Dreams for Malaysia


I’m not really sure how to teach. Or, at least, I’m not really sure how to teach in a secondary school in Malaysia.

What I’d love to do is what my teachers back home did for me. They taught me to not take anything at face value, to think critically, and to work for justice. My 8th grade teacher changed the course of my life and my career with his lessons on human rights. So yeah, I’d like to be that person for my students. Not too tall of an order, right?

But it’s a little harder to do the same sort of thing in Malaysia. Maybe because my students don’t know the English words to talk about these things, or they’re not encouraged to talk about them at school. School here seems to be all about canned answers and passing tests (though to be fair, those things are definitely emphasized in certain classes in the U.S.).

All this to say that things didn’t go as planned for my lesson on Black History Month and Martin Luther King, Jr.’s “I Have a Dream” speech last week. My plan was to introduce Black History Month and mention Martin Luther King, Jr.’s dreams for American society before asking students to draw their dreams for Malaysia.

And I thought it was a great plan. That is, until I presented the lesson to several classes, and they showed little interest and just drew pictures of the Petronas Towers, Malaysia’s most famous landmark. I had several students who said that they had no dreams for Malaysia, something that really frustrated me. I contemplated ditching the lesson, but didn’t because I wanted to at least introduce MLK, Jr. and Black History Month to the students who were paying attention.

So, it wasn’t a great week for being a teacher. Until I got to my 5SCI class (the “best” class), and they had heard of “I Have a Dream” before. They got the lesson. They gave me examples of what they wanted from their country. And at the risk of sounding cheesy, it was beautiful. I teared up several times during that class because I was so excited to see these students care about their country and want to better it. The picture above is a list of one student’s dreams. Yeah, there were some kind of funny/cute things on there, like the dreams of having one day of winter, not being forced to study history, and for Malaysia to “have many artist like K-Pop star.” But there were also some really awesome ones, like equality among the ethnic groups here, support for the poor, and increased employment.

And lest you think that I only enjoy classes with the best students, on the same day, several girls from my 5C class (the “worst” class) came to ask me to tutor them in English. And as proud as I was of my 5SCI girls, I was equally proud of the 5C girls for taking the time and effort to practice a language that many of them struggle with.

So, yeah, teaching is hard. But experiences like this make it all worthwhile.


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