Firing Day

He walked into my office and stood in front of my desk. A hardworking man, he struggled with class control and a language level below my usual expectations. I knew he was about to be fired, but I had been hoping to put it off for today. “What about my contract, ma’am?” He asked me, in his ever-so-polite manner. I hesitated. Looked at the floor. Looked at him. Then I bit the bullet. “I’m very sorry, but your contract is not to be renewed for next year.” He immediately went into a tirade about how Section 8 was trouble for many of the teachers (not only him) and how he hadn’t gotten necessary support from the building principal. “It’s been a pleasure to work for you though, ma’am,” he said. Then the young woman; she hesitated outside my door. I was on the phone and motioned for her to sit down. Making an assumption, I said to her, “Are you here to talk about your contract?” A nod. “I’m very sorry, but your contract is not to be renewed for next year.” This time, a shocked look and then, “Well I was actually going to tell you that I’m moving to Dubai.” Oh no. Had I only let her speak first. Every year brings the ‘firing day.’ As the Academic Director, I am directly responsible for faculty and staff numbering around fifty. As a private school in the Middle East, we don’t give long-term contracts, but rather a yearly contract to be renewed every June. May 31st, then, is ‘firing’ day. This is the worst day of the year. The day I spend wondering, thinking, worrying – about my contract with God… hoping I’m never told that my contract will not be renewed.

I have fired people with poor behavior. In this case the firing is usually easy. After all – I run a school! Teachers and support staff need to set a good example. But then, I think about my own behavior – about how many times I was a poor example. I’ve been a poor example in my home – when I have yelled at my husband, neglected my duties… I’ve been a poor example outside my home, when I walked past a needy person, or when I spoke shortly and rudely to a shopkeeper. Ya Allah! Don’t fire me from your religion… Let me keep my contract with You.

I have fired people who are careless; they don’t hand in grades on time – lesson plan books are mostly empty; and children’s papers are poorly marked. Again – easy! I call them in and explain that the job of a teacher is important! You must carry your responsibilities. Often I suggest working in the world of companies and outside the world of education. And then I remember how many emails I’ve gotten that went unanswered, how many phone calls that went to voice mail, and I shudder. I think about the students and friends I’ve lost to this world; people who used to sit at lessons with smiling faces. I think about my carelessness and pray, ya Allah! Don’t fire me from your religion… Let me keep my contract with You.

I have fired people who just don’t have the skills to teach. Either their language level is not up to par, or their teaching skills are non-existent. As my good friend and colleague used to say, “So and so couldn’t teach if you held a gun to her head and said, ‘teach or I shoot!’ ” Sometimes it is more difficult to fire someone who tries hard, but just isn’t capable of doing the work. I struggle and hem and haw when I fire them, but in the end I have to do it. I often say things like, “take some classes and come back to me.” Then I think about my skills – the ones I need to be a better Muslim. I think about the weakness in my Arabic, the slowness in my memorization, my general lack of focus, and I weep. Ya Allah! Please don’t fire me from your religion… Let me keep my contract with You.

I have fired many people. I never enjoy it. I always suffer with them and often see their faces for days after, until their resentment begins to wane…

I pray with all my heart that none of us are ever ‘fired’ from the most blessed of jobs – the work for Allah, His prophet, and His religion. Let our contracts be renewed.

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