WHILE Teachers Day is celebrated with much festivity in most schools, in some other places it is just another day and not given as much attention as other more “important” school occasions. Regardless of the varying degrees of attention paid to this special day for teachers, there is usually a kinder feeling towards teachers and the teaching profession in general around this time.
Even people who find it difficult not to make a cynical or disparaging remark whenever the topic of teachers is mentioned, tend to be more magnanimous during this period when they remember an especially dedicated teacher they had had all those years ago.
But more often than not, after recalling fond memories of these wonderful teachers who had made such a difference in their schooling life decades ago, the next comments would be about how the quality of teachers has steadily declined and how teachers especially the ‘new ones’ do not measure up.
As with any other profession, there is some basis to this but it is not the entire truth. Every once in a while you come across remarkable young teachers, who prove the critics wrong and merely by believing in their calling help to restore confidence in the teaching profession.
One such young teacher is 29-year-old Warid Mihat who has been teaching in SK Balar, Kelantan since 2010.
Situated on Banjaran Titiwangsa and deep in the jungle, the school is 100km away from the nearest city Gua Musang, Kelantan and 80km off the road track. Currently there are 289 students in this school and all of them belong to the indigenous Temiar tribe.
Warid who was first posted to the school in 2010 describes himself as “a city boy but a jungle teacher”. Unlike many other young graduates trained abroad, who balked at postings to schools in the interior, Warid says he didn’t ‘run away’ after receiving his posting or beg the state education department to place him in another school.
“I embraced the challenge,” says Warid, “and I went into the jungle to face my destiny.”
Warid’s first year could only be described as the year of learning surviving skills which meant he had to learn how to ride a motorcycle on a slippery muddy road and to slide down a slippery hill.
The first three years of his teaching career also taught Warid how to live with minimal facilities. Until recently, the school only had electricity for five hours each day (7pm-12pm) but thankfully they received solar hybrid inverter last year which has now equipped them with 24 hours of electricity.
His students, says Warid, are well behaved and playful and they love to sing so much that they have their own choir group called the Dominus Voice.
“If you teach one class a song, the next morning almost the whole school will sing that song,” he quips.
Warid teaches two subjects in school: English and ICT (Information and Communication Technology) and notes that teaching his students how to hold and use the mouse requires the same amount of effort as teaching them how to write!
Apart from the normal routine, the teachers in his school also teach the parents of the students. The class is called Kedap (Kelas Dewasa Asli Penan). which is an initiative by the Education Ministry to eradicate illiteracy amongst the indigenous adult population.
Warid is often asked whether he is bored teaching in the interior but he remains positive, saying that instead of pointing fingers, it is best to find alternative solutions that benefit both students and teachers.
As for his dreams, the young teacher says he wants to see his students move up and achieve their own ambitions.
Like Warid, 29-year-old Jarod Yong teaches English language in SMK Katibas, Song, Sarawak, a secondary school which is located deep in the jungles of Borneo.
“To get to the school one has to fly to Sibu, take a two-hour express boat ride and then ride on a sampan for an hour through a crocodile-ridden tributary of the legendary Rajang River. The area has no roads, no phone lines, no electric cables, no piped water,” says Jarod.
The school is “absolutely picturesque”.
“Every morning, I am greeted by a sight of the school and the rainforest surrounding it glowing in the golden morning sun. A thick mist covers half of the rainforest like a blanket. It looks like the forest is also getting out of bed. When the generators go off at night, all stars come out to play and the universe reveals itself in all its magnificence.”
Jarod’s students are all of Iban origin and they come from the longhouses along the Katibas River
The family income of most of his students are well below the minimum wage but Jarod adds that the local people understand the importance of education and encourage their children to study. They have a lot of respect for teachers and fully entrust their children to them. The students themselves are keenly aware of how vital education is to help them to break out of their cycle of poverty.
In the seven years he has been there, Jarod has found himself in a unique position where he is able to influence his students beyond the classroom.
“They listen to me ... so many of these children come from broken families, extreme poverty and have very little to look forward to in their lives. I try to help them realise that where they come from does not determine where they can be in the future.”
Like Warid, Jarod was also the recipient of a student scholarship sponsored by the ministry and was in New Zealand for part of his undergraduate degree programme.
He admits that he was in the beginning, very tempted to quit and work in the private sector but discovered that through his service to the children of a poor and forgotten people, he was in fact providing more meaning and purpose to their lives.He hopes that more teachers would be willing to embark on a quest where they give without expecting something in return.
The magic in this, says Jarod would be the discovery of your true self. He dreams of the day when instead of worrying about titles, awards, tenure, promotions, pay cheques and the favour of superiors teachers, the focus would be on what actually makes a difference to the students,
Thinking about what the two young men have to say about their teaching, one can’t help but feel hopeful for the teaching profession.
As long as we have teachers like Warid and Jarod who despite the odds, have chosen to stay where they are, simply because they know how much they are needed, the perception of teaching as a noble profession will continue to be strengthened.