Teachers’ Day may be over yet educators who go the extra mile to empower our future generation should always be celebrated!
Here are the inspirational stories of two young English teachers, Cikgu Soonufat Supramaniam aged 29 and Cikgu Samuel Isaiah aged 32 and how their ingenious teaching methods made a world of difference to their students.
Cikgu Soon’s love for performing arts and teaching
His unique background cannot be easily dismissed. ‘Sir Soon’ as he is known among his students in SMK Lubok Buntar, Kedah, is a graduate of the Australian National University with a Bachelor of Commerce in Accounting and Business Information Systems and also of mixed parentage (he is part Siamese and part Indian).
So, why did he become a teacher? Having been exposed to performing arts as a teaching artist and producer with a theatre company in Brisbane, he decided to return to Malaysia and applied to join Teach For Malaysia in 2015 to realise his passion for performing arts through education as a way of contributing to the betterment of Malaysia – “The decision of coming back to Malaysia was heavily guided by my reasoning that Malaysia has no fixed agenda in the arts sector within the existing education curriculum. To be able to have the opportunity to explore this sector further with students from high-need schools really resonated with me,” he wrote in an article for Teach For Malaysia.
In 2018, Cikgu Soon staged a play on bullying at the George Town Festival. The play was written and performed by 45 students from five secondary schools in rural Kedah. The purpose of the play apart from raising awareness on bullying was also to educate students from rural areas to speak in English. “I am an advocate for education beyond the four walls of a classroom. Students must break through the cold walls of school buildings to learn how to interact and communicate in order to make creative things happen,” said Cikgu Soon. Prior to 2018, Cikgu Soon also spearheaded another English theatre production, Find Your Light, which required students to go undergo six months of leadership training, community challenges and drama camps before participating in the play.
The impact he has made is best described in the words of his own student, Nur Aishah binti Abdullah–“every single thing that we do is actually inspired by his words. With all of this opportunities and exposure that he has give me, now I can be more independent and I’m also working on my community project called One Step Forward. One Step Forward is actually a reading project which will include teachers and students to encourage them to read together”. In fact, it was Nur Aishah’s nomination that eventually won her beloved teacher, the MacDonald’s Inspirational Teachers Award 2019. Needless to say, Cikgu Soon, is proud of his student’s achievement as she was the school representative for a change project held in Taiwan focusing on skills required in the 21st century.
‘Adiwira’ Cikgu Samuel and his Orang Asli students
Cikgu Sam as he is fondly known by his fellow comrades in SK Runchang located in Pahang, was tasked with the difficult job of teaching English to Orang Asli children from the Jakun community. The advice from a senior teacher when he first joined the school in 2012, remains fresh in his memory – “Cikgu Samuel, you don’t have to try too hard, they are only Orang Asli students”. Yet, it were these words which inspired Cikgu Samuel to challenge himself and ultimately change the general perception towards these Orang Asli students. The initial stages were tough due to poor class attendance.
What Cikgu Samuel did next, is a clear indication of his love for teaching. He soon realised that he had to transform the rigid classroom learning experience by creating a fun learning environment to encourage his students to attend class and spur their interest in the language. To improve his students English vocabulary, he implemented the “Speak Up With Poetry” programme for students to watch guided videos to read and speak in English using poetry. He also uses musical instruments, in particular, the ukulele, as part of his English lessons by teaching them chords which are in sync with the English words in a particular song. Cikgu Samuel even managed to collect funds so that each student had their own ukulele and formed a band called ‘The Originals’!
In 2015, through funds collected via the crowdfunding site, Give.my, Cikgu Samuel was able to equip his classroom with a PA system and LCD projector and computers for each student – a move which received much attention from the public including local celebrity, Altimet, who supported the cause. Cikgu Samuel strongly believed that his students deserved the best facilities on par with other schools in urban areas.
Another interesting initiative he implemented was ‘Asli E-Pal’, an international e-mail exchange project where students were given the opportunity to communicate in English via e-mail with volunteers around the world! Taking it up a notch, he launched the ‘Sekolah Pokok’ project which witnessed Cikgu Samuel literally reaching out to educate the Orang Asli community by visiting villages and conducting lessons under a tree in the weekends.
Cikgu Samuel lives by the motto that anything is possible if it comes from the heart. His efforts certainly paid off as the school’s average passing rate in English has increased between 80% and 85% in 2015-2018. Some of his students even scored A’s in their English paper for UPSR!
Cikgu Samuel is the recipient of the Anugerah Guru Adiwara 2019 awarded by the Ministry of Education in conjunction with this year’s Teachers’ Day celebration.