Teacher, Residential School, Lahad Datu

Lahad Datu, Sabah is one of the most breathtakingly beautiful, yet ULU places I have ever seen. If Ipoh’s development is at a scale of 10/10, then Lahad Datu will score a miserable 2/10. I complain about my job, about the teacher’s quarters that I live in, about all the crazy-non-teaching-related-stuff that makes me more like a clerk than an educator… 8O

Yet, I am still here.
Because educating young minds, shaping the future…
Is worth the trouble.

A teacher multitasks. In addition to teaching, I am also a clerk, photostating girl, cleaner, babysitter, gardener, photographer and basketball coach… What I do reminds me of Frank McCourt’s Teacher Man,

“Instead of teaching, I told stories.
Anything to keep them quiet in their seats.
They thought I was teaching.
I thought I was teaching.
I was learning…
In the high school classroom you are
a drill sergeant, a rabbi, a shoulder to cry on, a disciplinarian,
a singer, a low-level scholar, a clerk, a referee,
a clown, a counselor… a priest,
a mother-father-brother-sister-uncle-aunt, a bookkeeper, a critic…”

People wonder how I survive

This is how the story goes. ;)

Click here to read about my journey.

My Journey

I went to F6 after SPM. I didn’t consider pursuing my studies elsewhere or applying for scholarships because I didn’t want to leave home too soon. I figured two years in F6 would help me decide.

With my STPM results, I received my 6th (out of 8th) choice :sad: – science with education at UM. My first 5 choices were medicine and dentistry. You see, I always wanted to be a doctor, but private college was not an option due to financial burdens; government policies did not help either. Having good teachers throughout my schooling years led me to consider education as a career option; in short, my teachers inspired me.

Although I was passionate about education,
I still struggled to be at peace
with not getting an opportunity to do medicine.
the deeply rooted “Asian stereotypical idea of success” did not help.

The older generations in my family felt that I should be doing something ‘greater’ – MEDICINE. ?They thought that teaching was for ‘lesser’ people. You see, teaching sounds noble, but not prestigious (vs. Doctor/Engineer/Accountant). Tell people you are a teacher and they will say, “Oh, teacher ah… noble job wor”. But what goes through their mind is >“Oh teacher ah, 没出息的哦”.

By Dec 2009, I received my posting to Sek Men Sains Lahad Datu, Sabah – an ulu place, where power shortage, water shortage, etc. are common problems. 2010 was a terrible year of adapting to the new environment because the quality of students, working/living environment was way below my expectations.
I kept questioning why I was staying in such a miserable job when I should be doing something “greater”… ?Some family and friends advised me to quit and continue my studies in the private sector. By mid 2010, I told myself that one year later I AM GOING TO QUIT!? :mad:

But I didn’t…
I’m still here… teaching… in this ULU place.

Because after some soul searching, I realized that I do like teaching. I like being able to constantly relate to and guide the younger generations.? ;) ? It is a tough job and we teachers complain all the time, about the administration which doesn’t empathize with teachers, about unfair distribution of workload, about the terrible, horrible, miserable teacher’s quarters that should be torn down. What keeps us going is passion, especially on the days when you are so sick of sleepy students, so angry with “dak han” teachers who just make noise / sleep in the staff room, so fed up with students who don’t listen to advice and keep repeating mistakes…

Don’t choose teaching because it is a government job with lots of holidays and free time.
Choose teaching because you see yourself working with young people.
Choose teaching because you want to make a difference in young lives.
Choose teaching for those reasons because that thought will be all you have to pull you through the bad days.

Most of my students come from suburban areas. Academically, they are above average, with a few exceptional cases where the kids are quite brilliant. For the most part, the kids are good; they don’t create problems, they don’t gang-fight or rain you with vulgarity, they don’t stare you in the eyes and ask you to shut up. They “oooh” and “ahhh” with their eyes wide open when they learn something new. They will give you “salam” at the end of the lesson, thanking you for what you have taught them.? :)

The most rewarding part of my job is knowing that I have the opportunity to shape their futures, by making them aware of the world beyond comfort zones.

The students in such suburbs are like ‘katak di bawah tempurung’ and our education system does not encourage them to learn more than what is required for public exams. We are so used to focusing on results and A’s that we forget that life is not learnt from textbooks. Like Frank McCourt, I like to tell my students stories I read from books.? :) ? At times I will turn Math and Bio classes into “gender classes” to disprove the gender stereotypes (boys are meant to lead, girls to follow etc.) that are so deeply embedded in our culture. Someday, when I look back, I would like to think that through teaching, I have contributed to breaking down more stereotypes than just those associated with gender.

A parent once told me, “Saya harap anak-anak saya dapat ikut
professional courses seperti doktor, engineer… Cikgu pun tahu betapa
susah hidup kita yang bukan dari profesional courses, kan?”
***Pengsan aku bila aku dengar kata-katanya tu…***

I have spoken before to a few students about their plans after SPM. Most of them are unsure of what they want to do, what path to take; some have a tiny vision of what they want to become. In the end, many of them (they are Bajau, Bugis, and Melayu) will end up in matriculation, pusat asasi, and other government sponsored pre-U programs, JPA, etc. Although they are undecided, and even though they do not come from well-to-do families, post-SPM planning is a much smaller problem because of the opportunities that are more accessible to them (compared to the students at AMC).

Even though this maybe unfair, it is what it is. So to current students today, it is important to get started on the right foot. Because opportunities are limited due to policies, it is even more important to be informed about other scholarships offered by the private (and sometimes government) sector. The same goes for courses / colleges and universities.

Feel free to get in touch with me to learn about beautiful Sabah, photography, the crazy life of a teacher or anything at all. And good luck!? ;)


Jia Hui

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