Learning is a two-way street
When I first started the Fellowship, I was told that teaching would push me to achieve my potential and would be a great learning experience. Looking back, I couldn’t agree more: just as I was able to impact my students, I’ve also learnt so much from them.
Before I joined, I’d always been that person that worked alone and focused on my own tasks. I didn’t realise it back then but I didn’t trust the level of work of others, especially during group work. To me depending on and trusting someone was a sign of weakness.
However, joining the Fellowship changed my entire perspective. Early on, I was having trouble juggling taking care of students, running classrooms, and lesson planning. Almost at the verge of bursting due to stress, I eventually opened up to sharing and working with other teachers in lesson planning. Sharing practices that were effective and applying good ideas from each other really helped us teachers to reduce our burdens in lesson planning for every class.
If it was me two years ago I would have never thought to rely or even ask others for help in lightening my burden. I’ve come to realise that education inequity is a “big monster” that needs many champions to face the different aspects of it in order to truly make an impact.
When I first joined, I was that gung-ho teacher who wanted to do everything and make all the difference in my school. When I found out that I was the only Chinese language teacher in a school of about 1,500 students with only 40 being Chinese, I was ecstatic. To me this was my chance to make a difference and I was very excited to teach the history of the language and the history behind it.
To my disappointment, not a single student was interested in what I taught. At that moment I realised that what makes me interested in the subject is completely different to what would get the students interested. I quickly learnt to adapt and identified certain things that worked well for each classroom. For example, one Chinese class was centred around games to help students learn and another was anchored in trends from popular culture.
All in all, I learnt that my own ideals may not apply to others and in order to deliver an excellent education, I need to be able to adapt to the needs of my students.
Enjoy the Little Things
Being a teacher in a high-need school is a challenge. Although you may come in with high energy, hopes and goals to achieve, it’s also very easy to encounter the negative aspects of it as reality hits you – some students will not make it, and you can’t change the lives of everyone. That’s why it’s important to celebrate the little things when they do happen.
One such case for me was a student back in Form 3, let’s call him Alex. Alex had never been interested during our Chinese classes but was forced by his parents to apply for a Chinese journalism programme outside of school. We worked together to finish his application for the programme, and over those few days, his interest in the language slowly increased. When he sent in his application, lo and behold, he was accepted into the programme!
As Alex went through my Chinese classes and did the programme on the side, his interest in the language grew tremendously and he became one of my most cherished students. These are the small stories and moments that keep me going as a teacher and encourage me to never give up on my kids, and give me hope that one day, their life trajectory may change.
Every end is a new beginning
Although I’ll be finishing my 2-year Fellowship journey this year, my #StoryWorthTelling as an educator will continue. If you feel like you want to make an impact on Malaysia and grow as a person, why not join the Fellowship?
Tina Tan is a 2017 Fellow currently teaching at a high-need school in Pasir Gudang, Johor. She graduated with a BSc in Chemistry from Indiana University – Bloomington. As a Teaching Alumna, Tina is staying on as a full-time teacher after the Fellowship to continue down her chosen pathway as an educator working to impact students.