To mark and celebrate the month of Ramadan, we spoke with Zeynab and Ikram, United Teaching graduates and teachers at the Totteridge Academy, who shared their individual experiences of training to teach and practising Ramadan as a teacher.
Q. Tell us about your United Learning journey so far.
Ikram: I started my teacher training in September 2021 and am currently in my first year as an ECT, working in the same school I completed my training in.
Zeynab: I got into teaching about five years ago after volunteering at a charity and realising I wanted to work with young people. I trained on the self-funded route through United Teaching and received a bursary to train to teach Maths. Since qualifying, I have progressed to my current position as Head of Year 9.
Q. What is it like to practise Ramadan as a teacher?
Ikram: Fasting as a teacher can be quite difficult, especially if the weather is warmer. A general day of teaching can be quite tiring anyway, but combined with not eating or drinking it can make you extra exhausted. I’m also getting up in the middle of the night to eat and pray which in turn interrupts sleeping patterns and means I can get quite lethargic during the day. The school is very aware of Ramadan and staff and students fasting and supports us through it.
Zeynab: I think it’s important to recognise that people’s experiences will differ depending on the school they work in and where they are based. If you work in a school and area which has lots of Muslim students, they will typically connect with teachers during Ramadan and bond over their fasting. Muslim students often approach me to chat about how their fasting is going and we’ll give each other encouragement.
Q. What is the hardest part of fasting as a teacher?
Ikram: Tiredness is a big thing amongst practising Muslims. Your teaching timetable also has an impact as if you have a full day of teaching, you will be constantly talking and as you can’t have any water, you’d feel more tired and dehydrated than if you only had a couple of teaching sessions. I personally suffer with migraines, so if I’m not having water, it could trigger a migraine and I can’t take painkillers as I’m fasting.
Zeynab: I would say the hardest part is practicing patience. Ramadan isn’t just a day, it’s a month long – which I think there should be more awareness of. Day to day, it’s very easy to lose your temper or get frustrated, but when you’re fasting, you’re a lot more mindful of managing your emotions and remaining calm and kind.
Q. Is there anything that you think could improve your fasting experience?
Ikram: Generally, I think there should be more awareness about Ramadan and what it involves so that people can be more mindful and understanding of what practising Muslims are experiencing. A great way to do this in schools would be to integrate the topic into assemblies. Days like International Women’s Day or Holocaust Memorial Day are often acknowledged in this way – so making the effort to highlight Ramadan would help in increasing awareness.
Zeynab: At Totteridge Academy, we have a multi-faith room which a lot of our Muslim students and staff use, with a member of our IT staff leading the prayer on Fridays. The school have invested in this room, it has a beautiful mural and lovely carpet, which makes it a calm and welcoming space. This space is open to people of all faiths and is specifically meant to be used as a quiet space for prayer. I think schools generally could benefit by providing a dedicated space for young people and staff who are fasting, so they have somewhere to relax, chat and exercise discipline without having to be around food.
Q. What is your favourite part of Ramadan?
Ikram: For anyone who fasts and celebrates Ramadan, it’s our favourite time of the year and something we look forward to - but that’s not to say it doesn’t come with its challenges.
Zeynab: Ramadan is a pinch-point in the year which helps people to re-calibrate and shift the focus to their faith and what’s important to them – helping them to continue throughout the rest of the year as they mean to go on.