The year end is a good time for teachers to travel as it will energise them when they get back to school.
DECEMBER is a month to unwind and relax. It is good because sometimes your most reflective moments come when you are on holiday.
I recall my year-end holiday last year when I went on a three-day tour with my daughters to Edinburgh, Scotland.
We had to share a bed-and-breakfast dormitory with five other women. One of them was a tall and willowy blonde who said very little but was polite and gracious.
After a brief introduction, we found out later that we had much in common as Biology teachers. She was from Croatia and quite frankly before I met Anna, all I knew of Croatia was that it was a small country in Southeastern Europe and that its capital Zagreb was home to one of the oldest varsities in Europe - the University of Zagreb.
Anna, who was two decades younger than me, confirmed that the university had its beginnings in 1669! In fact, it was here that Anna herself pursued her degree in Biochemistry.
Despite having a father who was an engineer, Anna’s early years were primarily shaped by her teacher mother. As a child, having to go to the same elementary school where her mother taught forced her to be an exemplary student.
I laughed when she related how her mother would point her index finger at her and remind her constantly that she had better bring in the results and put on her best behaviour at school, or else ... !
Being the adventurous, outdoors type, Anna took to Biology like a duck to water. She started work at a pharmaceutical company but realised that it wasn’t the job for her.
It was indeed a surpise to me when Anna told me that graduates like her could take up a two-month course on Pedagogy, Sociology, Teaching Methodology and Philosophy before being allowed to teach in schools.
Anna who has been teaching for four years now said that she earned about 7,200HRK (Croatian Kuna) a month, which is approximately RM4,900, including allowances.
She was entitled to one hot meal a day at school and taught a class of about 30 students from 8am to 2pm on weekdays.
She said that what frustrated her the most about teaching was when her students failed to focus in class.
“When the students don’t pay attention, I use everything within my means to get them interested — power-point presentations, demonstrations, experiments, but the students … ah, they still lose focus and end up talking or fixing their make-up during lessons!
“Sometimes, I am both baffled and annoyed that they are so clueless about their purpose in school.”
Anna’s hazel eyes were full of expression as she talked to me. “Don’t they find you funny?” I asked her. “Ah, yah, yah, they think I’m cute but I don’t want that. I want them to pay attention to what is being taught!”
We also had the opportunity to travel back togther on the five-hour train ride, from Edinburgh’s Waverly Station to London’s King’s Cross where we shared our teaching experiences and other stories with Debbie, in her 20s, who worked in London.
For a person from the new-age era, she said that she did not like the power-point presentations used by her teachers in class.
“Why not?” both Anna and I asked. “I don’t know,” drawled Debbie in her thick accent. “It did not work for me. It made me lazy. I usually stopped thinking. It was boring.”
This was news to both Anna and me. Weren’t computers the way to go these days?
“Not really,” explained Debbie. “For me, I’d rather do something with my hands. Also, I like to be entertained. I need to be engaged. Teachers who are good are able to do this, even without using computers.”
Coming from a young software engineer, we were both floored. I recalled then about a report I had read on the Internet that both “chalk and talk” are good enough if the teacher was interesting and could get her students engaged and involved.
“Anna,” I suggested, “since you have a sense of humour, maybe you should use your funny ways to connect with your students.”
I told Anna that for me, going the unconventional way often worked wonders. Offering variety, interacting with my students and turning on my personality – these were my strengths.
I had more teaching experience than Anna, but her views were just as refreshing.
I found out, for instance, that the medium of instruction in Croatia was the Croatian language. English, she said, was taught 90 minutes a week in school.
When I commended Anna’s English, she informed me that, like many other Croatians, her mother had to pay for private lessons.
“In Croatia, English is considered a foreign language. German and Italian are our second languages,” she said.
At the end of the journey, when we said our goodbyes, Anna said, “I never dreamt that I would learn and exchange so much with a Malaysian teacher from across the globe but I did! I Isn’t that amazing?”
I could only nod in agreement. A teacher from another country is still a teacher and we all speak one common language — that of schools, education systems, students and teaching life. But, what I appreciated about Anna was that she made it a point to travel each year.
She would set aside some savings for an inexpensive outing to a destination she hadn’t visited before.
It made me reflect that teachers in Malaysia should also make it a point to get away and travel. It need not be an overseas holiday but even a trip to another local town or state will expose them to different people and their way of life. Such outings will recharge them and they will be ready to face their students with renewed teaching spirit and vigour.