Learn­ing lessons on lead­er­ship from stu­dents


AS a child, Na­jwa Huda Sha­haril re­mem­bers her teacher mother tak­ing her to school on week­ends, where she would spend hours sit­ting at the back of the class­room as her mother shares her love of knowl­edge with her stu­dents be­yond the nor­mal school hours.

That was when she sub­con­sciously fell in love with the world of teach­ing.

Born and raised in Ban­dar Baru Bangi, Selangor, Na­jwa, 24, went to Kolej Is­lam Sul­tan Alam Shah for two years in higher sec­ondary and spent an­other two in INTEC Prepa­ra­tion Col­lege be­fore fur­ther­ing her stud­ies in Michi­gan State Univer­sity in the United States.

“I spent three mem­o­rable years at the univer­sity where I did my Bach­e­lor of Nat­u­ral Sciences in Physics.

“Dur­ing my high school years, my pas­sion and in­ter­est for physics grew. My teach­ers, of course, played a huge role in show­ing me how in­ter­est­ing and colour­ful the world is with physics.

“I stud­ied the law of physics and wanted to know more. So against all odds, I ap­plied and man­aged to get a schol­ar­ship to study Physics in the US,” she said.

Dur­ing her se­nior year, Na­jwa was the chief editor of the Year­book for Malaysian stu­dents at the univer­sity.

As a project pioneer, she was re­spon­si­ble for as­sem­bling skill­ful and tal­ented Malaysians to make the Year­book a re­al­ity.

“My goal was to help the team grow and to present a mean­ing­ful book for ev­ery­one to look back on even af­ter the years had passed,” she added.

Na­jwa, the youngest of five sib­lings, grad­u­ated in May last year. Af­ter com­ing back from the US, she worked as a pri­vate tu­tor to two pri­mary school stu­dents.

Na­jwa suc­ceeded in get­ting a Teach For Malaysia Fel­low­ship which will end in De­cem­ber next year. She said she wanted to be­come a teacher be­cause it is her pas­sion.

“I do not just want to teach, I want to ed­u­cate, mo­ti­vate, in­spire and change lives. I have heard of sto­ries of so many chil­dren in Malaysia who are not able to live up to their fullest po­ten­tial be­cause they lacked ac­cess to a high qual­ity school sys­tem.

“I, on the other hand, was blessed to get a good ed­u­ca­tion from young, and I would want the same for ev­ery kid in Malaysia.

“I want to be the best teacher I can be. I have a dream to see our na­tion trans­formed, and I be­lieve that ed­u­ca­tion is one of the most ef­fec­tive ways to re­alise that dream.

“Teach­ing is not just an op­tion, it is a life-chang­ing de­ci­sion — both for the teacher and stu­dent,” said Na­jwa, who used to get typ­i­cal re­ac­tions such as “you want to be­come a teacher?” or “Is that all you want to do in life?” when­ever she told some- one what she wanted to do af­ter univer­sity.

Na­jwa cur­rently teaches His­tory at a school in Pasir Gu­dang, Jo­hor while pur­su­ing a Post­grad­u­ate Di­ploma in Ed­u­ca­tion as part of the fel­low­ship re­quire­ment.

“Since Jan­uary, I’ve had to at­tend classes dur­ing the week­ends and hol­i­days at In­sti­tut Per­gu­ruan Kam­pus Te­meng­gung Ibrahim, Jo­hor Baru. It is in­deed a tough train­ing mode but I will per­se­vere.

“On a daily ba­sis, I spend about 9 to 10 hours in school. I teach Form 2 and Form 3 stu­dents, rang­ing from stu­dents from the top of the class to those who need ex­tra at­ten­tion from their teach­ers. As a teacher, I am re­spon­si­ble in plan­ning my lessons thor­oughly be­fore I en­ter the class.

“Teach­ing his­tory is a dif­fi­cult task for some­one who ma­jored in Physics. But I take it as a chal­lenge. This is also where the cre­ativ­ity, prob­lem-solv­ing and high-or­der think­ing skill in sci­ence would be ap­plied in ped­a­gogy in mak­ing sure my les­son is fun and en­gag­ing.

“In class, I am not only a teacher, I am also an ed­u­ca­tor. I cor­rect my kids if they get a ques­tion wrong and I also cor­rect their at­ti­tude if they mis­be­have. Out­side of class, I am their friend, whom they can talk to when they have prob­lems and con­cerns about non-aca­demic mat­ters,” said Na­jwa.

It had only been four months since she be­came a teacher, but Na­jwa be­lieved she has learnt more about lead­er­ship than in the past few years of her life.

Live to in­spire oth­ers

On top of be­ing a full-time teacher in school, many Teach for Malaysia fel­lows start ini­tia­tives or projects that ad­dress needs and work to­wards so­lu­tions, in their schools or in the lo­cal com­mu­nity. Na­jwa said the fel­low­ship is not a vol­un­tary cause (as Teach For Malaysia fel­lows are full-time teach­ers in public schools), but a life­long com­mit­ment to be a change-maker and to cham­pion ed­u­ca­tion in Malaysia, even be­yond the fel­low­ship.

“If you want to see change in Malaysia, teach — it is pow­er­ful be­cause you will be able to bring change to the com­mu­nity. If you want to see hope in your coun­try, teach — you will be amazed at the dif­fer­ence you can make.

“If you’re study­ing over­seas, come back to Malaysia af­ter you grad­u­ate. You’ve had the op­por­tu­nity to ex­pe­ri­ence dif­fer­ent sys­tems and cul­tures; and there’s so much we can do to help build our own coun­try,” shared Na­jwa.

She re­marked Teach For Malaysia is a pro­gramme that will chal­lenge you phys­i­cally and men­tally. For those who are in­ter­ested, know that the two-year pro­gramme is not go­ing to be a bed of roses. It will jolt you out of your com­fort zone and for that you have to be strong, ready and pa­tient. But at the end of the day, it will be worth all the strug­gle, said Na­jwa.

“One day, I would like to see the Malaysian ed­u­ca­tion sys­tem bloom out­side of the exam-ori­ented par­a­digm. That is why we need to have the ut­most sup­port from our com­mu­nity in gen­eral, and from par­ents and teach­ers in par­tic­u­lar.

“I also wish to see the ed­u­ca­tion sys­tem in Malaysia give birth to stu­dents who are not only in­tel­lec­tu­ally ad­vanced, but also pos­sess the right val­ues and re­spect for them­selves and oth­ers. That, I think, is a sign of true ed­u­cated minds.”

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