Teaching – a way of life – a lens through which I see the world
“Education is the most powerful weapon we can use to change the world” – Nelson Mandela. This quote has been deeply rooted in my mind and heart ever since I was a little child. It speaks a thousand words for me, probably due to my childhood background. I was not born to a well-off family, neither were my parents university graduates. However, they never failed to remind me one thing: “Never be lazy to learn, Zarifa! Education is the one thing in this world that no one
can take away from you.” I sometimes didn’t understand the depth of that saying back then, but now, it has become my life mantra.
Education has played a huge role in my life, and I believe that it does play a significant part in everyone’s. In the past, students were mainly taught facts to score them jobs. However, today, in this ever-changing world, education plays a much bigger role. Education has shaped itself to teach students how to think by equipping them with the knowledge and skills to evaluate right from wrong. More ideally, education plays a role in developing confident students to make a positive difference in society, while instilling values, attitudes and behaviors that align with those expected in a society. To put in simpler terms, a school acts like a child’s second home and a teacher a child’s second parent. So, the education system and those upholding it have an immense responsibility to (1) bring up critical thinkers in a day and age where Internet is readily available, bursting with information; and (2) contribute to the personal growth of children to become an all-rounded individual.
Moreover, education influences an individual’s identity to a great extent. Individuals are exploring themselves, their connections within, and others on an almost everyday basis. This allows them to build a sense of connectivity and understanding about their likes, dislikes and their pe
rsonal development towards their talents and passion. This identity that they discover along the way allow them to place themselves in the society, think about what they can do to serve the community, their careers and so on. The schooling process gives perspective to individuals on who they are and what they can do. It provides an opportunity to think about life while being guided by many adults in the process. Schooling is more of a platform that emulates the real world, but as a safer platform for kids to explore as they grow, before they are pushed into the real world.
Just thinking about the big responsibility placed on teachers did push me away during my early days from wanting to be a teacher. Nevertheless, I made my decision to become a teacher when I was in grade 12. My teachers were a huge inspiration for that decision. For the outside world, teachers don’t need to do anything except teach, and many are even jealous that they enjoy a 2-month summer vacation. However, what many don’t see are the small sacrifices they make on a daily basis, including skipping meals to teach a kid who is struggling in the subject, or taking work back home to return assignments with timely feedback, or even worrying about how their students will do on the test the next day. Being a teacher requires constant passion and dedication to the profession and so much pure love to kids, who are not your own. My advice for future teachers would be to work hard, but smart so as to keep the passion in teaching going.
Many students might have complained how teachers kept giving work to do when we were students. Nevertheless, I did not fail to see my teacher’s sacrifice. I saw my teachers rushing through their lunch, just to help me with speech festivals, assignments or even training workshops. I saw the sacrifice behind every supplementary lesson we had after school or even during long breaks. My teachers did more than JUST TEACH. They were more than an educator to me; they were my mentor, my confidant and my friend. They impacted my life far beyond the classroom. I wanted to be just that. I wanted to be someone who could make a difference in the lives of as many students as I can. Many say “doctors change lives, lawyers change lives, and the list goes on and on” and indeed that’s true. But do they change the lives of all, starting from a very young age, like a teacher does?
Honestly speaking, being a teacher is even more difficult than I thought it would be. My day starts off at 6:30 in the morning. I get ready while planning my whole day ahead in my head. I refresh the content that I need to teach for the day on the train, including my teaching strategies. I get into the staff room at 8 and check my emails. Once that’s done, any sanity left in my day has been over. All that’s about to come is pure madness. Don’t get me wrong though, because I enjoy it. Most days, I have 3-4 lessons and one meeting or assembly to get through. The remaining 2-3 free lessons I get, you probably think I prepare for lessons for the next day. Sometimes, that’s true, but in all reality, who has the time to do that in the midst of thinking what went right or wrong with my previous lessons, or replying to countless number of emails to ensure I am not missing any duties, or preparing assignments or notes for the students. By the end of all this chaos, I pick my pen to prepare the lessons for the next day, and little do I know, but the bell rings signaling the school day being over. If I am lucky, I get to send my students home, so that I can continue to check things off my to-do list. On other days, I get to spend time with students preparing them for various competitions, to unleash their potential that they never knew they had.
I hope just reading about my day did not make you exhausted because there’s more that is unspoken of. The most difficult part about being a teacher is having to teach 30 students with 30 learning levels and 30 different learning styles, making sure everyone is safe, secure and having all there needs met. So, how do I manage to cater to their diverse learning needs? If I want to transform lives, I have to be able to impact every student’s learning.
Teachers do realize that there is no one-size-fits-all approach to addressing learner diversity. I have learnt some techniques during my very short experience as a teacher. The first thing is to be sensitive to individual students’ needs; learn about the students through classroom observations, assessments, etc. This way, learner diversity could be capitalized to design class activities. One example I use very often is to group students with different talents in the same group, so that they can learn from each other.
Another thing that I recently learnt is to not always use pen and paper to learn. Not all learners are visual and auditory learners, as the general curriculum is designed to cater for. You may not believe it but many learners are kinesthetic learners; they need to move to be engaged in the lessons. So, I have increased variety in my teaching strategies and play around with them in different lessons. I use songs, videos, small whiteboards, Chemistry models of particles, experiments, poster drawings, group discussions, etc., to make the lessons appealing to more students, enhancing learning motivation and efficiency. I have found communicating learning objectives to students help, too.
All this work I mentioned may make you feel like I do not have work-life balance. It might be true that I constantly worry about my students’ learning and performance, but I do try to not bring work home. I dedicate a part of my day to reading books, to wind myself down. I make sure I spend time with my significant others to ensure my creativity doesn’t burn out. Only this way, I can continue to help my students learn effectively continuously. I cannot deny being a teacher is an exhausting job, but I bet you cannot name another job that could be as rewarding as being a teacher either. Just one small heartfelt “thank you for teaching me!” from even one student can make a teacher’s day!
Being a teacher makes you realize many things about society in general. I never thought I would be a successful teacher in Hong Kong because of my cultural differences. But here I am, my beliefs defied. My students never looked at me any different to my Chinese counterparts, maybe they even enjoy it more that they have culturally diverse teachers at the school. That is something I am very grateful for. I just have one last thing to say: I believe that there is a teacher in every one of you. You might not end up going to a formal education system to teach, but trust me, you will impact at least one person along the journey we call life!