Sunday, May 15, 2011

Spotlight on model teachers

TEACHER’S DAY: Spotlight on model teachers
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Five teachers’ enthusiasm for the RHB New Straits Times National Spell-It-Right Challenge makes them worthy of particular mention on Teacher’s Day, which falls tomorrow. SUZIEANA UDA NAGU and NURJEHAN MOHAMED report

HE narrowly escaped death on his way to Kota Kinabalu for the Sabah state RHB New Straits Times National Spell-It-Right (SIR) Challenge last year.

The four-wheel drive belonging to SK Pementerian Nabawan teacher Mohd Syazwan Yusuff had hit boulders and road signs along KM13 Jalan Kimanis-Keningau before it finally came to a stop when the two left tyres blew.

But the incident did not scare Mohd Syazwan and his colleague Aidil Remasin — who witnessed the accident — away from once again chauffeuring their pupils to the primary school challenge at Suria Sabah, yesterday.

“We must expose rural pupils to the contest as they are shy and timid. The chance to mingle with their peers from the city will raise their self-confidence,” says Mohd Syazwan, 24.

Aidil, 30, agrees, adding that “participating in SIR is a ‘must’ for the school”.

“Two years ago, pupils were afraid to spell in front of their friends at the Monday morning assembly. Now, they are excited to do so,” he says.

These teachers’ enthusiasm for Malaysia’s premier spelling bee makes them worthy of particular mention on Teacher’s Day, which falls tomorrow.

It is a fitting tribute to their continuous support for the contest over the last three years.

During this time, they had instilled the love of English language into rural children — although Mohd Syazwan does not teach the subject — and drummed into youngsters that trying their best is more important than winning.

Former pupil Chrissha Webster, 13, describes the teachers as very supportive.

“They advised me to study hard so that I can have better opportunities,” she says.

Mohd Syazwan and Aidil are not the only teachers who have shown a high level of commitment to their profession.

There are three more on Learning Curve’s list — English teachers Amuthavalli Sandaran from SK St Paul, Seremban, Negri Sembilan; Pagjono Kaur from SK Taman Uda, Alor Setar, Kedah and Norhaziah Mokhtar from SK Putra, Kangar, Perlis.

Amuthavalli’s SIR résumé includes training two Negri Sembilan primary school state victors — 12-year-old Ernest Lee Wen Er (2010) and 14-year-old Kenneth Wu Min Jin (2009).

Lee is also last year’s national primary second runner-up while Wu, the secondary national winner.

Amuthavalli believes in making spelling “fun”, which means she goes beyond giving pupils a list of words to memorise on their own.

She pays attention to the different learning styles of her pupils before tailoring a training method for each of them.

“Children don’t enjoy spelling words for hours. Teachers have to be creative, for example, by introducing games and crossword puzzles,” she says.

Lee’s mother Tan E-lynn praises Amuthavalli for raising young people’s interest in spelling.

“She explains the origins of words in the form of stories. I think this is good. My son enjoys training with her. As a parent, I truly appreciate her effort,” says Tan, a housewife.

Like Amuthavalli, Pagjono Kaur has also trained two Kedah state champions — Auni Amirah Abdul Rashid (2008) and Kamilia Mohd Zayad (last year) — and helped others in her school to gain a better appreciation of the English language.

A staunch supporter of SIR Challenge since its inception, Pagjono pledges to train spellers until the competition ceases to exist.

Pupils at the school have Pagjono to thank for imparting the love of words to them.

Now “taking out the dictionary and asking their friends if they have heard of those terms before” besides “using (them) in compositions” is a habit among SK Taman Uda pupils.

Kamilia was glad that Pagjono was around when she competed in the SIR Challenge last year.

“She bought dictionaries with CDs for us to prepare and on the competition day, she kept us calm,” she says.

Norhaziah Mokhtar, on the other hand, should be applauded for her initiative to promote English in an environment in which young people have very little exposure to the language.

With the support of headmaster Ghazali Kassim, Norhaziah — the school’s English panel head — has made participation in SIR Challenge a top priority.

Intensive training after school and on weekends happens two weeks before the state contest. But spelling is a year-round activity in SK Putra.

“We spend five minutes before each lesson spelling and learning new words. Students’ writing skills and vocabulary will improve as a result,” she says.

Nur Qamarina Syafiah Kamarul Effendee attributes the fact that five of 10 SK Putra pupils went through to the Perlis state finals partly to Norhaziah’s hard work and devotion.

“She is our biggest supporter. She gave us many useful tips to help us in the contest,” she says.

Teacher’s Day, which falls on May 16, is an occasion to celebrate the extraordinary work teachers do daily.

If exemplary teachers in Malaysia are knowledge advocates, social engineers, proponents of unity and change agents, then the five teachers fit the bill.

Their names may not be on the official roll of honour but that does not make them less deserving of our attention.

The five teachers, however, feel they are just “doing their jobs”.

Aidil says his duty is to “create opportunities for students to discover their talents”.

Syazwan simply wants to teach rural children.

“Serving in the interior of Malaysia is why I became a teacher. It has been rewarding,” he says.

Amuthavalli enjoys the challenge of training spellers for the contest.

“It’s a tremendous boost to their English proficiency, self-confidence and discipline. The focus required (to train for the contest) helps pupils in other areas of their lives too,” she says.

Pagjono agrees, adding that teachers have a responsibility to expose their students to activities such as the SIR Challenge.

“For my school, the parents wouldn’t send their child unless the teacher has the confidence the child can make it,” she says.

Seeing students who feared English transform into advocates of the language is its own reward, says Norhaziah.

“Serve with sincerity and expect nothing in return — that’s what I always tell my colleagues,” she adds.

It is little surprise that the five inspirational teachers make some yearn to go back to school and be inspired by them.

“If I had teachers like them, who knows what I would have accomplished today?” says a reader.

Read more: TEACHER’S DAY: Spotlight on model teachers

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