Editor's note: The following is taken from the Facebook status of Alina Amir, a Teach for Malaysia teacher with her permission. In these times of plunging education standards, it is both heartwarming and at the same time heartwrenching to see such determined, bright individuals struggle with educating our children. One must wonder however, how much real change can a few teachers make? The education system requires structural reform from the inside especially. Good things to ponder while reading this excellent 'confession'.
So here’s a public confession: After 4 months into teaching, I came back from a class this morning, put my books on my desk, coolly walked to the ladies, and broke down; with tears, sobs, frantically fanned myself with my hands thinking that could help calm me down, the whole enchilada. Something I have not done for a very long time.
In the last four months, I could have cried when I had kids calling me a prostitute in mandarin, or that time when a kid told me I should not mess with him because his dad is part of the notorious along gangster crew (which I have never heard of and the phrase “ignorance is bliss” could not have rung truer), or that time when I was wolf whistled at for weeks wherever I went, or when a disruptive boy decided get up in the middle of my lesson, ran around the room and banged every table before he ran out of the class despite me calling after him and then having him come back and literally went on the floor, hugging my feet and begged for my forgiveness the same day, or when I was locked in the school building and then had to come out through the roof (long story) or when a big fat rat, literally, decided to chill right in front of my front door. Those were legit reasons to cry if I wanted to cry. But I didn’t. Not a single tear rolled down my cheeks. I stood up to my boys, I had sleepless nights thinking of strategies to get my kids to just sit down for a single lesson, told every kid who threatened me to bring it on, went to every boy who wolf whistled and threw inappropriate remarks at me, looked them straight in the eyes and said, “how dare you”. I have got nothing to lose and I am sure, as hell is not scared of anybody, no matter who your daddy is.
This morning however, was different. In fact, I wasn’t teaching at all this morning. I was in a form 4 class, of which I only teach PJK to the six of the girls every week. So what was I doing with the entire class? I was invigilating their mid year exam, Sejarah Kertas 3 to be exact; An open book test where students are required to write an essay on a topic given. Just as I finished handing out the exam papers to all 35 students, one boy put his hand up and asked, “ujian apa hari ni, cikgu?” and I went, “HOW CAN YOU NOT KNOW WHAT PAPER YOU ARE SITTING FOR ON THE DAY OF THE EXAM AND EVEN AFTER I HAVE HANDED OUT THE EXAM PAPER” silently in my head. Out loud, I said, “ujian Sejarah, kertas 3. Ujian ni boleh tengok buku, so keluarkan lah buku”. Half of the classroom started to rummage through their bags and looked under their tables for books while the other half put their heads down and went to sleep. Ten minutes into the exam, they were all just staring at their books, opened to the first page. I went to a boy and asked if he knew what he was supposed to do. He shook his head and continued staring at his book. Another boy looked at me pleadingly, and asked, “cikgu, macam mana nak buat ni?” No one was writing anything. No one.
I went to one of the girls and asked her to read the question and then looked for the answer in the book. The first question she asked after I told her that was, “bab berapa tu?” and I could sense the whole class was waiting for me to tell her which chapter to open to. I knew then, that they have never read a single thing from their textbook nor have they learned anything in the past four months of school. Heck, I wouldn’t be going too far if I said they barely learned anything in the last 10 years of school. At that moment, I saw their future flashed through my eyes and I wanted to cry.
I wanted to cry because it was unfair for them to be sitting for an exam that they are clearly not ready for. I wanted to cry because someone allowed this to happen. I wanted to cry because as I was explaining to some of the students on how to do the exam and they were eagerly listening, while I was quietly panicking because I am no way near being a Sejarah Form 4 teacher. I wanted to cry because I felt incompetent, wishing I remembered what I learned back in From 4 so that I can teach them something at that moment. I wanted to cry because it is not their fault. But most of all, I wanted to cry because I have 200 students and I have classes back to back from 7.30 AM up to 10.00PM every day that it would be completely impossible to take on new students. All I could think of was how if only all the educated people in the country would spend their time teaching these kids, then maybe, maybe I’d be writing a different story.
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