Puan Saidatul: Championing Education in Semporna
This May – the month of Teachers’ Day – Teach For Malaysia (TFM) is appreciating and celebrating the champions in the education system, who work alongside us to give all children an excellent education.
Puan Saidatul Izdihar bt Amir Bangsa is an education champion who has dedicated her career to education. She has served in the Ministry of Education for nearly a decade, starting out as an English teacher for 6 years, before transitioning to Pejabat Pendidikan Daerah Semporna (the Semporna District Education Office) as a School Improvement Specialist Coach (SISC+) for 2 years now. As a SISC+, Puan Saidatul’s duties involve monitoring and guiding teachers in high-need schools to identify localised problems and develop interventions to tackle them.
Realising the hopes that we have for our future generations, Puan Saidatul believes, begins with educating the children of our country. She firmly believes that teachers are the most influential role models to students outside of family.
Reflecting back on her personal role models, Puan Saidatul honours her father, who led her down the path to become a teacher.
“To be honest, I was a bit clueless. I had planned to enrol in Science stream but it didn’t fit well for me. So my dad suggested that I sign up for a twinning programme to study Teaching English as a Second Language (TESL) course at UiTM and Institut Pendidikan Guru (IPG) Kampus Gaya. While he isn’t a teacher himself, he saw that English teachers were most needed in Sabah, so with his support, I became a teacher.”
Puan Saidatul also remembers the great teachers from her schooling days.
“The most unforgettable teacher to me is my Quranic lesson teacher, Ustaz Ahmad. I think he’s very old now. He was a loving, quiet teacher who had a calming presence in class. He persevered with us students and really helped me improve my Quranic understanding.”
“I also look up to my lecturers from UiTM and IPG – in particular my Shakespeare and Literature lecturers. They had a way of making lessons engaging and connecting to the students which inspires me now, as an educator myself.”
TEACHING THE NATION
Puan Saidatul’s teaching philosophy is to treat students with love and respect, always – exactly how we would like to be treated. She believes that true respect is earned, and in order to earn respect it has to be first shown, so that students will be able to trust us. Before classes start, she would always remind students to respect others and always to promote the value of respect among their peers.
“Every teacher leaves an impact on their students,” Puan Saidatul muses. “Personally, the impact that I’ve seen as a teacher is when many of my students, after graduating school, reach out to me again to thank me for helping them improve in English. I have students who come up to me to tell me, ‘Teacher, now I know why English is so important, I now see the importance of English and thank you for making us see that during our school years.’ These are the small things, the small moments that make it all worthwhile for me.”
LEARNING NEVER ENDS
Success is all about having the right mindset and right attitude, Puan Saidatul believes. Having a mindset of possibility and a hard-working attitude is fundamental to success in any profession, including teaching.
Puan Saidatul turns to reading to improve herself. “When I first became a teacher, my first book was ‘The First Days of School’ by Harry and Rosemary Wong. I didn’t feel confident about classroom management in my first year as I’m not a garang teacher, but through reading and seeking advice from others, I have improved myself a lot. Now, I’m reading books on leadership and parenting.”
This mindset of success and growth is also important to inculcate among students – for that, Puan Saidatul is grateful for the Teach For Malaysia (TFM) Fellows that she works with. “The great thing about TFM Fellows is how they embody the 3A principles (Achievement, Access, Affect). They think and work in a way that most strategically benefits the students and schools, because I think TFM has trained them to think innovatively about what they can do to contribute to the local community.”
“I appreciate how the Fellows focus on building character strength in students, and have given many students access and exposure to opportunities to explore and discover their own potential. TFM has brought great human resource to a state which needs more innovative teachers. The Fellows I’ve interacted with are professionals. I can see that they possess leadership qualities which have been embedded in them. The TFM movement of leaders focusing on transforming our education system is something that I really look up to, and hope to adapt into the culture here in Semporna.”
AN EXCELLENT EDUCATION SYSTEM
“An excellent education is an education that prepares students to be critical thinkers, to be problem solvers, to be highly skilled, and most importantly to be able to interact globally,” Puan Saidatul opines. She believes that good community and societal values lie at the heart of an effective education system.
“I would like to see a system where every child is treated equally, regardless of level of achievement. I would like to see a system that does not only prioritise academic grades, but that can recognise every student’s potential as unique. For that, we have to shift away from the examination mindset.”
“Currently, we don’t really know if students actually learn in the classroom or whether they’re cramming for the sake of exams. This is something that we have to change. We need to develop their soft skills so that our students will be able to thrive in the real world after school.”
From her experience as a teacher, Puan Saidatul believes there needs to be fewer students in each class, so that teaching can be more tailored to each student. “A challenge teachers face is that we have to adhere to a standardised curriculum, although there are mixed abilities in every class with different levels of proficiency. Here in Semporna, many students are still very poor in the English language. However, as a teacher you have to ensure the students achieve a set of standards because eventually they will have to sit for a standardized exam. When that happens, the poorer students will be left behind.”
“When I was a teacher, I would wake up at 3am to work on my lesson plans. Although it consumed time and energy but I think it was equally fulfilling and rewarding,” Puan Saidatul reflects. “Teachers have to customize their teaching to suit different students so that they will be able to grasp and master the knowledge. There is no one-size-fits-all solution in education. Every student has different needs.”
Thinking back on her last year of teaching, Puan Saidatul remembers reaching out to other English teachers to crowd-source ideas and help. She’s particularly proud of her last batch of students, who achieved a 30% increase in passing rate for SPM English! Still, Puan Saidatul believes that the true impact of a teacher is in both inculcating good values alongside academic growth.
TO TEACH WELL IS TO LEARN WELL
Puan Saidatul wishes all teachers around the world a Happy Teachers’ Day! In particular, she is grateful for the teachers who have supported her to where she is now. She also has some parting advice for other fellow teachers:
“To teachers in the classroom, you are very important in your students’ lives. Please teach wholeheartedly – a child’s future is determined by what you are doing in the classroom. Read more and seek knowledge from others. If you’re feeling demotivated, look for friends that you can talk to, or watch TED talks on YouTube for inspiration. To be a great teacher, you have to be a great learner too. Learning is your most important duty.”
Puan Saidatul is the School Improvement Specialist Coach (SISC+) for PPD Semporna, Sabah. After attending the Teacher Empowerment for School Transformation (TEST) Learning Trip run by TFM in April, she has collaborated with MYReaders, a literacy intervention programme started by TFM Alumni, and conducted several classroom observations with TFM Fellows in Semporna. We are grateful to work with a strong education champion like her towards our common mission. Happy Teachers’ Day, Puan Saidatul!