READERS of this column know that I have a special affection for teachers.
I have written about the teachers who taught me in my most formative years and how some have become lifelong friends.
Although there is a tendency for many of us to focus on the failings of teachers – especially when we rant and rave against the education system – I have always believed that teachers, by and large, are true to their calling.
As one retired teacher shared with me recently, “Teaching is, and always will be, a noble profession; it’s only education that has eroded because of misguided manipulation.”
On Thursday, I headed to SMK Pulau Ketam to do my part for Teach for Malaysia.
For one week each year, TFM invites a host of “inspiring individuals” into high-need classrooms to teach alongside their fellows.
I am not sure how I got on the list in the first place but being a firm believer that nothing happens by coincidence, I prepared myself for the adventure.
Pulau Ketam is a 40-minute ferry ride from the Port Klang jetty and this was my first time there.
When I stepped on the island, I felt a tinge of nostalgia as the place reminded me so much of my growing-up years in Jelutong, Penang.
I was assigned to a Form 3 class to teach English over two periods, alongside Anders Cheng, who, together with Joshua Tay, are the two TFM fellows teaching in this school.
As part of the programme, I shared my life story before the lessons began. The class took a while to warm up, but I was glad that by the time it was over, there was full participation and much interaction among the students.
And I was truly touched when the class presented me with a special Thank You card at the end.
But what does all this mean in reality? From my conversations with the two fellows at Pulau Ketam, and also some others I know in other schools, I was convinced that these young talents are the catalysts for change who can make a difference in the schools.
Many have been taken out of their comfort zone to be in the outskirts where the high-need students primarily are. Most of them are graduates from top universities abroad who are prepared to come down to the level where teaching can be a real challenge.
The TFM staff who accompanied me to Pulau Ketam, a former fellow himself, acknowledged that his two-year teaching stint opened his eyes to the more formidable fundamental issues that need to be addressed.
I was impressed with his purpose-driven life, which now involves recruiting young talents to take the path less travelled to Teach for Malaysia.
As I walked around the school linked by wooden corridors and saw the full-time teachers at work, I was reminded of the thousands upon thousands of our teachers who are the heart and soul of our education system.
They are the ones who labour on, unrecognised, day in and day out.
What about the stories of these unseen and unknown teachers who impact so many lives year in, year out?
There are teachers who readily give their time, pro bono, to make sure their students can make the grade.
I know of a teacher in a rural school in Sabah who paid the SPM fee for his student and the poor mother returned his kindness in coins, bit by bit, until the debt was settled.
And how I choke up when I learn of teachers in the rural schools who are rewarded with fruit from the orchards of grateful parents when their children pass an examination.
These are the real heroes. They are found not only in the rural schools, but also in the urban ones.
They are the teachers who care to educate, and not just teach. And because of them, we are able to return to the classroom to share our inspirational stories.
I felt privileged, yet humbled, by my experience at Pulau Ketam. I did not go there to inspire the 30 children. I went there to be inspired.
Executive editor Soo Ewe Jin (email@example.com) believes that we should all aspire to live a life of consequence, wherever God has placed us. The views expressed are entirely the writer’s own. The STAR Home News Education April 13, 2014