Muslim, Male and Primary School Teacher: The Postmodern Change Maker

This is a guest post by my friend and colleague Dr Nasima Hassan (@Nasimatheroad) from the University of East London. 

With a Muslim male PFA Player of the Year and a Muslim male Mayor of London hitting the headlines in recent weeks, writing about Muslim male primary school teachers as postmodern change-makers might look like I am jumping on a shiny new bandwagon travelling at great speed.  That’s not the case.  As the world (or at least the media) starts to notice powerful Muslim men as positive role models I have been fortunate to know of and work with many based on my work in teacher education and it’s purely coincidental that the publication will hit the streets at approximately the same time that OK! Magazine visits Riyad and Sadiq at home.

I used the informed interview process (where the questions are shared beforehand) with 14 participants; all British; 4 NQTs, 6 trainees and 4 TAs, all outstanding young men committed to embracing the fact that as teachers they are also powerful roles models.  Why Muslim men and not women, you ask?  Well, there are so many in Britain and so few opt to become primary school teachers, that’s why.  We talked about lots of things, here is a summary:

  • Teaching as vocation
  • The underrepresentation of Men in the Primary sector
  • Pre existing stereotypes of Muslim men
  • Geo politics
  • Identity Politics
  • Teacher training
  • (Mis) Representation
  • Career aspirations
  • My insider bias (see adjective above in italics)

All the participants were/are my students; we have journeyed the undergraduate and PGCE terrain, we know each other well.  It is within this longitudinal framework that I collected stories (see CRT) of empowerment, experiences of Islamophobia and micro-aggressions (more CRT) and insights that shape teacher identity; the making of a change-maker, in fact.  I thought to myself, over a cup of black coffee and no biscuits (as is the dictat of the hipster, high knees, bikram yoga, vegetarian philosophy I adhere to) that more people need to hear these compelling stories so that in sharing their life experiences and insights we can perhaps address the imbalance perpetuated by omnipotent media on a loop about Muslim men.

So what did my participants have to say?  Here is a helpful summary:

  • They had a lot to say about everything. They have their own voices and they do not need anyone (that includes me, but especially it means Muslim men in the public eye like Majid Nawaz, Ed Hussain and Anjum Chaudhury) to speak on their behalf.
  • They are very different; individuals .They are not one homogenous body. They are not related.
  • Some participants face Islamophobia every day, as teachers.
  • All are very aware of negative stereotypes which are projected onto them because of their religion, their beard, their empathy for the people of Palestine and Syria. Some view this as overt propaganda (see Goldsmith’s failed Mayoral campaign).
  • All reported an absence of positive male role models during their training year.
  • Some have faced hostility when requesting a room to pray in at lunchtime.
  • All talked of the delicate and difficult conversations that needed to take place to facilitate attendance at Friday prayers on site. One SLT replied ‘You do know that this is not a faith school?’
  • All understood and embraced the importance of being a role model as a Muslim man. They had no choice. They could not simply concentrate on being a teacher alone. Their change-maker role is implicit in their role as a teacher.

This summary captures challenges as well opportunities faced by Muslim men in the primary sector– it is important to conclude that the latter outweighs the former.  There is hope.

Dr Nasima Hassan, UEL

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