Anders Cheng: This is what teaching is all about

“I believe that there is a need for Sarawakians to contribute to education, more so in Sarawak because we have a unique perspective on life. Harmony and unity is our song, and no one in Malaysia would hear it if we choose to be silent.” – Anders Cheng, 2014 Alumnus

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People often ask me why I considered a career in education; I stand firmly on these two reasons:

First, because of my faith, I believe that education is a way to impact society and give them tools to achieve success in their own way.

Second, on a more personal note, I’m reminded of my mother who was like a jaguh kampung in her own right. Never properly learning English till she was 16, she would translate each word in a book to English, practise grammar and burn the midnight oil in order to succeed in her studies – finally being the first in the family to obtain a diploma.

Because of her grit and tenacity, my siblings and I are able to stand on her shoulders and have good education ourselves. As a teacher, she would always say, “I have no riches, but education will be your inheritance.” My access to English, tuition and the privileges of being in a middle-income family has propelled me to be where I am today which I’m forever grateful for. All it took was a tenacious kid like my mum who was inspired to go further in her education. Now imagine the possibilities if all the jaguh kampung in Malaysia got the help they needed. This is why I’m staying on as a teacher in my homeland of Sarawak where sadly, many students don’t get the same opportunities as those in other parts of Malaysia do.

I believe that there is a need for Sarawakians to contribute to education, more so in Sarawak because we have a unique perspective on life. Harmony and unity is our song, and no one in Malaysia would hear it if we choose to be silent. Prior to teaching in Miri, I was teaching in West Malaysia and I found that many are still unaware of the issues in Sabah and Sarawak. I believe that this is because that there are not enough of us sharing stories that represent the Bornean perspective. Instead of creating further dissent and segregation, it is important for us to educate and raise a generation of individuals that embrace each other’s culture and values.

Moreover, there is a lack of teachers in Sarawak. Many have left in pursuit of the wealth and comforts of other countries. Whether we are Chinese, Malay, Indian, Bidayuh, Iban, Kelabit, Kenyah, Melanau or Murut, Sarawak needs you to give back to the community.

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I have an interesting student in my school who asked me to guess his ambition. The only clue he gave was that it is a career that can change minds. I quickly listed all the careers that came to mind:

Doctor?
Psychologist?
Teacher?
Counselor?
Politician?

I was met with a resounding NO! I gave up, and to my surprise, he wanted to be a DJ. He began to rap fluently in English and showed me songs that inspired him. He went on talking about how he wanted to be a DJ who would produce clean music, wholesome lyrics and be an example for others. I told him stories about my friends who made it as DJs, and that motivated and inspired him further. Little did he know, he inspired me as well, and I left school reflecting that music can change minds of people!

Looking back, I realised that it is not all about being the perfect teacher with an excellent track record, results aren’t the only things that matter. As teachers we have the power to guide students in shaping their future. I could have doused his dream with realistic ‘Asian expectations’, or I could propel him further to achieve something for his community.

He actually said to me, “Teacher, if you are willing to teach in school, I am willing to come back and be an inspiration to my community.”

This is what teaching is all about.

Anders Cheng is a 2014 Alumnus and a fourth-year teacher at a school in Miri, Sarawak. Anders graduated with a Bachelor of Science in Applied Geology from Curtin University. Teach For Malaysia recruits, trains and supports Fellows to teach in high-need schools across the nation. Beyond the Fellowship, our Alumni continue to champion education in different ways. To date, we’ve impacted over 44,000 students, working with the Ministry of Education and other partners.

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