So You Want To Be A Teacher (Part 2)(Stories From the East)

“The greater the difficulty, the greater the glory,” Cicero once said. In this second part of his article, Jarod Yong offers us glimpses of a rural educator’s glorious life deep inside Borneo. (The first part may be read here)

IF YOU’RE A BEGINNER TEACHER FROM A HUMBLE BACKGROUND, you’ll most probably end up in the Green Lungs of Borneo.

Yes, this includes those of you from Semenanjung and also those designated to teach in secondary schools.

It can’t be that bad, right? Well, it isn’t as bad as it was several years ago.

Actually, why don’t you judge for yourself?  Here’s my experience as an English language teacher in Katibas, Kapit, Sarawak.

Distant & Isolated

Distant & Isolated

Every journey is an adventure. (pix by author)

The biggest concern for any teacher working in the interiors would be getting to your school.

My school isn’t so bad. From my home in Kuching, I take a flight to Sibu (RM150, 1hr), an express boat to Song (RM20, 2hr) and then a long boat to school (RM5, 1hr).

There are schools deeper in the interior and travel involve 5-8 hour boat rides, long 4WD rides, hours of wading through waist-level monsoon flood waters or a combination of all three.

During your journey, you are at risk of drowning, falling or being attacked by wild animals.

Because of the harshness of travel, teachers in deeper schools travel only once a month or less.

No Connection

Remember good old phone cards?

Remember good old phone cards? (pix by author)

We are a connected generation constantly on our phones or on the net.

There is no mobile coverage at my school. Although, if you climb hills or search all over the compound like a Ghostbuster with your handphone sweeping for sweet spots, you might get lucky. Oh, did I say you have to keep the phone static while you are texting or calling? Some spots require you to hold the phone high above your head. Oh, did I also mention the bloodthirsty mozzies… SWARMS of them?

This would be the same for a majority of interior schools except the deeper ones would probably require you to be more adventurous in your search.

Standing outside under the sun doesn't help either. (pix by author)

Standing outside under the sun next to a satellite dish with the thumbs down sign wearing a purple batik shirt doesn't help either. (pix by author)

Thankfully, my school has got satellite Internet set up on a Wifi network so I can look for the latest teaching materials from the comfort of my home.

However, just like Astro, weather conditions can adversely affect your connection quality and speed. Also, if every teacher and staff used the connection at the same time, it tends to overload itself and people who wait for a website to load develop violent tendencies.

Limited Electricity

Prior to the Sarawak Elections, we only had 16hr/day of electricity. Several weeks before the elections, we suddenly received 24hr electricity. Rumours are the 24hr luxury will go on for much longer. Thank God BN won!

However, I’m wary of how long our main generator will last. That machine is as old as I am! It has broken down several times during the past few years and is in critical need of replacing.

5 years ago, we were given 2 new generators but they were meant for schools with a population of around 100. My school has got 550 students and 100 staff! True enough, these new generators tripped all the time because they were taxed beyond capacity.

The solution is to rotate their use. The big old generator will run during peak hours while the smaller ones will run together during off-peak hours.

When the old generator breaks down, anarchy ensues. The school is closed for months while repairs are conducted or a replacement is sought.

Students are mostly happy when the generators break down. (pix by author)

Students happily burn hundreds of candles while waiting for the generators to be fixed. (pix by author)

I’m not sure if other secondary schools are as fortunate to have 24hr electricity but I’m pretty sure that Primary schools do not. Heck, they might not even have 16hr/day. More like 8hr/day or so.

Imagine no electricity at night. How are you going to use that satellite Internet to search for teaching materials? What the heck are you going to do at night? Sleeping at 7pm is unthinkable to our generation!

Weak Students

They lack exposure in the interiors. This is not a problem because by sheer hard work and determination they can still scrape a pass in PMR or SPM.

More importantly, they lack role models. Their guardians (mostly grandparents) are illiterate. Many parents are either divorced or are in extra-marital relationships. Some care more about their pride than their children.

Furthermore, there are too many youths in the longhouses who have nothing else to do but smoke, drink, fish, cock fight and live the good life. Their parents/grandparents are unable to force them to go out and get a job, so they hang around in the longhouse and adversely influence students living in the same house.

Restraining yourself from running towards the closest brick wall takes a lot of mental strength. (pix by author)

Restraining yourself from running towards the closest brick wall takes a lot of mental strength. (pix by author)

You will meet students who are very weak but very willing to learn. These students form a small majority.

At the same time, you will also meet students who are weak but think that they are great heroes. These form a majority of the older male students in school. They will answer back and throw tantrums when in front of friends.

Don’t think that just because you teach in the interiors the students are easy. They are EASIER but sure as heck not a piece of cake.

You must be emotionally, mentally and physically ready to bang yourself against a brick wall to get the results you want.

Are there other teachers reading this who have had experiences in the wilderness?

Do share in the comments! I’d love to hear from you and allow you to vent your frustrations!

Cikgu, watch your language though.

The last part of this article will be published tomorrow.

Jarod Yong is single and available but he makes very little money and he lives in the jungle. Any takers? Chicks only, mind you.


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Posted on 6 May 2011. You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0.

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11 Responses to So You Want To Be A Teacher (Part 2)(Stories From the East)

  1. Our ministry (or more specifically the PTDs) has got many good programmes that may actually be worth the money… but the implementation is a great big let-down.

    Perhaps it's time for the steel bowl to be more fragile…

  2. Izzy

    Hm… Make sense. Somehow i do think sabah and sarawak need the budget the most. Instead on allocating the milliions on bringing in the help from us, or maybe rewarding the already good school, principals in good schools and teachers for students in good school.

  3. Izzy: Most of the interior Primary Schools are SKM (Sekolah Kurang Murid). The government allocates funds based on your # of students + some consideration for your school's circumstance/performance. With only 5-20 students in the whole school & poor performances, do you think a cash-strapped government would be able to justify spending so much on them when there are hundreds of them in the whole of Sarawak?

    Peter: Thanks for sharing. Will read your post.

  4. It was more than 21 years ago, I was posted to a very interior place of Nyelitak in Sarawak, precisely 200 km from Kuching. It was only accessible by foot and on good days, when the narrow muddy path dried up, then a scrambler motorcycle would make a reliable transport.

    The first school, Sek. Keb. Kerajaan Nyelitak accommodated 36 pupils of Year 1, 3 and 5 for the year, and Year 2,4 and 6 for the following year. Meaning, no intake of pupils for a year. We had four teachers, including the headmaster, Mr Migin Ruai anak Rugus. We had our hands full almost daily, including preparing breakfast….read more

    http://peterkhiew.blogspot.com/2010/05/those-year

  5. Izzy

    If you are my teacher, i wouldnt mind reading using the help of fireflies!

    But why is that the primary got less electricity? That is not fair! Haha

  6. Justin: Thanks, dude! Unfortunately, I'll have to pass on that offer to transfer to an ulu place just to get a chick. haha~~

    Sam: Now this one makes sense.

  7. TEACHERS' REWARDS – 080511

    Great teachers don't teach just for monetary rewards
    Neither do they expect fantastic recognitions like public awards
    They derive big satisfactions from a job well done
    Knowing that they have done their part when previously there was none

    (C) Samuel Goh Kim Eng
    http://motivationinmotion.blogspot.com
    Sun. 8th May 2011.

  8. Jarod,

    Teaching is a noble vocation. I'm happy to say that I have an elder brother who is a teacher and he is passionate about his vocation and I can see that you are as passionate as well, by what you said on your blog which you had 'tricked' me into visiting.

    I just wish that there are more like you and my brother. Who became teachers because of passion to nurture the minds of our future.

    Just by your passion itself and your sincerity, I grade you as a great teacher.

    Hey, you should ask for a transfer to Long Pasia, Sabah. I heard there are plenty of pretty Lundayeh ladies there hehehe.. Someone I know is teaching there and he married a Lundayeh. He saved a lot because the locals would give him rice, vegetables and fish everyday. He's clueless as to what to spend on his salary and hardship allowance.

    Keep up the good job!

  9. Lisa: The mainstream media seems to feed on the fear of teachers people have developed from childhood & they constantly highlight how horrid, horny or dumb teachers are.

    There needs to be more out there about what teaching is like so that people have the option to step into the shoes of a teacher.

    I'm NOT a great teacher & I do NOT deserve to be praised for being here I am because it was PLACED here.

    Those who come from better backgrounds & choose to give up their comforts to dedicate themselves to rural schools should be called brave instead.

    I'm just doing my part to bring development to the minds of these rural children.

    Taikoh: We DO get help from the BN MP & YB.

    Furthermore, I really APPRECIATE them for this. The little bit that they give really helps because what is expected of rural schools cannot be achieved because our student population does not justify the funds necessary.

    Honestly, your comment doesn't help at all. This is not a political post. Bring your bitterness elsewhere.

  10. Taikohtai

    It would be good to invite Taib to your school one day. Send him an invitation and tell him the things he is missing and revive his fading memories. And also extend the invitation to all his cabinet members and get the students to help. God knows what happens next!

  11. Teaching is such a noble profession. It is sad that teachers don't get paid a lot. Which makes teaching one of the last resorts, if not THE last resort.

    Teaching is not an easy job. You're shaping the minds and characters of the future. What you say, how to convey your lessons, how you get interaction and how you motivate critical thinking is important for the growth and self-esteem of these young ones.

    Like, how do you redirect the kids who don't know a lot but behave like heroes? The ones who say they don't need people to tell them what to do? Just examples of course.

    You've taken a brave move not just to be a teacher but to teach in the interiors. These kids deserve teachers. But more importantly, they deserve people who CARE about them. Thanks for sharing your story.