Years in Education: 16-20
English as a Second Language Teacher
Q: What do you have in common with your students?
A: When I'm teaching, I feel like I'm a robot/machine. I don't have time to have my break. I'm the disciplinary teacher, and there are times that I handle many truancy cases.
We have a crazy system in Malaysia. Every five years we have new Education Minister and this person introduces and implements new approaches. The victims are teachers and students because we become the guinea pigs.
Our schools are too exam-oriented and students do not have the choice to do or learn what they want. They come to school to pass the exams. Our education requires teachers to prepare students for examinations not to prepare them to face the reality once they leave school.
Only recently (last year) did our government encourage students to develop soft-skills at school so that when they exit, they are able to continue to develop their skills, not only by answering exam questions.
In my classrooms, I allow students to choose their own topic of interest and I let them share the topic with their peers. We talk about sharing and listening to each other's stories and how those stories impact their lives.
In class we talk about issues that are hardly being discussed in normal Malaysian classrooms such as LGBT issues, child marriage, sexual grooming, and our education system. From our classroom discussions, I can see that the students are actually keen to know the issues but it's not within the content of our syllabus.
Once one of my female students was having an identity crisis because she realized she was attracted to her female friends. She was afraid to share it with her parents. As a mother of two teenagers, I told her I respected her feelings and it's okay to have feelings towards the same gender. I know she was confused at that point. I'm not sure whether I did the right thing. That incident really made me realize that many parents never really talk to their kids. All they can think of is the grade, the kid's performance in a test. I guess my specialty is I'm very open towards my students.
LGBT issues is an alien topic in our Malaysian classrooms but I've taught about it about for the past two years. Most of LGBT students keep their identity to themselves as they would be teased/condemned if people were to find out. My community is not accepting but I want my students to know what is LGBT and I believe that each and every one of us has the equal rights to be who/what we want to be.
To instill awareness to the students is not easy as many of them have their own mindset (mostly negative thoughts) about LGBT people. I have a group of students who will be doing a project on LGBT issues and I'm super excited about it! I know that there are many students who want to share their thoughts but they do not know how or if they should. I want my students and my own kids to know we should treat people equally and never to judge them.
Regarding the students who opened up to me a few years ago, I never heard from her again. I wish more students would come forward and share their feelings.
Q: Does it matter that students and teachers have things in common?
A: YES, to me it matters for me to have similarities with my students. I need to understand them and with that similarity is essential. The classroom environment is not only about a teacher standing in front telling students what they should do. Willingness to listen is another thing a teacher should have in common with their students. Teacher should at least listen to their students.
Maggie is a TED-Ed Innovative Educator. Maggie’s TED-Ed Innovation Project is helping Malaysian students overcome their fears of speaking in English and is allowing them to share ideas at their own pace. Connect with her on Twitter @magdmuuk .
Photo (c) 2017 Kristin Leong
Humanizing the gaps separating teachers and students.