Phavanjit Kaur, a 2018 Fellow, is currently placed in a high need school in Johor. This is her candid account of her daily life as a teacher.
(Written on 2nd of June 2018)
I don’t think I would do any justice to describe my 3 months as a Teach For Malaysia Fellow so far (I still have a year to go), which is why I have not written anything about it. But I do want to say something as a newbie teacher in a system that is both infuriating and hopeful; there is nothing saintly or noble in what we do as teachers. We are simply doing our jobs, and it happens to be noble and saintly in society’s eyes.
I can speak for many of us, we are all struggling in our ways based on our different schools’ social contexts and demographics. Some Fellows have students who are willing to try, and some do not. I happen to have the latter and it is a battle to break through walls between my students and I. But, there is something in me that is telling how even the smallest change speaks volumes.
During my first week, none of my students said thank you when I handed out worksheets to them. This week, six of them thanked me. I was beaming. That keeps me going. Sounds ridiculous but it truly is that simple.
What they didn’t tell us, the Fellows, was that by being a teacher you teach yourself the art of holding back your tears and putting a brave face on, how to silently talk yourself out from having a total meltdown in front of your students, how to tell your raging heart to calm down when a student’s words sting and how to speak out when necessary, which can sometimes be a battle for me (need to learn to choose my battles wisely).
That isn’t all. You also have to deal with the system that exists outside the classroom. I didn’t expect to be so blatantly reduced to the colour of my skin, heritage and gender by senior colleagues. I am sure that in every career, this is inevitable and perhaps coming from a fresh graduate perspective, it is all too new and much for me. I struggle with racism in my work space so much so that “Malaysia Baru” seems to be an urban reality for me.
With all that being said, I would never trade this for anything else even if I say I wish I had a “cushier job” when emotions are running high. Family and friends, thank you for all that you’ve put up with. Note of caution, there are still 14 months to go!
You can be a part of this too. For those interested in making a change; forget the context of it in an external sense but see it in YOUR world within, please apply for Teach For Malaysia.
Phavanjit Kaur is a 2018 Fellow currently teaching English and Moral at a high need school in Pasir Gudang, Johor. She graduated with a Bachelor’s degree in International Relations with Spanish from University of Nottingham Malaysia Campus. Phavanjit also joined the Under-21 Global Exchange Programme during her second year headed by her university, where she completed her undergraduate education at Concordia University in Montreal, Canada.