Teachers, ask yourselves: How many students have you impacted in the past 2 years?

Speech by Amanda, 17 at #AlumNext

I’m here today because I want to ask all of you one question. How many students have you made a positive impact on?

For some of you here, you might consider your students’ academic performance as one way of gauging your impact. English teachers might think that they’ve made a positive impact after seeing that their class can speak more fluent English, for example. It’s different for each subject, so let me ask you again, how many students have you changed for the better?

Whenever I ask a Teach For Malaysia teacher this question, I always find their answers fascinating because it speaks volumes about how they determine whether their two years were worth it or not.

Some might say, “Oh, my class of 30 scored so much better in Science this year! They’ve really improved academically!”

But I know there are others, maybe even more than I initially assumed, who feel like they have done nothing to help their students, or maybe they haven’t done enough. They say to themselves, “I couldn’t even raise the passing rate of my students. I could’ve tried harder. I should’ve done something else. I could’ve. I should’ve.” And all these similar phrases.

Humans are weird. We are obsessed with quantifying every aspect of ourselves that we can, especially the things that can’t be assigned a number or a grade objectively. We use IQ tests to measure our intelligence. Sometimes when I see a cute boy in the park, I tell my friends, on a scale of 1 to 10, how cute he was.

We use scales and we use grades to gauge our academic performance. In your case, maybe you use it to gauge your impact on your class.

As a student, I’m all too familiar with people using academic performance, a simple letter of the alphabet, to represent my self-worth. What saddens me the most is that this exact type of thinking is what I believe has caused Malaysian students to be in the state we are – lacking critical thinking skills, we are underexposed and just simply not prepared for adult life.

To see teachers subject themselves to the same type of thinking – the type of thinking that they’re trying to change – is disheartening, to say the least.

I say this because I’ve had firsthand experience of being deeply and positively affected by Teach For Malaysia teachers. There are so many things in my own life that I would’ve never gotten to experience if it wasn’t for the teachers in this programme. For example, I wouldn’t be standing here before you. I wouldn’t have seen any other state outside of Kuala Lumpur. Its exposure is a huge factor of what I feel is really worthwhile about this programme.

I wouldn’t have ever gotten to know how difficult it is to be teacher if it wasn’t for the Teach For Malaysia teachers who were honest and truthful about their experience. My school wouldn’t have been able to have the successful debate and drama team we did this year without the Teach For Malaysia teachers. If it weren’t for Teach For Malaysia, I wouldn’t have met the young, idealistic minds that are in this room today, and that’s an experience that simply cannot be translated into a number on a scale of 1 to 10.

As a teenager, I will be straight up and tell you that we’re not always honest with our feelings. When we meet a teacher who really touches our lives, chances are you’ll never know. We don’t tell it to your face, but we know when you’re exhausted and would rather be napping than teaching. We remember the teachers who never gave up on us or who would give us life advice.

I’ve seen a Sejarah teacher go to class in an Arab tunic and fake beard when his class reached the chapter on the Middle East, to help keep his students interested. I’ve seen another Sejarah teacher spend his free time in the afternoon with his nose in these thick and dense history textbooks that were beyond the syllabus, simply because he wanted to teach some extra material to his class. I’ve seen my debate coach work herself to mental exhaustion, juggling my debate team and her classes.

These are some firsthand experiences I’ve had and I know there are dozens more great examples to mention. It’s a classic example of the creative spirit and their bravery to push themselves in every way possible, whether it be creatively, mentally or physically. There are a lot of factors that go into a student’s academic performance such as administration, infrastructure and other factors over which you have no control. It’s unrealistic to punish yourselves if students are failing. There are always factors that you can’t control, but as long as you’ve done your best, we will remember that.

So, remember your answer to my question earlier about how many students’ lives you’ve made a positive impact on? Still have that number in your head?

Forget it.

I’ll answer that question for you the most truthful way I can on behalf of all students. How many lives have you changed for the better in these past two years?

More than you will ever know.

Amanda is a student of Hamsaveni Vigneswararao, 2015 Alumna – Hamsa coached her school debate team to become this year’s Sarawak state champions. Amanda was speaking at #AlumNext, where we celebrated the induction of our 2015 Fellows to Alumni-hood, upon completing their two-year Fellowship .

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