Sunday June 17, 2012
Sir, you’re my inspiration
By PRIYA KULASAGARAN
In conjunction with Father’s Day this weekend, StarEducate shines the spotlight on the dedicated men in the teaching profession who act as positive father figures and role models to children in schools.
AFTER working in the civil engineering sector for a few years, Khairil Rizal Osman Khairi had a sudden change of heart. “I was offering tennis lessons to children between six and 13 years old on a part-time basis, and this experience made me want to be a full-time teacher,” he said.
Now an art and physical education teacher at SK Bandar Utama Damansara 4, Petaling Jaya, Khairil Rizal believes that there is a genuine need for more men in the teaching profession. “It’s important to have a mix of male and female teachers in schools for the sake of the students’ emotional well-being.
“Male teachers can act as good father figures to students,” he added.
Male teachers may be a rare breed, but there are still those who choose to be teachers and provide inspiration to their young charges.
The persistent worker
Asked if it was frustrating to communicate with someone ignorant of sign language, Lee Tur Chung gave a wry smile.
“I do find it frustrating at times because I feel like I can’t receive information or present my opinions accurately,” he wrote in neat, cursive script onto a notepad.
“Sometimes when there’s no one to interpret for me during discussions, it makes me feel down because I can’t contribute to the topic the way I want to. But I just keep trying I guess.”
Lee’s path towards becoming a teacher was an exercise in diligence and persistence.
He said: “I had to re-take the Sijil Pelajaran Malaysia (SPM) examination three times because I kept failing the Bahasa Melayu paper.
“But I didn’t want to give up, so I kept trying and trying because you can’t just run away from challenges.
“I would say that my motto for any obstacle is, Come, see, and conquer, he said.
After failing to secure a place in university due to his impairment, Lee said he “fell in love with the teaching profession” when he was posted to teach deaf students at SK Pendidikan Khas Selangor in Shah Alam.
He said: “When it was announced that the disabled can apply for places at teachers’ training colleges, I immediately took up the opportunity.
“I was among the first batch of disabled students to graduate from Maktab Perguruan Ilmu Khas (now known as Institut Pendidikan Guru Kampus Ilmu Khas) in 1998.”
Lee is also well-known for his civil society work and being an advocate for special education issues through various non-governmental organisations.
He said: “There needs to be more awareness when it comes to special education and special needs education here.
“Many people still have the wrong idea when it comes to those with special needs; they don’t really understand the issues.
“For instance, some still don’t understand that sign language is not a ‘language’ for the deaf, but more like a code for word languages such as English and Bahasa Malaysia.”
As a testament to his involvement in special education, Lee completed a degree in Special Education at Universiti Kebangsaan Malaysia in 2009, and is currently pursuing a masters in the same field at the university.
Now teaching Mathematics at SM Pendidikan Khas Vokasional in Shah Alam, Lee stridently aims to be a role model to his students.
He said: “Being deaf myself, I want to inspire deaf children ... I want to remove any negativity they may have and show them that they can be anything they want to be.
“One of my own role models was my teacher Ho Koon Wei, who showed me that the only thing deaf people can’t do is hear.
“My hope is that my students will go on to better jobs, and drive the deaf community forward.”
The opinionated believer
Hashiki Hashim is firm but polite when he declines to have his picture taken for publication.
“I prefer to keep a low profile,” he said with a laugh over the telephone.
He is, however, more forthcoming and passionate when voicing his opinions on education policy and the state of our schools today.
“Many people have the misconception that those with the best academic results make the best teachers; nothing can be further from the truth!” said Haskihi.
“You don’t need a doctoral degree in Mathematics to teach a class of Year Three pupils.
“The kind of tertiary education that teachers need is one that emphasises pedagogy and even child psychology.
“We have to remember that we are not just ‘passing down’ information to students; we are moulding them to be useful members of society.”
He added that more resources need to be channelled to underperforming schools to help them tackle problems, such as truancy and poor academic achievement.
“Right now, the perception seems to be that ‘bad’ schools should be punished for not churning out straight-A students.
“A school’s priority is not examination grades, but to nurture students to the best of their respective abilities, and every school needs to be given the tools to do this, not just the top schools.
“Part of the reason why some schools are unable to help their students is because there are too many obstacles stacked up against them.
“In an area rife with poverty, broken families, and safety issues, a school can only do so much to help its students,” he said.
Having been a teacher for 32 years, Hashiki said the most challenging moment in his career was when he had to make the switch from teaching secondary school students to guiding much younger pupils.
“After teaching at the secondary level for over two decades, I was posted to a primary school,” he recalled.
“My first day in class was a terrifying experience. Having dealt with more mature students, it was quite a shock to be in a classroom full of Year One pupils. I think that’s when my blood pressure went up!”
Currently the senior assistant (co-curricular) at SK Jalan Air Panas in Kuala Lumpur, Hashiki said patience is a virtue in a primary school classroom.
He added: “The young ones are very energetic and you have to keep calm to maintain some semblance of order in the classroom. Imagine pupils climbing all over chairs and tables during a lesson!
“You also need to carry out more physical work by yourself, such as rearranging furniture in classrooms or carrying all the required material, because these pupils are too young to help you.
“So it’s a matter of being patient; you have to guide them every step of the way.”
What keeps him going is his religious faith and sense of purpose as a teacher.
Said Hashiki: “I teach because of God. The act of sharing knowledge is a noble one, and I do my best to carry out this responsibility. No amount of monetary reward or ‘fame’ can replace the satisfaction of being in a classroom with my pupils.”
The community builder
With about 3,000 students and 200 staff members, SMK Seri Kembangan principal Tay Keng Lee has quite a job building a shared school spirit.
On a brief guided tour of the school, Tay enthusiastically pointed out the scores of inspirational posters placed on various school blocks.
He said: “We want the students to feel like they are part of a community, and that they have ownership of the school.
“Not all the students you see on these posters are necessarily high-achievers, but they are still important to us. This is just a small way of showing them that we value their contributions as well.”
One poster that Tay is especially proud of takes up an entire wall in the teachers’ dining area. It features pictures taken during the school’s Mohon Restu programme, held for the past two years.
Tay explained: “Every year we hold a special event for Form Three and Form Five students before their national examinations. All the teachers will have a meal with the students, and personally wish them luck.
“When we first organised it, I did not expect such an outpouring of emotion from the students and teachers.”
The posters also seem to symbolise the school’s achievement in turning around students’ attitudes.
Said Tay: “It used be the case that anything we put up would be vandalised within 24 hours. Now I can bravely put them up; some might be defaced once in a while, but I can see the change.
“I can see that the students now are more obedient, they listen to us (teachers) and they love the school. And the reason they love the school is because they know that we genuinely care about them too.”
Having taught at SMK Seri Kembangan since 1989, Tay was promoted as a principal to another school in 2009.
However, he decided to return to his former school in 2010, bringing with him a different way of dealing with problematic students.
He said: “Maybe it’s because I live here and personally know the surrounding community, but I wanted to take up the challenge of serving in this school despite knowing about all the disciplinary problems.
“Previously, I would always cane the students if they did anything wrong; now I’ve changed my style and use love instead.
“I want the students to know that they can talk to me directly about any problems or issues they have; my door is always open.”
This open-door policy extends to his teaching staff as well.
Said Tay: “My philosophy is that teachers should be able to easily approach their superiors if they have any problems. So I always encourage them to have honest and open discussions with their seniors or myself; this helps them to feel less pressured as well.
“If a teacher is stress-free, then he or she can teach with a happy heart. This ultimately benefits the students.”
The fair disciplinarian
Those who attended Setapak High School (now known as SMK Tinggi Setapak) in 1981 are bound to still remember their principal’s opening words to them.
“I told them that if they fancied themselves as gangsters, they had to deal with the biggest gangster of them all – me,” recalled V. Chakaravarthy.
The school was then notorious for serious disciplinary issues; in fact, his posting there started with one such incident.
Said Chakaravarthy: “After losing a hockey match with another school, some Setapak High School boys decided it would be a good idea to beat up players of the opposing team; some were beaten unconscious.
“I was initially instructed to expel the boys, but I decided to take a risk and give them a chance; and they did change enough to graduate.”
Chakaravarthy, who retired in 1995, still has the air of a principal from yesteryear; one is inclined to stand a little straighter in his presence.
Describing himself as a “strict but fair” disciplinarian, he believes that even the most problematic students can change for the better.
He said: “While I do believe in caning students, it’s usually for very serious offences such as threatening teachers or fighting. Otherwise, I will try and talk to them first, and listen to their problems.
“It’s about knowing when to be firm and when to be soft. I may be very strict, but I also love my students and show them that I care.”
Chakaravarthy started his career as a Mathematics teacher in 1965 at SM Alam Shah (now known as Sekolah Sultan Alam Shah), the first residential Malay medium school in the country.
He recalled: “I initially felt like a fish out water, as my entire education was in English. With the help and support of the principal, the late Halimi Sharbaini, I grew confident in teaching in Malay.
“Many of the students then came from poor circumstances, and felt like they couldn’t do well academically. But they were very keen to learn and make something of themselves; they just needed some guidance.
“It makes me really proud to see my former students, the sons of paddy farmers, going on to become key policymakers and business leaders.”
Another thing he is clearly proud of is the fact that his students still keep in touch with him.
“Some of these students have even received their fair share of the rotan from me,” he said, as he flicked though an autograph book filled with former students’ tributes.
“I remember one student, who seemed to simply enjoy getting into fights – on my retirement day, he suddenly showed up at the school I was at. He had come all the way to give me a bouquet of 100 roses, with a card that read, ‘To Sir, with love.”