By Rafi M. Ali, M.D.
Director of DarusSalam Seminary’s Tadrīs Integrated High School Program
Any teacher who has suffered the heat of the classroom will have encountered the one student whose ambition seems to challenge the infinite patience of the most patient of teachers…the student that might have made Malcolm X of Gandhi, and a Joan of Arc of Mother Teresa. There is also the one student that adds layers of meaning to a “deer in headlights” experience. It is tempting to succumb to our weaker instincts when faced with such trials and judge these students harshly as distracting obstacles in the classroom. That would be a tragic mistake.
It is entirely possible that the least of the students today will become humanity’s great benefactor tomorrow. History is replete with examples of great men and women who were deemed failures by their unenlightened, and now forgotten, pedagogues.
Generally, families of gravely ill patients have difficulty letting go of their loved ones. I remember one poor alcoholic patient, however, whose family seemingly got fed up with him. He would be hospitalized when deathly ill, resuscitated, rehabilitated, and discharged…only to return to drinking and subsequently return to the emergency room with a trailing shadow of death. After several such hospitalizations and near-death experiences, though his recovery seemed plausibly imminent, his family asked, “What’s the point doctor? We know what he’s going to do.”
Withdrawal of care is reasonable, perhaps, with a terminal illness courting death and little hope of meaningful recovery. In this case, however, this poor patient’s possible immediate outcome was positive. I would like to reassure the good reader that my response to the family’s query was compassionately polite despite my initial imperfect thoughts, “Perhaps that is why he goes back to drinking. How little faith you have!”
Such is also the case with difficult students. Perhaps, it is not they who fail. Indeed, the existence of the inner genius of every student is not some theoretical or poetic construct, but a real phenomenon. The ability to see this in every student is a virtual vision test of a teacher.