Interview by Dr David CL Lim with
Prof Dr Widad Othman, Dean of the Faculty of Education and Languages (FEL)
Dr David: Tell us something about yourself as a teacher and your current focus in FEL as Dean.
Prof Widad: I was trained as a teacher way back in 1976. I taught Physics and Mathematics before focusing on technical and vocational education. I taught at a public university from 1981 to 2006. After that, I joined OUM.
Although I love teaching, I do not have much time to teach in my job as the Dean of FEL. Currently, my focus is to ensure that all FEL programmes have quality and are marketable. Of course, I give much emphasis to the programmes for in-service teachers, as this is our main focus at the moment. I also focus on shaping the faculty as a team so that both academic and support staff can work well together.
Dr David: How much importance would you place on 'teaching with fire'? Why?
Prof Widad: I would say it is very important. A teacher's passion for teaching will push him/her to go all the way to ensure that learning occurs. Learning is not just about imparting knowledge, where teachers just talk and learners just listen. The passion one possesses can automatically make the teaching-learning process fun. Passion can certainly be contagious.
Dr David: Can you give us a real-life example each of how the passion for teaching worked and did not work for you?
Prof Widad: This is tricky... I don't quite have examples for that. But I can share something else. My passion in physics (during my early years as a lecturer) somehow transferred to my learners. Recently, I discovered one of my former learners through Facebook, and he has turned out to be an excellent teacher in physics. It seems that he too possesses the passion to teach physics. I am happy that he was able to learn and develop his own passion to be an excellent teacher while he was under my tutelage.
As for the other example, perhaps this happened when I was not able to convince one learner to continue teaching even though she completed her Diploma of Education course. I was not able to infect her with the love/passion for teaching.
Dr David: Do you think passion alone is sufficient to be a good teacher? Why?
Prof Widad: No, while passion is important, it must be supported with other qualities like 'sincerity' (teaching because one wants to); 'patience' (dealing with diverse groups of learners), 'love' (for the learners); 'creativity and innovativeness' (in planning interesting and engaging lessons); 'energy' (especially when teaching youngsters); and 'enthusiasm'.
Dr David: Of these qualities you mentioned, how would you rank them by importance?
Prof Widad: The most important quality is passion. The other qualities I mentioned; sincerity, patience, love, creativity, innovativeness, energy and enthusiasm follow suit.
Dr David: How much of what you believe about passion and other drivers of learning are injected into FEL's academic programmes? In other words, how do you, as Dean, ensure that the tutors we hire are able to 'infect' learners so that they too may learn with passion?
Prof Widad: Because OUM is an ODL institution, I must admit that it is not easy to inject passion into our academic programmes as the inculcation of such traits heavily depends on human interaction. So our tutors and e-tutors must play a major role in this aspect. To ensure quality of tutors/e-tutors, we try to hire those with ample teaching experience and who are already in the teaching profession. This is based on the assumption that those who are already excelling at their day jobs are likely to be good tutors too. These are the ones who will be able to inject the passion for learning into learners. However, such tutors are rare and sometimes we do come across certain 'black sheep' that we will weed out from the system.
Dr David: If the passion for teaching can be inculcated, how would you advise our tutors who want to inculcate the same?
Prof Widad: Show your passion first; teach by doing because you are the role model - just as parents are role models to children. I believe passion and enthusiasm have the ability to spread. So tutors should come prepared to tutorials - do extra reading, provide your learners with supporting resources, and prepare your own presentation slides; don't just read from the module. The most effective approach for teaching and learning is to come prepared to share your knowledge.
Dr David: Can you tell us something about FEL's future plans?
Prof Widad: For the immediate future, FEL has a few plans. These include ensuring that the quality of our programmes are on par with the offerings of other well-established institutions; enhancing modules for programmes that have reached their four- or five-year cycles; enhancing the quality of our assignments and examinations; providing better support services; improving our contribution to the Ministry of Education's teacher training programme (Program Pensiswazahan Guru); and finally, offering more language-based programmes.
Dr David: Any last words for OUM tutors?
Prof Widad: Although OUM tutors serve on a part-time basis, I would like to consider them as part of the faculty. As such, they must share our shared values and aim for similar objectives. For tutors involved with the training of in-service teachers, I hope they will strive to develop them to become better teachers as these teachers are the 'developers' of our future.
I always encourage my learners to develop their own foundation/philosophy as teachers; so I am encouraging tutors to do the same too. My own philosophy is based on the acronym 'HATI', which stands for 'Hikmah, Amanah, Taqwa and Ikhlas'.
Finally, I would like to thank all tutors for serving OUM, and FEL specifically. Please keep up the good work!
* Dr David CL Lim is the Programme Coordinator of OUM's Bachelor of English Studies, Master of English Studies and the forthcoming Diploma in English for Professional Development.