Feature: Fire in Their Bellies

Fire in Their Bellies

By Basil Jude Surin (bjs@oum.edu.my)

Remaining relevant in a sea of change is the main challenge for educators in 21st century Malaysia. With the deluge of technological advances, educational institutions and the role of teaching have been transformed and are no longer comparable to what they were even a decade ago. Educators at all levels are challenged to be professional, innovative, creative, open to change, adaptable and they need also to keep up with technological progress so that they may invigorate and inspire their learners.

Real teaching is not the simple task many perceive it to be. It takes a special breed of inspired educators to remain unshaken when facing a massive responsibility with numerous professional decisions, while at the same time; they must also give their full commitment to each and every learner. So, what is it that makes an educator remain passionate after so many years of service? What is it that helps them to kindle and sustain the fire in their bellies?

I invited three tutors from the Kedah Learning Centre, collectively sharing 70 years of teaching experience, to share their thoughts.

Dr Baharudin Yaacob

Leaders play an important role in evoking teachers' desire to teach and teach well.

The role of leadership in helping an educator to remain interested and focused in teaching is something that cannot be stressed enough. Educational leaders who know how to motivate and lead others to perform and work effectively as parts of a whole can help increase a teacher's productivity in the classroom. Just by finding out about the teachers' interests and getting to know them better can help to avert problems. This can reduce the number of misfits within the faculty.

So what can educational leaders do? For one thing, they should take the initiative to bring team members together. Administrators and subordinates should meet regularly and periodically. Have scheduled meetings to deal with professional matters and to discuss good teaching practices. Keep an eye on avoiding burnouts. Organise occasional trips to other institutions as an exercise in benchmarking, or simply as a fun eye-opener.

Having said that, kindling the fire in teaching is also the teacher's responsibility. The teacher needs to take pride in what he does and learn to be patient all the time. Having self-discipline and learning not to be unnecessarily bothered by what others say is a good way to remain passionate about teaching.

Tan Bo Ji

My love for teaching grew from my days as a temporary teacher. I enjoyed teaching the weaker classes and underprivileged learners who generally displayed a lack of self-esteem and confidence. I learned not to be too harsh and tried to be flexible in the hope of bonding with them. That was when I noticed the learners warming up to me. They also became more confident. Seeing this change in them gave me immense satisfaction and helped to nurture my love for teaching.

I read a lot in my free time to make sure that I am always growing from strength to strength in this profession. I had a strong athletic background and I was interested in teaching physical education. The knowledge I gained from reading helped to cultivate self-belief. This was augmented by mingling with other teachers. The confidence and exuberance of my more senior colleagues has rubbed off a little on me.

If I were to feel dispassionate about what I do, I would try to verbalise my feelings to close friends whom I can trust and are willing to listen. I also realise that I can put things in perspective quicker if I take a short time-out to relax. This way, I can regain my steadiness and that helps me to get on with my job.

Simply put, I would say that enjoying what one does for as long as possible would help to keep the interest. When you consider what you do to be a chore, that means it is time to take stock and try to inject some life into the mundane. If you can take a short break once in a while, it can help to prevent a major burnout. Personally, I try to keep finding new things to enjoy and keep myself actively focused on my teaching.

Gautaman Ganesan

A passionate teacher prepares for work in a professional and diligent manner. This teacher will want to see his work through from the moment of conception until the very end.

His passion is basically something that comes from within. But, how many are there who are truly passionate about their work? There may be a special group of 'born-to-be' teachers who have a natural talent for teaching and find themselves in the perfect profession. However, this is not the case for all of us.

We may be inclined to teach but the zeal to teach needs to be nurtured. External factors like money, compensation, convenience and comfort are indeed prerequisites as we need to think of sustenance and our ability to maintain our interest.

Administrators of learning institutions have important roles to play; they have to try to ensure that the right person is given the right job. Being a misfit by force is no help to one's morale.

Congeniality among administrators and colleagues can help to nurture passion. Focusing on strengths and positives and learning from negatives as a team are very important.

Where external factors or environments cannot be changed, we need to look into self-action or self-help. Though difficult, we should try to think of every teaching day as a breeze and not to complain too much.

We need to look at the positive and gratifying parts of the job. We need to focus on learner progress and building our own capacity. We need to strive to become better at our work. The sheer effort to succeed needs determination and single-mindedness and this can keep us going for a long time. Being an expert in your field and looked upon as a reference point can be rewarding too.

Self-help is about being open to seek the help and advice from those who are passionate in what they do. Their fire and zeal can be infectious and have a positive effect on you. We should make the effort to meet, talk and learn from other passionate teachers. We can hope to be infected by their fire.

If ever the fire to teach dies out, we become devoid of passion. We would then need to take a good look at our practice and seek help from others. We may need to start all over again and that needs guts! It is going to be difficult but many things in life are, aren't they?

* Basil Jude Surin is an OUM tutor at the Kedah Learning Centre.

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