked you with scissors and split your jeans but we cannot afford an aide.

Friend, I understand your frustration. I'm haunted by those I couldn't help. I'm haunted by the children incorrectly placed. Its heartbreaking to watch a child burning with hope at five, at nine completely devoid of any such light despite your efforts. I know its draining to fight and plead and argue simply to get a child tested or to convince a mom to give her child some time when she's working two jobs or simply doesn't care. Sometimes it feels like all the forces are there simply to crush your heart and burn you out. As a burn out, I feel unqualified to advise you how to go on. But what kept me going in the day to day, was reminding myself to stop fixating on the mountains and looking at the pebbles. To stop looking at the ocean and instead at the starfish lying helpless by my feet. You can't save them all, you won't save them all. But for the ones you will touch you will move mountains. You as their advocate, their role model, and the biggest cheerleader they may ever have, are already moving mountains. They're your starfish and through your love you're letting them back into the sea to be who they were meant to be. Don't give up.

A man walking on the beach saw a young man picking up small objects and throwing them into the ocean. The man came closer and asked the young man what he was doing. The young man replied he was throwing starfish into the ocean."But why are you throwing starfish into the ocean?" asked the startled man. The young man replied, "The sun is up and the tide is going out. If I don't throw them in, they'll die." Upon hearing this, the man commented, "But, don't you realize there are miles and miles of beach and there are starfish all along every mile? You can't possibly make a difference!" At this, the young man bent down, picked up yet another starfish, and threw it into the ocean. As it met the water, he said, "It made a difference for that one"


AnonyMouse said...

As-salaamu 'alaikum wa rahmatullaahi wa barakaatu,

Subhan'Allah... that was a really touching post... I guess being a teacher is one of those super-stressful yet ultimately rewarding jobs - sorta like a counsellor or social worker.
There is too much in the world that we cannot change, too many people we cannot help... yet the one small thing we CAN change, the one person we CAN help, are all worth it.

Subhan'Allah, al-Hamdulillaah, Allahu akbar!

Suroor said...

Ah! new semester starts this week and you have flooded my memory lane. What a gogeous post!

I really love you!

momyblogR said...

Thank you!

mezba said...

Wonderful parable! I love it.

frenchita said...

Hi aisha, loved this one.
I missed the last post! My cousin worked in India as a doc. she says, everyday there would be women at the hospital, all victims of their in laws. Most of them died of their injuries, and they wouldnt want the hospital to sue the husband's family. reason, the in laws threatened them, they said, if you dare approach the police, we would burn your kids and they would meet the same fate as you:(
hope you're doing fine:) i did mail you, guess you didn't check it as yet?

Tee said...

Good connection between the children and the starfish story. (I love that one.)

My older sister teaches 5th grade special education. She always has stories to tell.

Also, I help in my kid's classrooms often and teachers usually confide in me for some reason. So I definitly understand how difficult (and yet rewarding) the job can be.

It is frustrating. I know in a small way because I do the "Reading Bags" for my youngest son's pre-school. Basically I put 5 books in a red bag (which is assigned by number to each child). I send these home with the kids. The parents are supposed to read the books to the children and then write in a journal in the bag. Even something as simple as, "Johnny liked 'Jamberry' the best."

Well, it's probably no surprise to you that most of the parents don't read to the children and only a couple write in the journal. Some lose the books or don't return the bags for weeks at a time.

Some parents made the excuse that they can't speak English and so couldn't read to their child. Well, HA-HA! I speak Spanish, so I sent directions in Spanish (what to do with the journal, when to send the bags back each week, the importance of reading to your child, etc.) and filled their bags with books in Spanish. Some parents were grateful and started to partipate but there are always going to be parents that just don't want to be involved no matter how easy you make it.

There's one sweet little Hispanic girl who hugs me whenever I come in. In her bag I put the books with the nicest pictures I can find because she told me Mommy and Daddy never read to her. Being that she's only 5, she can't read either but LOVES to get that red reading bag. Every time I come in she says, "Do I take home new books today?!" ... She has to be content to just look at pictures alone and use her imagination to figure out the story.

I wonder how long her love and enthusiasm for books, reading, learning will last until eventually she see's it isn't important to her parents and decides maybe it shouldn't be important to her either...

Or maybe, hopefully, there will be teachers and volunteers along the way who always give her that extra nudge.

Maliha said...

I almost signed up for a two year program to teach in an inner city school; it didn't work out; and sometimes I wonder whether I should have gone for it.

Your post highlights the frustration many teachers feel in different settings; but the end is just really precious Mashaallah.

Take care...

Jane said...

Lots of deep thoughts going on at your end these days. The last two posts have troubled me. I want to be one throwing starfish back into the sea but I don't know how I can help.
Therapy has been helpful in ways I did not expect. It's helped me regain lost power as well as let go of things outside of my control. But these sorts of issues I want to have control over, I want to take responsibility for. What can we do?

Aisha said...

Anonymouse, yes, to the one person you helped it made all the difference :) Sometimes though its not rewarding, but you do it anyways b/c its the right thing to do.. Thanks for your comment!

Suroor, Mommyblogr, Mezba thanks :)

Frenchita I had no idea it was that open and harsh! That is terrible. What email did you send it at? The email on the about me page is the one that works best. Sorry about that.

Tee we tried that bag thing at our school and had the same issues. Books went missing, no one wrote in the journal and very few read them to their children... I too wonder how long the love for reading will last if no one around them gives a rats behind... :(

Maliha, was it going to be "Teach for America?"

Jane, yeah it comes and goes like a cycle I've found.... I'm glad therapy is helpful for you. I think what we can do is look at the issues we care about, pick one or maybe two that we can make the most change in considering our schedules and lives, etc. And then doing it. Volunteering at your child's school by reading or tutoring the children, working with the elderly, volunteering with the ACLU (they can always use more volunteers), joining or starting a local ACLU or Amnesty international chapter in your community. There is so much that can be done.

Maleeha said...

wow, that story touched me. i often feel helpless in the face of a tide of human suffering and wonder whether anything i do is even worth it or will make a difference at all. thank you for sharing that inspirational tale about starfishes...

mystic-soul said...

Aisha..Is it true that some of these inner city schools are that bad? you described with 4 examples?....its extremely heart breaking

Aisha said...

Maleeha I'm glad it meant something to you!

Mystic, the stories I shared are my own personal experiences as a teacher. Its not just that bad, often its worse. It is very heartbreaking..

Baji said...

It is so, so sad. It is our country's greatest devastation: parents failing to teach children the value of education and schools being underfunded.

As a social worker that works with adults, I see all too clearly how these children ultimately grow up.

rehtwo said...

One of my good friends from high school is doing Teach for America in rural Arkansas, and the stories that she shares...I can't even begin to imagine dealing with what she has to, your friend has to or what you have had to.

I do, however, remember with fondness the teachers who were advocates for their students...even though I was blessed with parents who were very active in my education, I am to this day very grateful to a certain handful of educators who went out of their way to make my learning experience the best it could be.

(PS - I wouldn't say you're a burnout -- if I recall correctly, you are still every bit an advocate for students who might otherwise get shut out, just still in a different capacity. I find that just as admirable as being in the classroom.)

Ahmed said...

I really like that starfish story. Thanks for sharing. :)

frenchita said...

what would you consider as rewarding, for the help that you provide others ? just curious..
btw i hope you realize, i respect you a lot.

frenchita said...

even a single drop of water can be life saving..but only if administered..keep it up aisha!:-)
there should never be any excuse for not helping the helpless...especially children.

Maliha said...

Something was sponsored by the DC government to get more teachers in the inner cities. I came to a choice between that and the Islamic studies degree, and after much praying and reflection decided on the latter...

Aisha said...

Baji your comment about working with adults makes me very sad. I at least get them when there is potential and hope. As adults the chances decrease so much.... many have become what tehy are and are now prisinors of their circumstances. Its got to be difficult. Bless you for your work.

Rehtwo, thanks for the vote of encouragement. I burnt out from the teaching aspect but I am going back in from the other angle, being their legal advocate. Thanks though : ) I feel better.

Ahmed Im glad you liked it

Frenchita, why do I find it rewarding... hm.. there are many reasons.... I think giving back to the community is a form of zikr, its thanking God for the blessings he gave by helping those who need it, its personally fulfilling, knowing when you close your eyes to sleep at night that you helped make someone's life a bit easier or better. There are many reasons its rewarding. And your analogy of water is very good. Thanks for sharing that!

Maliha well the option you chose is also very important, mash'allah. We need intelligent thinking Muslim scholars and particularly females ones. Plus who knows maybe one day you can go back to teaching :)

koonj said...

This was a beautiful and heartrending post. I'm reminded why I can't teach in schools.

And yet we're involving ourselves all over the world, though we can't meet the needs of our own most vulnerable populations.

Tee said...

Aisha - Did you ever get my (long winded) E-mail response to your writing pep talk? You mentioned in my comments that you were having E-mail difficulties. I did get your E-mail and I did respond. I can re-send if needed.

karrvakarela said...

I use the same starfish analogy to understand, and explain, the importance of a career in pediatric oncology (childhood cancer) or pediatric AIDS, for example. In spite of the circumstances, the mortality rates and suffering in general, you make a significant difference in the lives of the children and the families you help.

And that's a big thing.

Aisha said...

Koonj, yes we spend so much overseas when tehre are chidlren here suffering as well. Thanks for sharing your sentiments.

Tee, thanks for letting me know. I did get it, I'm sorry, I just hadn't gotten a chance to reply yet. I'm sorry!!

Karrvakarela thanks for your input. Is the work you describe the work you do??

Muslim Wife said...

Oh.My.Gosh. Like everyone else, I was in tears.

I don't know, hearing those stories, remembering my own experiences, makes me want to jump back into that whole world again. Insha'allah khair.

Hope you're well!

Aisha said...

MW!! Long time no talk. Hope you're well! Thanks for your input. I know you can relate. You touched the lives of the children you met in my classroom and I hope one day you teach again because you certainly have what it takes mash'allah.

karrvakarela said...

Not yet. Insha-Allah, in a short while.

Bee Amma said...

beautiful post :)

everythingiseventual said...

this reminds me of Dr Suess's "Oh the places you'll go" its a really good book when ur kind of down and depressed, it just reminds u that things will be ok.
ps: how do you juggle being a lawyer and a teacher?

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