What’s Next?: Teach For Malaysia


Now that they’ve completed their two years in the Fellowship, what comes next for Teach For Malaysia’s first cohort of alumni? Aishah Zainol tells us about the next step in her journey as a member of Teach For Malaysia’s Strategy & Operations Team.

What is the position you’ll be taking on after the Fellowship?
I will be working in Teach For Malaysia as Assistant Manager under the Strategy and Operations Functions (HR).

What made you decide on this particular pathway after the Fellowship? Was this your plan when you began the Fellowship?
I went into the Fellowship not having a concrete career plan as I had just graduated from university. I did envision myself working somewhere either in education, academia or working in an NGO. I joined the Fellowship considering teaching to be a career path. However, the past two years have showed me otherwise. In all honesty, I have not been the effective teacher that I wanted to be for my students. Therefore I feel that it is best that I explore another career in which I can reach my full potential so that in return, I can help my students.

Joining Teach For Malaysia as a staff was an obvious choice for me as I hope to help find future Fellows who are better teachers than I could ever be with my students. To add, in the organisation, I can learn how NGOs are run.

Regardless of which career I take, being in the Fellowship has only reasserted my convictions that education inequity is a serious matter that cannot be ignored.

How do you think being part of Teach For Malaysia helped prepare you for this role? What skills do you think you gained from the classroom that will give you an edge in this position?
Planning is definitely one skill that I gained from the classroom that helped me give an edge in this position. Teaching in a high need school is in reality, a high paced environment. Teachers are required to be on their toes and expect the unexpected when teaching a class. We need to have a concrete plan but at the same time be flexible in making adjustments. Therefore, planning ahead goes a long way in making a lesson successful.

Another skill or perhaps a habit that Teach For Malaysia helped inculcate in me was to constantly reflect on my actions. For example, at the end of every lesson, we are told to reflect on what went well for the lesson and what can be improved the next time. This in turn, helps hone in on my empathy towards my students and I feel that I can understand them more. Once I understand where my students are coming from, I can adjust my lessons to cater to their ability. These skills are important in my new role as I will be working closely with staff and am required to help them in their work.

Do you think this experience has made you a better leader? How?
Definitely. I always make it a point to tell people on how much I learned in from the Fellowship. I truly believe that one needs to know oneself in order to lead others, to be a better leader. The experience has definitely helped me to get to know myself especially when faced with difficult challenges in and outside the classroom. I try to reflect on every decision that I make, identify what are my strengths, my weaknesses and how I can improve. I learned to assess the situation and plan ahead. At the same time, the Fellowship has taught me to step outside my comfort zone, to take risks and to be more bold in taking action. I believe those are skills and qualities are needed not only to be a good leader, but also a better person. I learn more about myself in the past two years than I could in any other context and for this, I am grateful.

What will you miss most about being a teacher in a high need school?
Perhaps the one thing that I will miss most about being a teacher in a high need school is my conversations with my students outside of class. Contact time in class is not enough for me to truly understand each and every one of my students. So I make it a point to have at least one conversation with one student every day, either after a lesson or when I treat them to lunch. It is in those conversations where I find out about their lives, their family backgrounds, their problems, dreams and aspirations. Sometimes, we do not realise that these students may not have someone in or outside school to confide in, to tell their problems. So it means a lot to me when a student comes up to me to open up.  I will miss and cherish these conversations because they not only remind me of the reality that my students face every single day but also that there is hope for them.