Most importantly, would I be able to get through all this by myself?
Thankfully, I was reassured by the selection team to not worry as there would be other Fellows in this journey with me, along with the wider TFM network.
One year into the Fellowship Programme, I can now attest to the fact that they have lived up to their word. There was always some form of support from everyone in the movement, even before I was officially accepted into the Fellowship.
It was a year filled with uncertainty of even getting into the Fellowship itself but the camaraderie and support from everyone helped me through.
The very first time I felt this sense of camaraderie was when we were preparing for an assessment called Ujian Kelayakan Calon Guru (UKCG) by the Ministry of Education which comprises a written and fitness test. I thought that the fitness test would be the bane of my Fellowship application since I was never a “fit” person to begin with. I was still worried even though I started my preparations early, it was as though I could never be truly prepared. The fear of being left behind just because I couldn’t do a push up was real.
However, this fear was quickly overtaken by a sense of hope when I met some of the other candidates during the various UKCG preparation sessions held by the staff at the TFM office. I would never have believed it if someone were to tell me that I’d be travelling to KL just to work out with a group of strangers I barely knew. Nor would I believe that I’d be running laps around the iconic Sultan Abdul Samad building and doing yoga at the TFM office with people from all over Malaysia. The whole experience was surreal. It was the first time I felt like I was part of something bigger when there were also other people who I could share my experiences and concerns with.
It was the same during our Pre-Service Programme (PSP), a 6-week long training programme before the Fellowship starts. This was where I officially met all of my cohort mates for the very first time. Truth to be told, PSP was tough, especially for those of us who were new to the teaching craft. We were a group of young Malaysians from all walks of life trying to figure out how to be a teacher in the morning, student in the afternoon and to complete our homework for both roles at night. It was a period of constantly losing stationeries and having an infinite stash of worksheets and mahjong paper in our faces. It’s moments like these that make me cherish our ability to work together as a cohort.
Another notable memory of Fellows helping each other was the daily morning commute to the school where we taught during PSP. It was basically a bus full of people trying to help each other prepare lesson materials, manage mixed emotions and wake you up from a much needed nap. Things were especially chaotic since all this happened in the dark with only the occasional street lamp gracing us with light from time to time.
Apart from this, we were also often asked to pair up and give each other feedback on our teaching practices during PSP. It was quite daunting at first, to be vulnerable to another person’s judgement regarding our own ability to teach. I dreaded these sessions initially but gradually learned to appreciate them when I realised how effective the method was in helping me improve my craft. Getting used to this manner of learning also became significantly easier with the most understanding and nicest people as cohort peers. I never thought that I’d be hanging out with the other Fellows after work let alone doing normal things like going for karaoke and movie nights together. I guess that’s what happens when you just get along really well as a group. Even now, we still make an effort to stay in touch with each other during the Fellowship even though we are no longer living together in close proximity.
I was told many things about the Fellowship while applying for it but I was never told that I would be in for lifelong friendships with like minded individuals. Gary, a former engineer turned 2020 Cohort Fellow, looked up halfway while lesson planning and exasperatedly said, “This is so much tougher than building bridges as an engineer!” I don’t know much about building actual bridges, but it dawned on me that in a way, we were also attempting to build bridges too – the bridge to education equity; a bridge that can potentially benefit a lot of people in the long run.
Though this bridge may take up to a decade, a century or even longer to build, I believe that it can be done as long as we put in collective effort. Here’s to everyone in the movement, who has relentlessly worked on this bridge together, especially during the pandemic. Words cannot describe how grateful I am to my cohort friends who have just been so supportive of each other, even when we barely knew one another.
Dear 2021 Cohort, here’s your chance to be part of a movement, especially in such a crucial time. I look forward to welcoming you to be part of this movement!
Kai Syn is a 2020 Cohort Fellow who teaches in a high-need school in Klang. Join our movement and meet passionate and like-minded individuals fighting against education inequity teachformalaysia.org/apply