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.”