Teaching in the United States and Egypt: A Case Study Exploring the Life and Work of A Muslim Convert
Brooks, Melanie Carol (author)
Milligan, Jeffrey (professor directing dissertation)
Southerland, Sherry (outside committee member)
Easton, Peter (committee member)
Luschei, Thomas (committee member)
Department of Educational Leadership and Policy Studies (degree granting department)
Florida State University (degree granting institution)
The purpose of this single-subject case study was to explore how a Muslim teacher made sense of her life and work in two different contexts, the United States and Egypt. This topic is important because an increasing number of women are converting to Islam and scant research explores religious conversion among teachers. The data I collected and analyzed used a sociological framework that explored the life and work of teachers through the constructs of context, culture, religion, religious conversion, gender, social class, interpersonal relationships, daily work, and work rewards (Barker, 2000; Butt, Raymond, McCue, & Yamagishi, 1992; DeMarrais & LeCompte, 1998; Goodson, 2000; Hargreaves, 2003; Ingersoll, 2003 Lortie, 1975; McAdamis, 2007; McNay & Graham, 2007; Pajak & Blase, 1989; Viadero, 2007; Westheimer, 1998). These nine sociological constructs allowed for a detailed, thorough, and nuanced exploration of a teacher's complex life and work in the United States and Egypt. I conducted multiple interviews with the participant as well spent time observing her teach in both the United States and Egypt. Conclusions drawn from the study indicated that context and social class outweighed the other factors that the sociology of teaching literature suggests are salient to understanding teaching and religious conversion. Context mediated Amy's experiences as a Muslim-American, teacher, wife and expatriate. As a teacher, Amy's success was dependent on school contexts. She was scared to reveal her faith and felt isolated from her coworkers in the American public schools. When she did reveal herself to be a Muslim, she was frustrated by their ignorance of Islam. Amy was most successful teaching at an Islamic school, where she used both her American background and her Islamic faith to her advantage. In this context, Amy thrived as a "whole person" where she merged her personal and professional life. Amy was less successful in a cross-cultural environment. In Egypt, Amy did not reflect on her teaching or adapt it to an Egyptian context. She was critical of her principals and viewed her American citizenship, teaching experience, and academic credentials as giving her the authority to voice oppositional opinions to the school leadership. Her overconfidence hindered her ability to create caring professional relationships with both teachers and students. In effect, the interplay of her ego with school contexts greatly influenced her success as a teacher. In her personal life, Amy embraced gender complimentarity and strove to follow gendered expectations. She viewed her role as wife as equal in importance to the work of her husband. In Egypt, Amy placed great importance on caring for her home and family and spent as little time as possible at her places of work. Consequently, her workplace relationships suffered. Although Amy limited the amount of time at work, her sense of self-importance made it possible for her to outwardly criticize both Egyptian society and her workplaces. She actively separated herself from the lower classes, looked down on a class she termed nouveau riche, and blamed the problems she faced in the classroom on the lower classes' lack of education. Yet, she continued to teach because of financial need. Although Amy earned more money as a teacher than her husband did as a pathologist, she viewed her American nationality and her marriage to a doctor as providing them entrée into the Egyptian upper class. Amy's religious conversion to Islam was a long process that changed both her career trajectory and outlook on life. She faced learning to navigate her American heritage, new Islamic identity, and the nuances of Egyptian culture. Her personal and professional relationships were met with varied success, illustrating the complexities of religious change and cross-cultural acculturation.
Religious Conversion, Teacher work, Teacher Life, Cross-Cultural, Egypt
April 8, 2009.
A Dissertation submitted to the Department of Education Leadership and Policy Studies in partial fulfillment of the requirements for the degree of Doctor of Philosophy.
Includes bibliographical references.
Jeffrey Milligan, Professor Directing Dissertation; Sherry Southerland, Outside Committee Member; Peter Easton, Committee Member; Thomas Luschei, Committee Member.
Florida State University
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