Words of wisdom from a Global Award Winning Teacher

20 000 applications from dedicated teachers across 179 countries and in that stood someone we know as one of the finalists for the Varkey Foundation Global Teacher Prize 2017 award: Mohd. Sirhajwan Idek, our very own Malaysian who teaches in Keningau Vocational College, Sabah and an influential mentor of the FutureLab platform. Varkey Foundation recognised him as ‘one of five global winners of the Teacher at My Heart contest (sponsored by Macmillan) in 2016, and was in the top three finalists of the international TESOL Teacher of the Year award.’

His three golden P’s for educating – patience, positivity and perseverance – inspired and intrigued us and we decided to speak to him to know more.

1. What is your educational background and why teach?

I am a graduate from Gaya Teacher Training Institute in Kota Kinabalu, and Universiti Teknology Mara (UiTM). Alongside teaching English in Keningau Vocational School, I am also pursuing a PhD at UiTM Shah Alam.

I decided to teach because I wanted to explore my creativity and know how to transfer my ideas. The motivation that drove me was to transfer these ideas into teaching practices, materials and projects. I tested the waters in this area by first training the debate team of school. It was then I decided that I wanted to dive further and focus my effort on English-related activities, innovation and entrepreneurship. This was also where I realised and began giving importance to improving my teaching practice through various tools and techniques.

2. What are some of the greatest challenges you have faced and overcome?

The biggest challenge has definitely been to instil a sense of belief and possibility in students. Some often have the preconceived notion that they are at a disadvantage because of their backgrounds. I mentor my students by encouraging them to develop their self-esteem, know their worth and make them realise that they are competent and have the potential. Regardless their background and the opinion of those around them, they can still move ahead in their desired direction.

3. What are the biggest challenges faced by your students?

Limited technology, transport, infrastructure, resources and funds to carry out curated ideas and plans.

4. What is your advice to students?

To believe in yourself – your capabilities, potential, talent and passion. And, show that to people. Don’t sell yourself short. From my experience, lacking confidence due to being nervous and anxious is a barrier. However, that nerve and anxiety should be thought of as a fuel to drive you instead of a road block. In all of this, to also remember to be yourself. Being flawed and making mistakes is part of human nature and journey. What is important is not be afraid of them, but to ensure there is a learning out of it. This will help you grow.

Another advice would be to utilise a mentoring platform like FutureLab; it is accessible to everyone and the initiatives will help you achieve your goals. In addition to the development of knowledge, it is also useful to develop confidence through the practice interview sessions available. This is what I do at vocational schools, prepare students for the market and FutureLab is aligned with it.

5. What is a mentor to you? Do you have one?

A mentor is a person who facilitates the mentee’s exploration of knowledge and direction in learning. Mentor provides feedback to the mentee when necessary. I have two mentors, Mr Johari Sabin and Madam Siti Aisa.

6. Now some fun questions:

a. Given the choice of anyone in the world, whom would you like to have dinner with? Why?

Noam Chomsky. I am constantly impressed by his thoughts and ideas, many of which I have studied. I’d like to be like him; a polymath who is an expert in many disciplines. I want to not only have dinner with him, but be like him too.

b. What superpower do you want and why?

Superintelligence: I want to have the ability to know and remember everything. A walking encyclopaedia.

c. Favourite quote?

Nelson Mandela – I don’t lose, I either learn or win.