20 March 2013

More than just A, B, C

By Victoria Wong

One of the best quotes I have come across in my teaching career is by Karen Salmansohn, a bestselling author and book packager with over one million books sold. It says, “Don’t just teach kids how to count. Teach ‘em what counts most. Kindness, faith, gratitude, resilience, courage, effort, integrity, politeness, generosity.”

It is a well-known fact that the job of a teacher comes with a lot of different challenges but the rewards are also highly satisfying. Every teacher has a different set of principles and beliefs which they run their classes by, but they are aware of the need to have clear objectives to ensure effective learning takes place. It goes without saying that our main priority is to impart knowledge to our students, with the hope that they will achieve good results in their examinations. But is this the primary goal of education?

The beginning of September last year marked the start of another new term for me. During the introductions on the first day of class, I made a mental note to constantly be on my toes with my new group of Foundation students after catching a few mischievous grins and remarks. When we covered the ground rules, I gave a short talk on the importance of respect – and reminded them that respect is earned, not freely given.

I quickly learnt that I had under my wings a very lively bunch, but decided to follow my teacher instincts and embraced them as the unique individuals they are. I have always believed that students learn best through struggles and by making mistakes. At the same time, I made sure I was always there to guide and support them. Praises were given where deserving and pep-talks were given when they misbehaved. In the classroom, there was not a day that went by without the sound of friendly chatter and laughter, but on top of it all, my students never forget the meaning of respect.

The term was not without its challenges. I have been asked how I managed to put up with some characters in my class. The sole reason is because they are my students. Accepting them for who they are also means believing and continuously having faith in them, even when no one else does. In defending them, it is vital for our students to know that we will protect them only when their actions are justified.

In the classroom, teachers are like the students’ parent. A classroom is akin to a loving home environment – children are happy when they are brought up with enough love and attention. Our students learn by watching us because they believe that we know what is right and good. Clearly, the good values we hope to instil in our students start with us. By preaching about hard work and kindness, we too, as teachers, need to walk the talk and lead by example.

My students are bright, but some are just discovering their true potential, that they can shine in whatever they do if they set their hearts to it. It is crucial that we give them that extra nudge to bring out the best in them, and also to let them know we are proud of them for just trying their best. They need to know that it is important to excel in their studies, but what is far more important than scoring a High Distinction is the effort they put in, the knowledge they acquire and the skills that they take away with them.

Although the term has ended, our bond remains strong. My students continue to visit from time to time to put a smile on my face. But as their teacher, what touches me most is the love and warmth they shower upon me, so much more than what I have given and shown them. I am, indeed, blessed to have them as my students.

As teachers, we are usually the ones who change lives, but little do we know that our students often make a huge impact on our lives, too. My students are still the same as I know them, but beneath that loud, chatty and mischievous exterior, there is so much good in them just waiting to burst forth. It is heartwarming to know that I have let a group of confident, smart and happy kids into the society, with so much joy, kindness and love to share with those around them.

If anyone asks me what we should strive for in education, I will second the quote by Martin Luther King, Jr: “Intelligence plus character – that is the goal of true education.”

Victoria Wong is a lecturer with the Faculty of Language and Communication at Swinburne University of Technology Sarawak Campus. She is contactable at vwong@swinburne.edu.my.