I dragged my eyes to the alarm clock that rung at 6:30am. Last time I woke this early was… who knows when. Today was special because I didn’t wake up for work. I woke up for class, but with a twist.
It was the week of Teacher’s Day and Teach For Malaysia staff were encouraged to visit our Fellows or Teaching Alumni to be their personal assistants for the day as a sign of appreciation. For convenience sake, I chose a school in Banting where Adibah, a 2012 Alumni was teaching. Diba has been teaching since 2012, one among the pioneering cohort of TFM. Undeterred with the challenges, she answered “I stay for the kids” when I asked her why she remained as a teaching alumni of 4 years after her 2 years of Fellowship. 6 years in the same school, Diba is now a Ketua Panitia for Sejarah, a step up that comes along with responsibilities.
In the short few hours that I was in Banting, I experienced what I’ve surmised to be the unexciting part of teaching – prep. Diba was so relieved that we offered to help out today because she was supposed to cut up almost 40 pieces of smiley faces, a new classroom tool her and her colleagues are expected to utilize in lessons. We also aided some of her colleagues to build a Teacher’s Day photo booth. Even though I grew up being the child of a teacher, I’ve severely underestimated the sheer amount of work that goes into being an educator. I realize that the job is more than standing in front of a classroom, it was managing stakeholders (principals, students, parents), it was project management (the various events that teachers take on to do – Hari Guru), and on top of that, shaping our nation’s future.
I had the honor of being in one of her classes. Diba brought us into a her form 5 Sejarah class, where it was made up entirely of girls. Girls from various backgrounds, but with some important similarities — they didn’t have much to strive for due to their circumstances. Dibah broke them out into groups and I had a bunch of quiet girls to talk to. The other groups chatter and laughter could be heard from the corridor, but my group was just silent. I am often labeled an extrovert but at that moment I didn’t know what to say. I just started sharing my university reflections and stories, until I realized the reason they didn’t respond was because they didn’t understand what I was saying – I was speaking in English. I asked one of the girls what she wanted to pursue after her SPM, she said she didn’t know. Then she said, “Cikgu, sekarang saya dalam aliran seni dan ERT, ada masa hadapan ke? Saya tak pandai sains.” I was stunned. I’ve taken for granted that I had options even though I myself was not a science-oriented person. I immediately went into detail what she can do and opt to study for after SPM, then suddenly another girl who was silent the whole time piped up and said she had a passion for sports. I pulled out my phone and started searching up sport science courses in Malaysia, and together we researched which university she can strive and work towards.
This isn’t the first school visit I’ve done but it’s certainly not any less meaningful. I’m constantly awed by the work our Fellows do and constantly humbled by the students.
One of the roads that we took to go to a high-needs school, felt like the middle of nowhere, yet at the same time it felt like we were in the middle of something important.