Go for the best!

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Teachers have three loves: love of learning, love of learners, and the love of bringing the first two loves together. 

–  Scott Hayden, American composer of ragtime music

I was in Form Four when during one of our English Language lessons, our teacher asked the class what the most important and respected professions were.

Most of my classmates mentioned doctor, engineer, accountant, lawyer, policeman and farmer with some even suggesting politician.

When my turn came, I mentioned teacher as a noble and important profession.

Mrs L. Wong, the English Language and form teacher paused and momentarily starred at me. I thought I said something wrong; if looks could kill, I would have dropped dead.

“Tell me, why teacher?” she asked.

“Because a teacher creates and produces other professions like doctors and lawyers. Without the teacher the other professions cannot exist,” I said.

My answer obviously must have impressed her because she gave a big smile and patted me. I guess that motivated me to do well in her two subjects — English and English Literature.

I have always held teachers in high regard, especially those who gave their all to education. So, why then didn’t I enter the teaching profession? Because I was not meant to be a teacher; I did not have the patience to be one.

There was a funny incident involving my mathematics teacher. Let’s call him JL. Math was my weakest subject; can’t remember ever obtaining a credit. Most of the time during monthly or term exams, I barely scraped through — red marks were common in my report card. I think I was the weakest in the class.

One day, a month before our Senior Cambridge public examination, JL predicted that I would most likely be the sole student in his class to fail the subject. I disagreed and countered by saying I would get a simple pass at least.

“Please do. Just a borderline pass will be enough and I will eat your shoes,” he said cynically. The class burst into a boisterous laughter and I felt embarrassed.

Perhaps his remarks prompted me to work harder on the subject. Believe it or not I not only passed but managed to obtain a weak credit when the results were out months later.

Some of my classmates remembered JL’s remarks and tried to instigate me to bring my shoes to the staff room and ask him “to eat” them.

But I felt that wasn’t necessary as I knew JL only meant to motivate me to work harder on the subject. The fact that I obtained a credit was reward enough.

I entered the staff room to inform JL I passed my Elementary Math. He knew the result and congratulated me in front of the other teachers. In fact, JL appeared more ecstatic than I did. Guess he must have thought I would fail.

I thanked him for I realised that had it not been for his nasty remarks I would not have gone all out and put in the extra effort in the subject.

Teachers back then, especially those in mission schools, were dedicated and concentrated on ensuring students received the best education.

Their workload was not as heavy as the tasks of teachers nowadays who are bogged down by extracurricular activities and extra subjects.

They must be accorded a special place in society for they mould future leaders and spur the country’s development.

As such they need to understand the psychological and sociological aspects of students, as well as be good at capturing students’ hearts. But the teachers can only give their best if they are given an environment that is conducive to work in. The issue of staff shortage, lack of proper facilities and huge workload should be resolved quickly.

Two weeks ago, Senior Education Minister Datuk Mohd Radzi Md Jidin announced his ministry would be hiring 18,702 grade DG41 teachers nationwide through a special “one-off” recruitment drive to resolve the shortage of teachers, especially in four states, including Sarawak.

But recruiting qualified and dedicated teachers is one thing, and getting them — especially those from Malaya — to work in Sarawak is another matter.

State Education Minister Datuk Amar Michael Manyin Jawong said it would be an uphill task for teachers from outside the state to adjust to our environment, arguing that poor rural conditions and school infrastructure as well as cultural barriers caused a high turnover of teachers.

For this reason, he has appealed for Sarawak to have autonomy over education for it to produce its own teachers who understand the state’s cultural diversity.

Yes, Putrajaya should give us autonomy. Let us produce our own teachers. We are short of 3,385 teachers — 1,545 in secondary schools and 1,840 in primary schools.

I agree with Manyin that the mass nationwide recruitment of teachers will not be able to address the shortage in our state.

Whatever happened to the state’s 90:10 policy where 90 percent of the teachers must be Sarawakians and 10 percent from Malaya or Sabah? 

And please, do not, in our haste to address the shortage issue, recruit any Ahmad, Ah Hong or Muthu. That would be disastrous. Only the best will do!