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In conjunction with Father’s Day 2024, we shine a spotlight on one of our dedicated Fellows who has successfully navigated the challenges of the Teach For Malaysia (TFM) Fellowship programme while embracing the joys and responsibilities of fatherhood. Syakir’s journey is a testament to the strength and resilience required to balance multiple roles and make a lasting impact in the field of education.

1. How is your Fellowship journey so far?

Full of ups and downs. Juggling between the busy life as a teacher-fellow, building a sustainable social initiative for my Alumni career, and raising my then-3-year-old was never an easy journey. I am so thankful to have my very supportive and understanding wife on this journey. I always say to her: the Fellowship is not my journey, it’s ours. Approaching the end after 2 years, my feelings are mostly satisfied and proud.

2. What was the main obstacle for you to apply for the Fellowship?

The dilemma of moving to a small town like Kuala Kangsar from Penang, was our biggest obstacle because we were raising a toddler who might need an education centre, playing area, good community, and medical facilities to grow up. Another thing was changing my career and lifestyle, especially when I never imagined myself becoming a teacher. I remember I said to my wife before we knew about TFM, ‘I can never be a teacher and a good public speaker’, and here I am finishing my 2 years of Fellowship.  

3. What helped you get over the obstacle and apply?

My wife was my biggest influence when applying for the Fellowship. Before the application, we were figuring out how to have a new career. After working for 4 years in the same company, we wanted to have more growth. We then co-founded a company named Doodlecare where we tried to venture into entrepreneurship. We were inspired by how we raise our daughter using arts, hands-on activities, a Montessori approach, and seeing her progress. Through the company’s platform, we were sharing the idea and children’s home learning resources -it gave us hope to scale the idea. While searching for organisations to collaborate with, we found that TFM was promoting the Fellowship programme, and its leadership development and networking aspect hooked us. But I was a bit reluctant because I have to be a real teacher at school. However, my wife pushed me by saying ‘comfort zone is the enemy of progress’ and that statement has become our driving force since then.

4. Can you share any challenges you’ve faced while juggling fatherhood and being a Fellow, and how you’ve overcome them?

Leaving my family for one month and a half for the Pre-Service Programme (PSP), finding a suitable home, moving out from our house in Penang to a small town in Kuala Kangsar, and all the busy life of being a teacher and a father. One continuous thing was juggling time for family and being a Fellow. I think how I overcame it was by finding the connection between those two. As a math teacher, most of my free time was used to create worksheets and design activities for students with low numeracy skills. So, my daughter will always be my first test subject for them, because in my mind, if she can get this, older children will be able to as well. With that practice, I was able to kill two birds with one stone, and my daughter is now able to do math addition and subtraction at the early age of 5.

5. Can you share a memorable experience where your role as a father intersected with your role as a teacher?

During the Hari Raya celebration event at school in 2023, I needed to take care of my daughter because my wife had a job to do. So, I brought her to my school for the event. There was a moment when the school opened up space for any students to perform on stage. But not many students were brave enough so I asked my daughter to sing on the stage because she loves to sing all the time. She said yes but with other friends. So, she brought her ‘seniors’ up on the stage to sing the Frozen theme song with her. It was an epic moment. All the students and teachers were watching and cheering for her. I was very proud.

6. ⁠In your opinion, what is the role of a father in a child’s education?

A father should be a resourceful, caring, and wise man as a role model and life coach for the child. As parents, we have to understand the needs of our child, while observing her generation’s cultural change and let the child try many things. At the same time, empower her to make decisions from the young age of 2. Try to liberate her choice from choosing her dress to wear, what she wants to eat, and what toys she wants to play with. Always listen to her. While doing that, suggest to her some new things while respecting her decision if she says no. Sometimes, you need a bit of push when you know something is good for her, so reason with her. Tell her why she needs to or cannot do something without forcing her to. Always communicate with her as a human being, not as a cute or annoying little kid even if sometimes it’s true. Be patient. The last thing is to improve yourself to be a better person every day. This is the most important because a child learns the most from her observation and experience. You can’t impose a rule on her and expect her to follow it. She needs to see you doing it first before she can follow.            

7. ⁠As a father, what is your aspiration for your child regarding education?

Education should be seen beyond the results of exams, famous schools, and certificates. Without ignoring the basics of literacy and numeracy skills, I hope in the early years of her education, she can learn about life skills, leadership, and how to manage herself in this ever-changing world. This includes social-emotional learning, communication skills, taking responsibility, and self-learning. Early years education- especially in pre-school and primary level- should not be too rigid and compartmentalised because it can diminish a child’s creativity and curiosity.

8. ⁠What advice would you give to other Fellows and teachers who are also fathers?

Being a father is a gift that we should be grateful for and embrace because it will be the best life teacher for us. Always find the connection between improving yourself as a leader or a teacher and being a father. When it becomes hard for you to balance your work and family time, communicate with your child if you need some working time or let them help you by either cutting papers, testing your new worksheets, giving you ideas from a child’s perspective, or anything else involving them. See your child as a gift instead of just a responsibility.

Syakir has completed his 2-year Fellowship journey and is now officially an Alumnus of the programme.

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