Monday, October 17, 2016

Sijils And Skills

So the other day I was marking a thing called the Borang Rumusan Aktiviti Kelab for some of the students in my school (I am one of the guru penasihats for the school's Music and Culture Club). It's basically a form that teachers use to evaluate students' involvement and competence in any given club. One can get points for their position in the club (whether you were a pengerusi, setiausaha, etc), achievements (whether you entered competitions and won or not) and leadership qualities (whether or not you were punctual, helpful, etc) among other things.

It made me think back to my sekolah menengah days when we had to fill in those forms for ourselves. I got so much of an ego boost from filling in those forms, because in terms of participation and positions, I fared pretty well. Because of my privileged position (I was an anak cikgu, after all), I found myself in a lot of top positions that in hindsight, I don't think I deserved all that much. But at the time, I was an egocentric adolescent (one could argue I remain one) so I felt good riding my privilege-wave and racking up all those points so that I was better positioned on paper to get into good universities.

When I finally got into teacher training (thanks in part to all those points I garnered in the Borang Rumusan Aktiviti Kelab), I was all big in the head because I felt that I was so great because I had all these sijils and pengerusi/naib-pengerusi positions in my certificate-folder.

I was quickly struck back to the ground during the start of the second week of teacher training. This was the first time we met our tutor, Miss Letch. In our first or second meeting, she questioned our credentials and asked what all our certificates were good for, because we had no skills to back it up. We didn't know how to write a paper, we didn't know how to organise people and activities, we were terrible at problem-solving, we didn't know how to speak up for ourselves and for others, we were incompetent, and she showed that to us so that we would wake up from our sweet slumber and understand that all those sijils are supposed to mean more than points.

They're supposed to mean skill-sets. Being a secretary was supposed to mean that one should know how to write letters, meeting minutes and basic documentation. Being a chairperson was supposed to mean that you knew how to conduct meetings, communicate effectively and organise people and acitivities well. Being a treasurer was supposed to mean you knew how to organise money and keep track of expenses well.

I was forced to take a good hard look at myself and admit to myself that I wasn't all that my certificates was cracked up to be. I didn't have any of those skills. I could barely talk to people (girls especially, because I came from an all-boys school). All I did in school was do as I was told and follow orders. I didn't know how to lead (at least not off a rugby field). I had to start from scratch.

She encouraged us to be ambitious. She set goals for us to achieve, goals that - at the time - felt unreachable because we were so unfamiliar with doing more than the minimum requirement. We did a semester-long fund-raising campaign to go to visit aboriginal villages to do English workshops over there. Those were tough times for us, because for almost the whole time, we felt like the thing was unnecessary and unachievable. There was this one time when I was tasked to make bookmarks to sell to people in commemoration of a unique date (I think it was 12:34:56pm on 7/8/09 because 123456789) and it had totally slipped my mind until like the night before the date, so I went to Ms Letch to tell her I forgot and that I didn't think the bookmarks were going to happen. She gave me a talking to, and I was so inspired I got to work, pulled my resources and some friends together and had a batch of bookmarks by the morning time and was able to sell it to people in time. We made a hundred bookmarks and we sold a hundred bookmarks. By the end of the day, Ms Letch was all "See? I knew you could do it!" and I appreciated her so much for that.

Not only did she believe in me, she made me believe in myself, and I am forever grateful to Miss Letch for doing that for me, and doing that for us. We really didn't like it at the beginning. It took us a few semesters to understand what she was trying to do. We were too young and pampered to understand why she did what she did. She didn't seem to really care too much about being the most liked lecturer. What she cared about was that after this set of students graduate, they have the skills and the worldview they need to be more competent workers, leaders and problem solvers. And for that she became into one of my favourite lecturers in the institute. Thank you Miss Letch.

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