When not crocheting – which is unfortunately quite frequently recently 😦 – I work as a high school textiles teacher (I am UK based, so teaching 11 to 16 year olds). The school is small for the area, and three years ago was a completely different school which got closed down due to being below standard. New backers came in, breathed new life into the joint, and we’re slowly pulling it up to actually having a pretty good local reputation. It’s located in a very economically poor area of town, which isn’t well known for it’s academic ability or behaviour, but both of those things are being rapidly improved by the school which is excellent. I’ve been working there a year, so have come in at just the right time to be seeing the changes made take effect and to feel pretty positive about the future.
Sorry I got side tracked bragging about my school’s improvements. What was my point?
Because of the area being low income the knock on effect is that we actually have a very multicultural school*. We have probably over 50% of students hailing from the South Asian, Indian/Pakistani countries, plus a high proportion of Polish, Hungarian and Bulgarian students, as well as a large number of students with an Afro Caribbean heritage. I would estimate that around 25% of the school is white British. I think this is fabulous because you learn so much about other cultures, countries and religions just from every day conversations. Incidents of racism are also much lower than in other schools in the area, because students just accept that they’re part of a huge melting pot and have grown up mixed together – someone’s skin colour or clothing is of very little importance as a result.
*This is NOT me saying that other cultures than white British are thick/poor/badly behaved. This is a comment on that fact that in the town there are a lot of families who are immigrants and have been housed in this one area, be it ten years ago or be it ten days ago. It was actually an area which was once upon a time very highly regarded because of it’s ethnic make up and their affluence, hence why there is an above average number of non-white families, but has over time seen a major change occur which has unfortunately had a negative effect on attitude towards education and seen growth in gang affiliation.
Which with a lot of waffle brings me round to what I really want to write about. A lot of the students I teach and quite a few members of staff are Muslim. July is a holy month for them, where they observe Ramadan. The reasons for and rituals included are much better explained here but the most well know one is the fasting. For the whole month, Muslims fast during the daylight hours, which means no food or drinks at all pass their lips between sunrise and sunset. It’s done by healthy men and women (generally not the young, old, ill or pregnant) from the age of puberty (the age of which differs according to your Mosque’s advice apparently, but is usually around 12 years old).
In order to better understand their students and colleagues, two members of staff decided they were going to follow the fasting rules for one day, donating any cash they would have paid for lunch or snacks to charity. They asked if anyone would like to join in and, because I’ve never worked anywhere with such a high number of Muslim people which means I’ve never really heard what it is like to put oneself through it, I said I’d give it a go. At the very least I wanted a challenge, and at the most I wanted to see exactly what effect it does have on the concentration levels and temperament of someone, so that I could get an understanding of my student’s needs.
Here’s how I got on.
1:30 am: Woke up because I needed the loo, and decided to have a sandwich while I could. Technically I should be waking before 3am to eat something anyway, so now is as good a time as any. Wolf down the sarnie and go back to bed.
3 am: It’s not light outside at all but this is apparently sunrise so the fast starts here! (I didn’t intend to be awake at this time, I just don’t sleep well so it was a happy(ish) coincidence that I woke up briefly here).
7 am: Actual get up time. Occasionally I might have a slice of bread or a biscuit or something, but I actually rarely eat a proper breakfast on a morning, so I don’t feel like I’ve missed out on anything. I bet this fasting business is harder if you’re used to eating on a morning. I go on my merry way, convinced that this will be easy.
8:30 am: Whoops! Almost got myself a cup of tea in the staffroom during staff briefing. Silly Amiguruthi. Go to run my form time and talk to one of the students about fasting. She says she couldn’t do it, but I am still pretty convinced I’ll be ok.
9:55-10:55 am: Teaching my first class of the day (I had a free period first lesson). It’s a small, well behaved year 8 textiles class, so I don’t miss my standard cup of water I have on my desk to revive my throat from calling across a noisy classroom because I just don’t need it. This class is my favourite class ever by the way – six low ability kids who genuinely push themselves and enjoy the work so they’re progressing in leaps and bounds. A dream class! No desire for chocolate yet, which I think there may be had it been one of my more challenging groups!
9:55am – 10:15am: Break time! Time for a cup of… oh. Darn it. Shrug and get on with some work to pass the time.
10:15am-11:15 am: Second class of the day, a high ability year 9 textiles class. I have heard the rumours of being ‘hangry’ (so hungry you get angry) while fasting, and I did worry that this class would be the one to tip me over the edge because I have a few members who have switched off their brains since they’re not taking it at GCSE so feel that means they don’t have to do the work. Luckily, one of them has been put on report so is on his best behaviour, one is absent, and one has specific one-to-one support today so most of the class in on task (side note – Teaching Assistants are an absolute necessity in classrooms. They’re more important than teachers I feel and the rate they are underpaid by is criminal. I could not be an effective teacher without my TAs). The one who isn’t on task I have decided to surreptitiously ignore just in case hanger strikes (I am starting to feel peckish and parched now!). I’ll catch him up tomorrow (to be fair to him he does actually do some work so fair play – hanger avoided!).
11:15 am – 12:15 pm: Ah the class I’ve been dreading! Not because they’re horrible (ok, maybe there’s one kid who is a bit of a nightmare) but because it is a year 10 food technology double and they’re cooking baked goods. Jam tarts, cheesecake, sausage rolls, Victoria sponge, marble cake – the idea of so many lovely things being cooked by some damned good little chefs is almost too much to bare. I get some cheesecake mixture on my hand and whereas normally I’d just lick it off then wash my hands, I have to curtail the urge and just wash it away. It looked damned good too…
One boy is in a bad mood, so starts messing about and being argumentative. I nearly snap at him because by now, surrounded by opportunity, I am getting bloody hungry, and in the heat of the kitchen my throat is starting to feel ragged with not being able to swig from my water cup. Hanger strikes and I have to walk away before I tell him to get his butt off the course if he can’t summon up the correct attitude. He is often like this so I feel like I’m going round in circles with the kid on a good day – on a day when hanger is suddenly turning from myth to reality, I can’t honestly say I won’t shout something that could get me into trouble if I don’t take myself out of the situation. One of the other things about Ramadan is being respectful and polite and turning the other cheek, so I am getting an opportunity to practise that too.
12:15 pm – 1:55pm: Lunch time! Students go off to eat (in my food tech class, none of them are Muslim so there’s noone to bond with). My hunger levels have actually gone down which is good because I don’t feel the temptation that I thought I would right now, however the desire to stick my gob under the tap is rapidly increasing. Funnily enough, I don’t normally drink a lot – just the odd sip now and again, plus a morning cuppa, so I hadn’t expected this side of fasting to trouble me so much. I work out the time left and it feels like forever.
1:55pm – 3:15pm: One more hour of teaching food tech, plus a bit of overtime for one kid to finish cooking. Nightmare boy has decided that he is going to stay behind too until his friend is free, and is spinning around the room on the wheely computer chair. He is annoying me more than he normally would – especially when he tries to get my to break my fast and try a bit of cake, claiming that I ‘don’t have to do it’ and ‘noone else would know’. He’s right, noone else would know, but I would and I would feel crappy for having failed on day one, never mind day 16 of Ramadan which it currently is. They finally tootle off and I can go distract myself with non-food related work! I really do get why fasting students crash during period 5 lessons – my concentration is rapidly receding and I’m starting to feel really tired. considering that my Muslim students probably got up before 3am and didn’t really go back to sleep I can see why their heads tend to hit the desk round now.
4:00 pm: I have left work having agreed to help supervise a film screening trip (a group of students made a shirt film on an iPad with a local film education company and they’ve arrange for it and three other short student films to be screened at our local Odeon). Anything to take my mind off the fact my stomach is beginning to rumble and my throat is starting to burn. The other member of staff in charge is also doing the fast, and we enthuse about how good that first cup of tea will taste as we wait for students to show up. Only five and a half hours to go!
5:32 pm: The other teacher has just whispered under his breath ‘Only four hours left’. Thanks for reminding me.
6:00 pm: The films were excellent – very proud of our students. Also very jealous – they all got popcorn…
6:30-7:20 pm: This is the hardest part of the day so far. Sitting at home with nothing to do. Normally I’d have my dinner around this time. My boyfriend looks at me as I walk into the house, comments on how pale I look, and offers to save me half of the bacon sandwich he has bought. It’s very sweet and I feel euphoric at the idea there is food waiting for me. I also feel very loved and supported, but mainly the happiness stems from the idea of bacon it has to be said. I distract myself with the internet and wish I had time for a nap – sleeping through the remaining three hours would be heavenly, but I have places to be.
7:30 pm: I am at the AGM for my theatre group. Distraction is good!
8:00 pm: Distraction is long and argumentative. Brain is starting to phase in and out.
8:32 pm: One hour to go! Have agreed to reprise my role as wardrobe mistress for one more year. Have managed to not get distracted by the fact that there’s pie and peas (which I don’t even particularly like but would wolf down) on offer, nor by the very inviting tea urn behind me. Mmm – tea…
9:00 pm: The trestle fence left up on stage from our last production looks like a chicken lattice. Starting to hallucinate? Or just very, very hungry now.
9:15 pm: Meeting adjourned! Must be sociable for ten minutes, but then I am out of here! If I leave at 9:25pm my first cup of tea can be brewed by the time I’m allowed to break my fast!
9:28 pm: In the car, on the way to my cup of tea! Hunger is actually receding again, although my stomach feels heavy and hollow at the same time.
9:31 pm: Kettle on, rice and veg for my curry out and starting to be prepared. Phone connected to the speaking clock so I don’t get hasty and break it too early.
9:32 pm: Time to break the fast! Tea not mashed yet but I refuse to rush this and get a substandard drink when I’ve been dreaming of it all day. Focus on starting making my dinner instead.
9:36 pm: OMG! TEA IS THE NECTAR OF THE GODS! I haven’t had a cuppa this good since I got home from a 6 week trek to Kenya aged 16 in 2004. So glad to be able to drink again. Not actually too fussed for food, but I need to eat.
9:45 pm: Ok, food is good. I love food. Omnomnom. Second cup of tea brewed and awaiting drinking too. Debating cramming down the cold bacon sarnie as well as my Korma.
So what did I learn today? Fasting is not something to be taken lightly because it does really effect you mentally as well as physically. I am so pleased that I managed it, but I know it’s nothing compared to the commitment that Muslim’s go through doing the full month of Ramadan. I applaud them for it – I can see why it brings them closer to God, and why it is such an important thing for their faith. What I have missed out on is the community aspect of it all – the prayers at mosque, the breaking of your fast with family and friends, the support from other people also taking part. Those things must add a whole other experience which I haven’t been able to access. I do however have a different perspective on why my students do struggle with coping with it – at 26 it is a hard undertaking for a day, so I can’t imagine how hard it must be for a 13 year old for a full month. And kudos the those people who do it year after year after year for most of their lives. I won’t be doing it long term, because I would very likely kill someone by the end of it, but I might do it again for a day next year, to see how different it is with a bit of knowledge behind me and some better preparation.
11:38 pm: Sod it – I’m having the bacon sandwich…