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“We think students have low English proficiency because they don’t see the relevance of learning English, they are not interested, they don’t care. In reality, we fail to see that many have tried, many feel frustrated, and many have given up because they are tired of trying without support.” – Teo Yen Ming, 2016 Fellow


On my way to the staffroom one day, I passed a group of students in the midst of marching practice. I noticed that the commander was a student from my class, and I approached her.

“Hello, Ain*! Good job! When is the marching competition?”

“Uhm… Lima hari bulan empat, Miss Teo.”

In my head, I calculated the number of days left to the PT3 speaking test. She would have less than a week to prepare for her speaking test after she was done with the competition.

I decided to remind her. “Oh wow! Do you know that speaking test is on the 12th of April?”

Immediately, her face dropped. “Miss Teo, saya nak cakap sesuatu.”

She pulled me aside and muttered the words. “Cikgu… Bahasa Inggeris saya… Memang tak bolehlah.

“Why not? You understand me, and you know what I am talking about. Ain, you can do this. I am preparing a module for all of you…”

I became quiet. I noticed that she was staring at me, teary-eyed.

After consoling her, I went to the staffroom and my heart sank. Behind the tears, I wondered how much frustration, desperation and helplessness she felt.

Often times, we think students have low English proficiency because:
“They don’t see the relevance of learning English.”
“They are not interested.”
“They don’t care.”

In reality, we fail to see that many have tried, many feel frustrated, and many have given up because they are tired of trying without support. I teach for Ain who represents many more who are desperate for help, and are on the verge of giving up.


Every Sunday, I run workshops on Arduino programming and design thinking to train students in a variety of skills for different competitions. For example, coming up with an innovative product or idea to solve problems in their community.

I pointed to a page on the Arduino module which read, “Soil temperature and moisture level are factors that drive germination, blooming, composting, and a variety of other processes. You will design a soil sensor to measure these two parameters.”

“So Aiman*, sensor ini adalah untuk mengukur tahap kelembapan dan suhu tanah. Siapakah yang menjaga tahap kelembapan dan suhu tanah?”

“Err… Er… Er… Manusia?”

Ya… Manusia siapa? Siapakah yang tanam sayur, pokok dan bunga? Siapa yang kena pastikan tanah tu lembap dan tak terlalu panas?

“Err… Orang lain?”

Ya… Siapa tu? Pekerjaan apa? Cikgu ke?

Ya…” He nodded his head.

Ya ke? Cikgu taman sayur, pokok dan bunga tiap-tiap hari?

Eh, bukan… Siapa ya… Err… Err… Petani ya?

Ya, betul!

Aiman is a slow learner and to be honest, teaching him has been one of my biggest challenges this year. I am often very tempted to tell him to stop coming to my workshops as he would slow down other students’ progress. Nonetheless, week after week, he is determined to push himself to come to the workshops, even though most of the time he could not tell me what he has learnt for the day. He has taught me what it means to persevere and pursue our interests. I now know how to teach with patience as he has made my heart a little bit bigger.

I teach for Aiman who relentlessly pursues his interest despite the challenges he faces.

*Students’ names have been changed to protect their identity.

Teo Yen Ming is a 2016 Fellow and is currently a second-year teacher at a school in Pasir Gudang, Johor. Yen Ming graduated with a Bachelor of Science in Environmental Engineering from University of Michigan – Ann Arbor. Teach For Malaysia recruits, trains and supports Fellows to teach in high-need schools across the nation. Beyond the Fellowship, our Alumni continue to champion education in different ways. To date, we’ve impacted over 44,000 students, working with the Ministry of Education and other partners.

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