Nation’s youngest school head at 28?

Education is the key to success in life, and teachers make a lasting impact in the lives of their students.

– Solomon Ortiz, ex-American politician

It is interesting to note that a 31-year-old is being considered the youngest school headmaster in Malaysia.

This pertains to the story of a local graduate teacher Osman Zaidi that appeared in the Lifestyle section of this daily’s edition on May 15 this year – the day before Teachers’ Day. At the age of 31, he was entrusted with administering a school, thus making him the nation’s youngest headmaster.

Amazing but not surprising as it is easier to rise up the ladder when one is a graduate – and there are many of them around.

It would have been more remarkable if any reporter could come out with an article of a case where a 28-year-old was made principal of a Kanowit secondary school nearly 40 years ago. Yes! – I am referring to my own case when in May, 1983 at the of 28 years I was promoted from being a lecturer of Bintangor’s Rajang Teachers College to principal of Sekolah Menengah Datuk Abdul Rahman Yakob (Sedaya), Kanowit, a rural school with 1,550 students, including 1,400 boarders.

Was a 28-year-old the youngest principal in the state or country at that time? In Malaya then, it took about 10 or more years before an A19 grade holder could be promoted to A11 (Senior Time grade). I was appointed as acting A11 holder after only serving for four years.

Being that young and inexperienced was not an issue to me but perhaps it was to some others. And some years later, my USM classmate and RTC colleague Carter Ballang Kapong was also appointed as a school principal at the age of 29. He was heading SMK Tebakang prior to his retirement in 2016 – I am sure our ex-colleague and drinking buddy Datuk Amar Michael Manyin Jawong, then Tebedu assemblyman, must have been instrumental in keeping the hardworking CBK at the school for a good number of years. Manyin himself is also a former SMK Tebakang principal.

In my own case, then RTC principal Encharang Agas and his deputy Michael Manyin must have been highly contributory in recommending me to head SMK Sedaya despite not being the senior most local graduate among the RTC lecturers. When receiving a call from Mohamad Abdul Rahman (now deceased) from the Education Department headquarters in Kuching, he told me that I was appointed to tackle a racial tension among teachers of the school that was without a principal for a few months since my ex-RTC colleague Lugom Mangkil (now deceased) left to join Sarawak Shell Berhad in Lutong, Miri – I was also told he used to sleep in his office and was weary about sleeping in the wooden bungalow meant for the principal at the hill top.

Luck was on my side as it was my friend and then Senator Joseph Unting Umang who played an initial part in easing the racial tension among teachers, namely between Iban and their Chinese colleagues. As a welcome to me, Unting who was the school’s rations supplier organised a dinner at a Kanowit restaurant, across river. During the dinner all were shaking hands and the tension was immediately put aside.

Two days later I called four teachers (two from each side) who were considered leaders in their former misunderstanding (including the torching of rival sports houses in April). The meeting was short and effective. I wrote a short report to Education HQ (attention Mohamad Abd Rahman) on the matter and followed up with a phone call. The issue was considered settled and my mission was accomplished.

On Teachers Day that year – I was into my second week as school head – I told SMK Sedaya teachers what I used to tell trainees at RTC between 1979 and late April 1983 about the three types of teachers. It was not a lecture but just a short speech.

These three types of teachers include those who are naturally gifted with the skill of teaching, ones who can teach after training and those who cannot teach despite having undergone training, I told them. At the same time I told them to assess and categorise themselves. That would be the way to go forward, I told them.

Those who are naturally gifted are usually ones who enjoy the task of teaching. To them, teaching is sharing and spreading the joy of wisdom, joy of knowledge as well as camaraderie between teachers and their students, among teacher and among classmates, thus leading to good rapport and peace.

Good teachers are a motivation for students – they are impetus for students to remain interested and focused in their classroom’s activities. For that matter kind, beautiful and handsome teachers are gems for the students’ eyes and make their classrooms really a second home and attractive setting.

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