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Teachers helping teachers for the benefit of students all over the world

If teachers don’t step out of their comfort zones, then how can we teach our future generations how to survive in our evolving society?”

Nathan Shonhan reflects on his experience facilitating professional development and instructional coaching for teachers in Malaysia with LRTT (Limited Resource Teacher Training) last January.

Have you ever wondered what marks our time here? If one life can really make an impact on the world… or if the choices we make matter? As teachers, we chose the impact we wanted to have before we entered our first classroom. As teachers, we really want to make a difference to the lives of the children we have the privilege of teaching.

However, even the best teachers can become complacent and stuck in their comfort zone.  This isn’t always a bad thing, but if teachers don’t spread their wings, don’t step out of their comfort zones, don’t take risks, and don’t concentrate on their professional development, then how can we teach our future generations how to survive in our evolving society?

Malaysia is a beautiful country in a vibrant part of the world. With a population of 32 million people, and 29.4% of that population being children under the age of 18, education is a major priority for the Malaysian government.  Unfortunately, only 16% of students who graduate from secondary school move on to post-secondary studies.  There are 183,152 teachers in Malaysia, all with differing levels of qualifications and expertise.

The decision to join LRTT, for me, was an easy one, and probably a decision I should have made earlier in my teaching career. I was beginning to lose my spark for teaching and at the start of 2018 packed up and moved to a new job in Brisbane city, out of the classroom, working in our education authorities head office.  Whilst I love my current role, within months I realised I missed that constant interaction with the students whom I’m impacting, and this was when I decided to look into teaching opportunities abroad of Australia.

This LRTT experience, for me, has been enlightening, motivating, exciting and touching. We all feel as though we have achieved many goals both professionally and personally. This experience isn’t just about contributing to the Malaysian education system but also about growing within ourselves as educators.

All of the schools we worked with were very different from each other and were all extremely welcoming to all our LRTT Fellows. I had the privilege of working with the Penang Technical Institute who gave myself and my teaching partner a very traditional, and special, welcoming and appreciation ceremony. We became a part of their school community instantly.

LRTT Fellows and Malaysian Teachers from Penang Technical Institute come together for a photo on the January 2019 LRTT Fellowship

I worked with teachers, school leaders and students to help embed different teaching practices within the school.  Working in a country where their main language is Bahasa Malayu and not English was definitely a challenge, however, this was a challenge I was more than happy to work with. I was fortunate enough to teach an Accounting lesson to 60+ students all at once, in English, to demonstrate some different teaching strategies to their Business teachers.

The observations, coaching and training sessions were extremely valuable for us to be able to share with our teachers some more engaging and different ways to teach, without needing many (if any) resources at all. We all believe that teaching needs to be fun and engaging for the students to make their learning meaningful and memorable.

Nathan teaching 60+ students accounting in the school sports hall, demonstrating several different fun and engaging teaching strategies for the Business Teachers.

Our Fellows accomplished a lot, whether personally or professionally, throughout our time in Malaysia.  We had five Aussies, two New Zealanders, two Indians and three British teachers in our group, all with very diverse backgrounds. We all stepped out of our comfort zones to either trek through the National Park in 40-degree heat, run a professional development session with ten non-English proficient teachers, or teach classes without any technology.

This experience was definitely that of a lifetime and one that I would not exchange for the world.  The teachers in Malaysia do an incredible job teaching their future generation.  While they may not have access to the same resources we do in Australia, material resources are not what makes a teacher great. It’s the strategies they use to engage every child to reach their full potential. In my view, with further professional development, the Malaysian education system will become more aligned with 21st-century teaching and will become a world-class education system.

Most of our lives are a series of images.  They pass us by like towns on a highway. But sometimes a moment stuns us as it happens and we know that this instant is more than a fleeting image. We know that this moment, every part of it, will live on forever.

Written by Nathan Shonhan, LRTT Fellow, Malaysia January 2019

For more insight on what LRTT’s Fellowships are all about, check out this LRTT Fellow video.

Applications for LRTT’s three-week Fellowships in January 2020 and 2021 are open now. If you are interested in applying, please visit LRTT’s website at www.lrtt.org/fellowships.

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