Around my house the summer seems to have zipped by with trips to the cottage, having friends over to swim, trips to the Mosque during Ramadan and now we are a week into the school routine. My children are in grade 1, grade 6 and grade 8 in public school here in Ontario Canada. Back to school time can be exciting but also nerve wracking for both parents and kids especially if your are going back to school as one of the few Muslim kids in your class or school. Here are few tips as a mom and a teacher for going back to school in Public, Private or Islamic settings.
Talking to School Staff about Muslim Observances
- Use the internet or phone the school board or district office to ask about diversity/equity policies that relate to student faith observances in public or private school. Know your rights and responsibilities. Common requests may include: space for prayer, dietary restrictions, dress code, accommodation with the curriculum, holidays and gender relations
- Put your requests in writing in a polite and inviting tone. Explain any requests for accommodation and how you would prefer to be accommodated. If you are unsure, have a friend read your letter first to make sure it makes sense and is clear. Some schools or districts may request a letter from your local Imam to verify the faith observances.
- Request a meeting with the classroom teacher and/or the principal of the school early in the year. Don’t wait until the last minute to explain your request for an accommodation.
- Be flexible. Remember that public and private schools can accommodate faith needs of students to a certain point and only in alignment with federal, state or provincial legislation. You may have to compromise or help to come up with creative solutions. E.g., Parent volunteers supervising students observing Zuhr prayer at school.
You Are the Only You!
- Teach people your name and ask them to pronounce it correctly. This may take patience, and you may feel tempted to ask them to shorten it or change it, but most people are very interested to learn your name correctly.
- Wearing hijab for the first time this September? Don’t be shy, and remember that people will only find this different for the first few days. After that, the attention will die down. Don’t be afraid to answer any questions–it’s normal that friends and teachers may be curious. However, hijab is a personal decision, and you don’t have to become a spokesperson unless you want to. If anyone does give you unwanted attention or harassing comments, report them to a teacher or trusted staff person.
- Don’t always go along to get along. Trying to seem “less Muslim” may not always help you to fit in. Friends and teachers will respect you if are true to yourself and your beliefs in a kind and respectful way. Ask your parents or older students how to respond to questions or comments that you are not sure how to answer. I find a good response is, “That’s interesting…I’ll get back to you on that.” There are always more things that unite us than separate us from people.
- Friends are essential. Make friends with people who support you for who you are. My sons’ friends who are not Muslim have been around our family so much that they can explain Islam very well to other students who inquire about why we do things a little differently. Invite friends over to your house, and include them in holidays and daily observances in a respectful way.
- Younger students may be working with students who are from diverse cultural groups for the first time. They may have many questions about similarities and differences. Always be positive and avoid comparing Muslims or your cultural background to other cultural groups or faith groups in a negative way. Emphasize respect for differences in both public school and Islamic schools. A good way to explain differences to very young students is, “Suzanne’s family has a different religion or culture than our family. What she does is good for her family, and what we do is good for our family. There are many things about us that are the same.”
Enjoy the Ride
Change is always challenging. Expect there to be a few bumps and sometimes grumpy or tired children in September as everyone adjusts to their new routines. Don’t overdo other social engagements, stick to bedtimes, eat healthy foods and allow enough quiet down time as a family to process the changes. Be kind to yourself as a parent, and show empathy and kindness to the changes that your student is going through. If there are real problems with friends, teachers, schedules, or workload don’t wait until November to talk to the teacher. Relax and enjoy – Happy New Year!
A Few Links:
- Religious Freedom in Public Schools – Sound Vision
- Toronto District School Board – Policy on Religious Accommodation in Public School
How are you preparing for the new school year? What do you do to keep your children confident about their Muslim identity?
Suzanne Muir has been an elementary teacher and librarian since 1994. She currently works as an Equity and Inclusive Education Consultant at a public school board in Ontario, Canada. She is also the mother of three unique and wonderful kids: Zayd, Haytham and Ruqaya. She is the author of over 15 children’s books and started her own company, Over The Moon Stories, where she creates online ebook stories for iPhone and iPad with global and Islamic themes. She loves to ski, swim, read, play piano, sing, and of course write!
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