The Struggles of Teachers in Malaysia

By Ahmed Wafi

Every year on 16 May, teachers all over Malaysia get special treatments from their students. It’s Teacher’s Day after all and these educators deserve being appreciated for all their hard work!

Remember how you celebrated Teacher’s Day? Some of us bought cards and gifts while others put in extra effort by having cute performances in our teachers’ honour. Natrah Aziz, 2018 fellow at Teach For Malaysia, recalls approaching her teachers back when she was a student to give them gifts on 16 May. Now that she’s on the receiving end, she shares that it’s an amazing feeling. “As the students approach us to express their gratitude, I can’t help but feel a sense of victory. It feels good to be appreciated. It is empowering and days like this remind me to keep striving and do my best for the students,” Natrah says.

Natrah, a Mechanical Engineering graduate from the University of Bath is in her second year of her two-year teaching programme with Teach For Malaysia. Educating the youth and being a teacher is one of the noblest professions one can pursue but to the layman, it’s often viewed as an easy task.

Natrah was quick to debunk this misconception by giving us an insight into what it’s like being a teacher. “Imagine convincing a group of 30 students that your lesson is way more interesting than the birds chirping outside. Switching from firmly correcting a misbehaving student to attentively attending to students’ naïve questions. Repeat the cycle for another couple of times throughout the day and 100 more times until you are certain your students have fully grasped the concept you are trying to deliver. In between classes, you’ll have your heart broken with news of students involved in disciplinary cases or occasionally be entertained by silly jokes your students pull,” she says, adding that the experience is like being a parent except you have over 100 children to take care of.

Unfortunately, the teaching profession isn’t held in high regard as compared to how it was decades ago. Yet the demand for better public education stands as strong as it has ever been. Natrah believes society’s unrealistic expectations are the reason for this poor perception. “Teachers are not angels; we make mistakes but we also make miracles happen, just not all the time. I hope society can empathise better the challenges teachers of this era face. The public also need to realise that it takes a village to raise a child. The responsibility to nurture the future generation lies in everyone’s hand, not just teachers,” she says.

Natrah explains that infrastructure in Malaysian public schools can be improved; however, that is not the main concern. She notes that teaching conditions can be improved in terms of the workload. "Leaders in our own classrooms but slaves to the needs of others" is how she describes it. “We are also expected to do other work not related to teaching. For example, event management for sports day, keeping track of student attendance, and keying in online PAJSK (sports and curricular) marks. This results in teachers not being fully present in the classroom. I mean how can you notice one student needing extra support when at the back of your head all you think about are the deadlines you are chasing?” she says.

We asked Natrah what teachers could improve on. Her answer? Managing expections and knowing when to let go. She explains that expectations are crucial for inciting drive and motivation but it needs to be managed well. She recalls feeling disheartened and frustrated when learning about her students misbehaving or when their results do not meet expectations.

“Teaching is a bit like flying a kite. There are times you need to hold on tight to the string so it won’t be blown away, but at times you’ll need to let go so the kite can soar high in the sky. Similarly, in teaching, guidance and close supervision are important. But at times, we also need to learn to let go. Students need to feel safe to explore, take risks and make mistakes (not too much though) as these are critical for their growth,” she says.

#teamGRADUAN wishes all teachers in Malaysia a Happy Teacher’s Day.

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