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Dealing with the Disinterested


disinterested.jpgI think I’ve just stumbled across the most difficult obstacle that teachers face… dealing with disinterested students. Okay, I’m not exactly a teacher… I’m more of a teacher’s assistant. But I still have to deal with the students!

In our little every-weekday-evening Madrasah, we have a variety of students despite the smallness of class size (around 25-39 kids in the younger level; around 10 in the older level). They range from the young and eager to the older and slightly less excited about spending two hours of every weekday in another school… overall, however, the students are pretty great, al-Hamdulillaah – they are learning more about Islam, and how to apply it to their daily lives, and subsequently strengthening their identities as Muslims.

However, to get back to my problem: Disinterested kids.
If you’ve ever had to teach a bunch of kids, you’ll know who I’m talking about… the guy (or girl!) who leans back in his/her chair, either staring at the teacher insolently or looking at nothing in particular with an expression of pure, unadulterated boredom and scorn. When told to do what the rest of the class is doing – learning a du’aa, practicing Qur’an recitation, or even just joining the group discussion – the look on the kid’s face is either of total disinterest (of the ‘whatever‘ sort), or of scornful incredulity (‘you actually expect me to listen to you?’).

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At the moment, we really don’t know how to deal with these kids… there are a couple of them in the class, just sitting there and making absolutely no effort to learn. My dad’s of the opinion to just leave them be, and insha’Allah slowly but surely they’ll join the rest of the class’s progress. As for me… well, it just drives me crazy. We have a no-yelling policy, and while that’s fine for me in relation to the rest of the class, when it comes to these kids in particular I’ve had to bite my tongue more times than I can count. My tongue’s getting pretty sore now…

So: How does one deal with these children? Leave them be, and hope that they’ll become more interested and involved later on? Or is there some other alternative by which we can prod them into more speedy action?

While we’re at it, I have another issue as well – class discipline. How do you deal with rowdy kids?

Both during class and recess, there are a couple kids (guys… who else?!) who are really quite loud, and sometimes just downright misbehaved. I’ve come perilously close to breaking the no-yelling rule with these guys… and it’s not just them speaking out loud in the middle of class, or being a little rough with the other guys – it’s stuff like, a 9 year old kid being totally disrespectful to his older sister (kicking her, talking back to her, even spitting on her!), another kid being nasty to the younger children (grabbing them in headlocks, teasing them by taking their toys away and making them cry, etc.), and so on…

My father’s way of dealing with it is to rebuke them mildly (which I think is pretty ineffective, ‘cuz they just ignore him) and let them off with that; I think that we should have a stricter approach… although what that approach should be, I don’t know.

Advice would be much appreciated! :)

Your little sister in Islam,

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Zainab bint Younus (AnonyMouse) is a Canadian Muslim woman who writes on Muslim women's issues, gender related injustice in the Muslim community, and Muslim women in Islamic history. She holds a diploma in Islamic Studies from Arees University, a diploma in History of Female Scholarship from Cambridge Islamic College, and has spent the last fifteen years involved in grassroots da'wah. She was also an original founder of



  1. ExEx Blogger

    March 22, 2007 at 4:32 PM

    I think basically if you want the carrot carrot method, come to al huda.

  2. abu ameerah

    March 22, 2007 at 4:34 PM

    someone sounds a bit jaded…lol


  3. ExEx Blogger

    March 22, 2007 at 4:34 PM

    Basically no carrot stick method, more like you either eat the Gerber Baby mushed carrots or you eat the HARD baby carrot!!!

  4. ahmed

    March 22, 2007 at 4:57 PM

    Dealing with kids like this is one of the primary reasons I stopped teaching weekend schools.

    My take on it is: If they’re so problematic, just remove them from the class and send them home. They ruin the program for everyone else.

    I really think teachers and principals should just put their foot down and start expelling the problem children.

    We had a very similar problem with the full time hifdh program. It had a really bad reputation until the administration decided to expel the disruptive and uncooperative students. Problem solved, and now the school has a much better reputation.

  5. Umm Reem

    March 22, 2007 at 5:33 PM

    For the disinterested kid in the class, make a no-leaning rule (that is what I have for my children).

    To arouse interest in them, try making a point system where each child has a chart and they get points/stars for participation, listening to teacher, answering questions etc. and after a certain no. of points/star get a gift. It may work if you have not tried it already.

    As for the child hitting his older sister, I think his parents should be informed.

  6. Moiez

    March 22, 2007 at 6:40 PM

    My opinion is
    Take a hammer to it, make a spit ball gun or a sling shot hide somewhere and when you see them pick on somebody get em! of course make the intention that your doing this for the sake of peace and oh make sure during class you sit in the back with a crowd while the teacher is not looking inshallah the attention to what ever they are doing will be gone. If that doesnt work or something goes wrong write back we’ll concoct a better plan.

  7. Moiez

    March 22, 2007 at 6:42 PM

    oh yah sling shots use only for recess and use soft things that will pinch but not hurt too bad like a peice of foil or something

  8. khawla hurayrah

    March 23, 2007 at 12:13 PM


    SubhanAllah, May Allah reward you sister AnonyMouse for your effort in educating Muslim children. Ameen

    I understand how teachers must be going through with the effort of educating other people’s children. I think the problem didn’t just surface yesterday but it started from the day a child was born, most often due to bad parenting; lack of discipline and akhlaq; not fearing Allah or anybody in authorities; TV; lost of Haya; being fed with junk non halal food; or suckled by cow’s formula. They also make these excuses for having ADD or ADHD, some kind of mental health problems that may be worth looking into rather than expelling a child straight away.

    Allah advice in the Qur’an:
    “Wealth and children are only tests for you”

    My point being: Unless we strive to do something to overcome these tests, we are going to produce a weak Ummah in the future and we will only let the Kuffar feasting like diners set upon dinner table.

    Possible ways of help may be:

    * The parents’/teachers focus should be on looking forward and finding the best possible way to help the problematic child. Further more they are the adults incharged and not these kids. Our problem though is lack of funding because most Sunday school teachers are volunteers and parents cannot afford to pay or simply refuse to spend on Islamic education except designer clothing & the latest computer games.

    * Identifying the problems – Studies have shown a possible correlation between the use of cigarettes and risk for ADHD in the offspring of that pregnancy. A Muslim mother AND father who heavily smokes especially during the gestation period, is a bad sign. Admit that, there are many Muslims who smoke in Al Haram during Hajj!!! Those who still think smoking is Mahrooh, must think again. Another factor may be high levels of lead in the bodies of young preschool children living in old apartments or houses.

    * Non halal food sustenance
    Some may frown upon this point but be realistic that non halal food hardened the heart and makes our du’aas not accepted.

    * Managing inappropriate behavior at school.
    I read some good points discussed here:

    * Turns lemon into lemonade
    If we cannot use the tarbiyah from the Qur’an & Sunnah or Seerah of the Prophet (SAW) and the companions then we may have to try help these problematic kids through other means here:

    * Make lots of du’aas. There are some du’aa for children that teachers can learn.

    * or it may be the case, the kid’s Arwa (Syaitan) is playing havoc!!!!

    May Allah guide our children and protect them from the accursed Syaitan. May Allah make it easy and reward the teachers (including parents) for all their efforts.


  9. Amad

    March 24, 2007 at 12:40 AM

    Anonymouse… I have to deal with kid-adults… too old to be kids, yet still have kiddie minds… I am talking about the age group of 19-22. I have friends in that age group and getting them to do anything takes a tremendous amount of work. The enthusiasm is as much as a snail has for walking…. Guys, you know who I am talking about!!

    I haven’t figured out what to do with them either. If there was an Islamic equivalent to Playstation (in terms of enthusiasm), let me know where to buy it :)

  10. AnonyMouse

    March 24, 2007 at 1:29 AM

    As-salaamu ‘alaikum wa rahmatullaahi wa barakaatu,

    ExEx Blogger: Where’s al-Huda?

    Ahmed: The thing is, because the community here is so small and these kids haven’t had much of an Islamic education, my dad doesn’t want to give up on them so quickly… plus, it happens to be one of our sources of income :S

    Umm Reem: Masha’Allah, I like the chart idea… I’ll suggest it to my dad… although, what we do right now is when we ask the kids questions and they get it right, they get a small candy as a reward…
    For the kid with the older sister, I’ve said the same thing, but my parents said that it’s not for us to interfere… I think it’s a disturbing issue, but they said it’s for the kid’s parents to deal with at home.

    Moiez: LOL, I love your ideas! :D Unfortunately, as the TA I’m not allowed to engage in that sort of behaviour… :(

    Khawla Hurayrah: Jazaakillaahi khairan for the detailed advice! :) Just a note, though: While my brothers and I are volunteer TA’s, the Madrasah is done on a 3-days-a-week basis, and a fee
    is paid by each student (or rather, the student’s parents).

    Amad: Take them to the park and let them expend their energy… or give them colouring books! :P

  11. Diefulllah

    March 24, 2007 at 10:10 AM

    Amad: Haha…”Islamic equivalent of Playstation”?
    Uhhhh no, actually maybe if we concentrate more on bringing back big Sheikhs, it would bring more enthusiasm not just to the Youth but to the community as a whole.

    By the way, I give back to the community in a lot of ways. I sit here in my dark basement and I burn copies of Anwar Al-Awlaki lectures and different reciters of the Quran. Then I pass them out to the people who asked for them. So, in that sense, I think I have great enthusiasm and it doesn’t require video games ;)

    (All sarcasm…no offense taken)

  12. Diefulllah

    March 24, 2007 at 10:16 AM

    Ooops, Sorry for hijacking the thread…I didn’t read the original post! :eek:

  13. Didi

    March 26, 2007 at 10:22 PM

    I used to hang out with a lot of English teachers, so I would routinely hear about their punishment stories. The best one I ever heard of was telling the problematic kid that, if they didn’t quit misbehaving, they’d have to stand in front of the class while everyone else wrote lines. It’s apparently extremely effective.

    Alternatively, you could just leave them be. They’re probably the cool/smart ones that notice the lack of evidence and high improbability surrounding supernaturalness and will become atheists if you let them. :)

  14. anon

    March 27, 2007 at 2:51 AM

    The loud obnoxious kids reminded me of when I was in sixth grade and my spanish teacher, Senorita Millines, put duck tape over one of the kid’s mouth when he wouldn’t shuttup and he had to sit like that for the rest of the period.
    She got in major trouble for that from school personnel and parents’ complaints so I wouldn’t recommend doing that Anonymouse :)

    About the disinterested/bored kids… maybe their scorn, bordom, and disinterest comes from the fact that the class isn’t moving fast enough for them and it really is very unstimulating. I’ve known a lot of kids who can rattle of stuff at the drop of the hat, know stuff I could never even begin to comprehend, and help people who are older than them do their work (Actually they practically ended up doing it themselves). Yet in school they act like idiots, don’t do work, get lousy grades and just don’t care because it offers no intellectual challenge for them and they don’t see the point of paying attention. So, maybe the teaching method or the way your doing your curriculum is part of the problem. No offense btw. I’m not trying to say you’re a bad teacher :)

  15. Abdu

    March 27, 2007 at 8:22 AM

    “They’re probably the cool/smart ones that notice the lack of evidence and high improbability surrounding supernaturalness and will become atheists if you let them.”

    I think you mean the foolish/ignorant ones.

  16. Moiez

    March 27, 2007 at 9:23 AM

    Do you guys have detention? or a corner where kids can laugh at the kid misbehaving because emarassment is a big psychological tool you can use.

  17. Mihrash

    March 28, 2007 at 11:13 AM

    Please stop using the icons that shows the expressions it is the same as drawing pictures. I won’t come to this blog again if people keep using it.

  18. AnonyMouse

    March 28, 2007 at 12:41 PM

    Didi: “They’re probably the cool/smart ones that notice the lack of evidence and high improbability surrounding supernaturalness and will become atheists if you let them.” Ahem… I shan’t respond to that, as we’ve both had this conversation before and know where it’ll lead (nowhere!).

    Anon: LOL, I love the duct tape idea! :P But you’re right, it probably won’t be too popular with the parents :S Haha, no offence taken… that’s why I asked in the first place, ‘cuz I knew y’all would come up with good points and suggestions! :)

    Abdu: Didi’s an old classmate of mine… a staunch atheist. We had HUGE debates on the subject of religion, with neither of us changing our minds :S

    Moiez: So far, our ‘punishment policy’ has been to not let the misbehaving kids play foozball during recess.

    Mihrash: Ummm… I don’t know about that… Does anyone else think the same way? (That smileys count as drawing images?)

  19. anon

    March 28, 2007 at 4:44 PM

    LOL @ Mihrash. I kind of thought he was joking or being sarcastic when he wrote that. I personally really think that’s going a bit overboard for my tastes and will continue to use them because they’re cute :) :D ;)

    I thought Didi’s comment was funny before but I think it’s even funnier now that I know s/he is actually an atheist. LOL :D

  20. Amad

    March 28, 2007 at 5:39 PM

    Anon, he is joking.

    By the way, Mihrash is actually the Jinn’s name that a local friend claims to have been visited by, and this I am not kidding… Awesome that we now have Jinns visiting our blog as well :)

  21. AnonyMouse

    March 28, 2007 at 5:58 PM

    Yikes… the subject of jinn seems to be coming up quite a bit around me lately! :S

    lol, the older kids at the Madrasah love hearing jinn stories… it started when we were learning the du’aat to recite before bed, to be protected from all evil, and tafseer of surah an-Naas and al-Falaq; they started asking a million questions about the jinn (including the ‘can humans marry jinn?’ one!), and then my dad told them about the time one of his teachers in Medinah exorcised someone who was possessed…

    I suck at telling if someone’s being sarcastic or not online :(

  22. Moiez

    March 28, 2007 at 10:13 PM

    o.k so i am getting the gist that your not a type of person who likes punishments. let me think of a nicer way do you guys give homework? pretty dumb question but in case you do if you had a reward system where every day when you think the behavior is good you flip over a day and once you get 6 full days of good behavior no homework for the next day.

    Im not sure about this but alot of kidz dont have much knowledge on the unseen and the hereafter and I believe the Prophet first put paradise and hellfire infront of the sahaba before giving them the restrictions and benefits sooo what if you give lessons on what would happen to those who misbehave and what would happen to those who behave. In the dunya and in the hereafter. its an interesting topic so the kids will listen.

  23. Didi

    March 28, 2007 at 10:32 PM

    “I think you mean the foolish/ignorant ones.”

    Whoops, yeah, that was a common typo. The keys are like, right next to each other. ;)

  24. Fur

    March 30, 2007 at 2:21 PM

    Salamalayik habiibati,

    I was over at your old blog just now, just as well i find you here,,,looks like some dedicated staff is pretty occupied at her office :)

    I was just reading your post >, tried posting but somehow i couln’t get through..

    So hows things coming along? For yourself and for your students at the madrasa?

    You know what,I share the same concern and aspirations, which is why reading your writing and the suggestions that followed, by fellow brothers and sisters was so fulfilling, and i thought of sharing a few humble thoughts on it too, if i may :)

    but what i intend to say here may not necessarily seek to resolve the problem you’re facing at the madrasa, but instead, I thought of directing this to you as an individual; as an inspiring thinking adolescent, al-hamdu lillah ;) Bravo! Bravo!

    So when we come to talk about making attempts at understanding the Qur’an, (I don’t know if you’re searching for INSTANT solutions), but if your heart is really pure in this mission, one thing comes to mind, at least to mine; have you tried befriending the Tafseer? Afterall, what are tafseer books for if not to help us understand the Qur’an, rite?

    I think there should be many versions out there available, from the concise and reader-friendly Ibnu Kathir’s, to the extensive and exhaustive, soul-awakening presentation by Syed Qutb

    SubhanALLAH if only we can hear them screaming to us from the shelves in the bookstores “Buy me! Buy me!” …and yet its always the Harry Potter series that we end up paying for,,,eh?

    Sometimes it’s not like we don’t have ‘em in our library at home, but I guess they’ve gotten a bit camouflaged with the dust that we cud hardly recognized em anymore. and they would just anticipate patiently for the day we will rescue em off those shelves…

    Personally i am of the opinion that these tafseer books are the more qualified companion to keep a Muslim teenager company…but sadly, it’s always those harry potter or LOTR series that gets the privilege to be our best buddy

    Now,with regards to the problem you’re facing at your madrasa, well, I don’t exactly have a solution to offer,, but my insight on it is this; if only there are simplified tafseer books specially written for pupils of elementary and secondary level…mmm, that may be of some help, would it not?

    I wonder if such compilation is available in the market… perhaps we can put that up in the ad, “Calling all Tafseer majors. If you don’t have much to do after graduation, please come up with tafseer books for kids.”
    Haha. Sorry. Just getting a bit carried away there…

    But yeah, when we come to look at the matter seriously, our negligence or failure in referring to the tafseer on a habitual basis would in some way defeat their purpose of existence, don’t you think? They were written with that principal cause of helping us to ‘understand’ the Qur’an better…and yet we somehow ‘abandon’ them.

    Well, anyways, those are just my personal humble thoughts; and I do stand to be corrected, esp with all these syeikhs around :)

    Oh yes, to brother Amad as the initiator of this “coffee house”; I’d just like to say Mabrouk for gathering everybody under one roof. It is indeed a meritorious effort. May the whole team reap many, many merits from Allah, InshaALLAH

    Nonnie habiibati, i’d like to say a thing a two about the topic of discussion here, inshaAllah I’ll be coming again; this is already taking too long. Haha.

    Heres to a new friendship :D
    Was-salaamu ‘alaiKUM wa rahamtullahi wa barakatuh

    At the end of the day, it’s all about Muslim Unity
    For Islam is universal
    yours humbly
    future ummu rumaisa’

  25. Fur

    March 30, 2007 at 2:24 PM

    *the post mentioned was: Qur’an: Reading & Recitation Without Knowledge or Understanding.

  26. H

    April 30, 2007 at 12:01 AM

    since we are on this topic, my arabic language is expriencing the same problem. we started off @ 30 students 4 months ago, and now we are 5. these are adults, with families, school, and all. everyone has responsiblities, but learning is yet another resposibility.

  27. Amad

    April 30, 2007 at 9:10 AM

    ASA H : What you are going through is quite typical of most halaqat and study groups. Lots of enthusiasm and hype at first, and then you are left with those who are really interested in learning.

    That is why I like what AlMaghrib did to revolutionize learning. The aspect I am referring to, besides the tons of other good ideas they brought, is charging $$. Unfortunately in the West, Ilm is just not as highly regarded as it should. People rarely fill masajids in serious halaqats… inspirational talks yes, but not where real learning is going on. So, in this regard, getting a financial commitment may help.

    If I may suggest, set a monthly fee, even if a small one, but still somewhat significant, like $50/mth. And have people sign a commitment to attend for 6 mths, i.e. they are committing to coming to class for at least that much time, and even if they don’t/can’t, they are committed to paying for it. Let the money go to the masjid or some other dawah activity if you don’t personally need it (though its fine for the $$ to go to you). Even if you lose 10 out of 20 with this plan, you’ll at least have 10 committed students…


  28. AnonyMouse

    April 30, 2007 at 5:00 PM

    As-salaamu ‘alaikum wa rahmatullaahi wa barakaatu,

    Jazakillaahi khairan, sis Fur! :)

    Al-Hamdulillaah, the ‘problem’ we had with not understanding the Qur’aan cleared up somewhat… with the older class, at least.
    My dad’s been doing the Tafseer of some of the shorter surahs with them – Surah al-Faatiha and the 3 ‘Quls’ – and I think it’s really awesome ‘cuz we’re learning a lot more than just the literal meanings of the ayaat…

    Tafseer of Surah al-Faatiha was the best so far (for me, anyway) ‘cuz knowing that we’re literally having a ‘conversation’ with Allah when we’re reciting it in salaah is an amazing way of focusing our concentration and increasing khushoo’.

    Subhan’Allah, it’s really amazing how quickly the problem was solved (or at least, how quickly a solution appeared) so soon after I wrote that post! Al-Hamdulillaah! There’s lots of work to be done yet, but I feel that we’re making some real progres… :)

    H: In my old city, we had the SAME problem! Arabic AND kickboxing classes started with loads of students, but people ended up drifting away or showing up only irregularly… for the kickboxing, we got them to pay, but the Arabic classes were free. However, it was actually sorta better when just the really interested learners kept coming, because it meant that even though we were a small group we could at least make progress, whereas when the others showed up once in a while we had to keep going back and do the same old things.


  29. H

    May 4, 2007 at 9:19 PM

    walaykum salam Amad, and AnonyMouse, Jazak Allah for the suggestions. We have a fee set up, but its not really helping.

    Dua’ is a powerful weapon, i s’pose :)

  30. Saif

    June 20, 2007 at 9:53 AM

    Salam ‘alaykum wa rahmatullah.

    At our Madrassah, we used to have soccer tournaments and other sports competitions, as well as picnics and outings every few months. Our Ustadh used to give us points for our Hifz lessons, Cleanliness, Siwak, Akhlaq, and behavior with our parents and elders. The kids who didn’t get the minimum points required were excluded from all extra-curricular events. They actually used to come and pack the stuff for the rest of the kids, and load it on the bus and go back home.

    The games and outings (especially to amusement parks etc.) were MashaAllah quite enjoyable, and I think its one of the main reasons why our Ustadh was successful in making many of us Huffaz.

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