It’s about bold sacrifices and having a strong inner conviction that we really have to be the change that we seek. Here, in Part 3 Jarod Yong concludes his article about life as a teacher in the rural regions of Sarawak.
Teaching in the interiors may bring horrible living conditions as I’ve mentioned in Part 2 of this article.
But, as with every situation in life, where there are cons, there are pros.
The working conditions in my interior school are actually pretty sweet!
Sense of Achievement
Teaching in the interiors brought me a great sense of achievement.
As an English teacher, I had a gargantuan task ahead of me. A majority of the students had little or no foundation in English even though they’d gone through 6 years of Primary education. None of the students could speak English. None of them were interested in “Bahasa Orang Puteeeih“. 70% of the students fail exams.
I started at the bottom. When you’re down there, there’s no other place to go but up.
To promote the language and get students interested in the language, I mobilised a group of excellent students and started an active English Language Society with activities like weekly fundraiser sales, competitions, movie making, a treasure hunt and an English Language Night with student MCs, songs, dances & a sketch.
To improve their academic performance, I analysed the exam questions and their answers, and found a way for even the weakest students to get a few marks. I gave Best Exam Technique talks. I drilled. I rewarded. I punished. I motivated. I brainwashed.
I took over the school magazine and reimagined it. I made it attractive and produced it in English to make sure that students read at least 1 book in the English language every year.
Students have already had very little so the little bit I did bore a lot of fruit. Last year’s PMR results were unbelievable even to me. The students’ attitudes toward the language also improved significantly. Many of them are now willing to attempt a conversation in English with me.
There is also a sense of prestige attached to the profession.
Even more so when you are identified as a good teacher.
Parents, elders and locals here still respect teachers partly because my school has done very well academically and have maintained good discipline.
Parents will accept your every reason for disciplining their child and some will even give you permission to beat up their kid as long as their bones don’t break. The reason for this is many parents are unable to control their children. They rarely see their kids because most are sent away to boarding schools since they were 7 years old. They have not developed the skills to discipline their children so they leave it entirely to the teachers.
So essentially, these kids are yours too. Who’s your daddy?
I actually do not feel any pressure to perform at my school. Parents and administrators don’t breathe down your neck.
I guess this stems from the fact that all my colleagues and even my principal are new. It could be the same at other interior schools. Your colleagues could also be rejects who’ve been pushed deeper and deeper into the interiors.
I can probably be a teacher who does badly in my lessons and contributes nothing to the school and still be just fine. Big guns from the ministry rarely have the balls to travel into the interiors.
Sadly, that’s not how I roll.
I take the low pressure, low expectations and low experience levels, and see it as an opportunity for creative freedom.
Therefore, I am able to materialise my ideas with very little resistance. I can do absolutely anything and receive support from my colleagues because they are young and eager. They are also very approachable for help. Many are willing to go the extra mile to help the students. They are also very talented too.
I just have to learn to push the right buttons and pull the right strings.
Living in the Green Lungs of our country does have its perks. Every breath you take is fresh air. The deeper you go, the more you can literally taste the sweetness of the air through your lungs.
Also, with no electricity and no distractions, what else would you do in the afternoon besides exercise? Every one of the teachers at my school has a sport. Some go jogging, some play badminton, football, volleyball and some do gardening.
Teachers are also forced to cook for themselves. The nearest eatery is 1 hour away in town. I don’t think it’s worth it to spend RM50 on a 1 hour boat ride to have food cooked for you. You can’t find a KFC, McD or any of that artery clogging stuff here. All you’ll have is good ol’ home cooked food.
All of the above contribute to good health. Only the most determined will leave in a worse state of health.
Finally, teachers in the interiors receive a special allowance called a Hardship Allowance. Rightfully so.
I receive RM500 extra every month. Depending on how hard it is to get to your school and how harsh your living conditions are, the allowance can be either RM500, RM1000 or RM1500 every month.
Life as a teacher in the interior is hard, but every time it’s payday, I’ve got a BIG smile on my face.
So you want to be a teacher?
I just can’t be bothered about why you want to be a teacher. Everybody has their reasons and these reasons can change with time.
Also, you’ve had years of lectures on what a teacher is and you’re probably sick of people telling you what kind of teacher you have to be. You’ve probably already made up your mind anyway so I’m not going to bore you by jabbering about how much you should or shouldn’t be like ME. hahaha.
We are not the masters of our circumstance. But we are the masters of consequence.
Wherever you’re placed, if you like it, good. If you don’t … good.
Both present you with unique opportunities to shine … or not, it’s entirely up to you.
One thing I will tell you though is too many people let fear dictate what they do in life.
Too many people especially try to escape the fear of embarrassment and they live with regret. Although they justify their actions with layers and layers of excuses. Deep down inside they know that they did what they did purely because of fear.
Malaysia needs teachers who are bold. Malaysia needs teachers who are willing to stand up and be counted. Malaysia needs teachers who will courageously risk everything they have to teach a constantly evolving new generation. Modern teachers need to think and move out of the box.
Are you going to make a difference? Or are you going to join the rest in indifference?
Being a teacher means so much more than to just teach.
Jarod Yong is single and available but he makes very little money and he lives in the jungle. Any takers? Chicks only, mind you.