Samuel Isaiah’s nomination as one of the top 10 finalists for the 2020 Global Teacher Prize had my phone ringing over the past few days. I have been receiving calls and What App messages asking me whether it was me.
The reason being, I was a teacher too and more so because we share a second name that sounds similar and which is quite uncommon. His second name is Isaiah while mine is Yesuiah. Both are biblical names, though.
That is about the only thing that I share with this great teacher. And for the record, I have retired from teaching for three years now. And neither is he related to me.
Malaysian teachers can hold their heads high, thanks to Samuel Isaiah being selected from among 12,000 teachers worldwide for their outstanding contribution to the profession.
The Global Teacher Prize has been dubbed the "Nobel Prize of the teaching fraternity" and it awards the winner with US$1mil for the teacher’s contribution.
In 2016, Noorjahan Sultan, 45, and Vanesri Kasi, 25, were among the nominees for this award. Though they did not win the award, the recognition itself pays tribute to their sacrifices, commitment and passion for the profession.
And this year, Samuel Isaiah joins them as an exemplary role models for the more than half a million teachers in our nation.
The King and the whole nation, especially the teaching fraternity, wish him best wishes and blessings that he will win the award and bring honour and glory to our nation.
It is a relief and a welcome respite from the worsening Covid-19 pandemic statistics in our nation.
As hopes and efforts are put to the limit to fight the pandemic and when medical front liners are at the crossroads of fatigue and service, Samuel Isaiah’s nomination brings renewed hope to strive forward.
According to press reports, when Samuel Isaiah was posted to an Orang Asli settlement school at SK Runchang, Pekan, eight years ago, he was determined to make changes to the Orang Asli children.
Though he had to travel 200km daily to and from the school located deep in the rain forest, he went about his work with exceptional dedication and perseverance.
When many dread travelling to such distances and more so teaching in Orang Asli settlements, Samuel Isaiah took it in his stride and overcame the challenges.
Teachers who have taught Orang Asli children would know that there are many challenges in teaching them.
Firstly is the language barrier. These children have their own indigenous dialects and it is an uphill task to communicate with them.
An English language teacher cannot even use Bahasa Malaysia to converse with the Orang Asli children. How Samuel Isaiah managed to raise the school’s average pass rate in English from 30% to 85% truly is an outstanding achievement.
His patience and persistence and faith in the children has been his trademark.
Another problem in teaching Orang Asli children is their poor school attendance record. The children go to school if they feel like going to school. Many children would rather follow their parents into the jungle to look for food than attend school.
Samuel Isaiah met the parents of the children and was able to have rapport with the parents to overcome the children’s poor school attendance.
He was able to keep the children "entertained" and inspired during his English lessons. He introduced the ukulele, a musical instrument like a guitar, which had the children mesmerised by his songs and teaching.
Another challenge in teaching in remote schools is the lack of facilities and resources. However, Samuel Isaiah was of the belief that where there is a will, there is a way. And so, through a crowdfunding platform, he was able to provide laptops and tablets to his children.
Since the children were not used to learning in formal classrooms, he had makeshift classrooms under the trees in natural settings to accommodate their taste and lifestyle.
He made everything possible to make the children comfortable and likeable in school. He made sure that the children did not lose out on the technology and innovative learning platforms despite being in the jungle.
Samuel Isaiah did not look at the Orang Asli children as lesser beings but as children with potential and excellence.
Despite the negative perceptions surrounding the teaching of underprivileged children, Samuel Isaiah broke perceptions and traditions and focused solely on improving and uplifting the standard of education of the children so that they can have a level playing field in the future.
Samuel Isaiah has given the underprivileged children an opportunity that they normally would not have dreamed off. He made it possible when the faint and weak-hearted said it was impossible.Only the passionate, dedicated and committed teacher will rise to the occasion and become an extraordinary teacher.
When Samuel Isaiah left the school last year for his Master's programme in the US, the Orang Asli children were moved to tears and sadness. Such was his love and care for the children. He treated them like his own children.
Samuel and the other teachers are highly charged and motivated who are serious about their work and the children that they have been entrusted with.Teachers need to see the potential of each child.
Every child is different, coming from different learning backgrounds, experiences, skills and abilities.
Some children might not respond to the teaching and learning methods that teachers had learned while in training.
Some children may not take the standard curriculum and textbooks that have been given to them.
Teachers may need to adopt and adapt to the children’s learning style and to their proficiency and competency level.
Teachers can make a difference in the lives of the children in their classroom by going the extra mile.
Teachers should treat each and every child in their classroom as their own child, teaching them academic and moral values.
Teachers need to be resilient and dynamic. They have to keep abreast of the latest information and help empower children with the necessary skills to be successful in the 21st century.
These teachers, though of different ages and experience, will vouch that being a teacher entails a lot of challenges and setbacks and yet they prevailed and carved a name in the global arena.
There are many other teachers in our nation who are serving in rural and remote areas, staying away from home and giving their heart and soul to the children.
Only God will bless and reward them for their sacrifice in their vocation.
Teachers are the largest segment of the 1.6 million in the civil service and the teaching fraternity has the biggest allocation of the budget every year.
It is the government's single most important investment for the future of the nation.
Teachers have to rise to the occasion and be passionate, dynamic and vibrant in the classroom and go the extra mile to teach, touch and transform the minds and hearts of children.
To Samuel Isaiah, we wish him all the best and God bless.Remember William Arthur Ward said: "The mediocre teacher tells, the good teacher explains, the superior teacher demonstrates, the great teacher inspires."
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