Read Kristia’s note and then come back again. Don’t you love it when people write something insightful that makes you go, “Gee you helped me express what I was only beginning to understand!”? Yep.

It was during the exact same cita-cita session in Aceh that I found myself in a conundrum, and till today, I still feel as if the responsibility lay upon my shoulders to expose the students to professions outside of guru, doktor, and pemain bola. A responsibility I failed to carry out because I didn’t know how to.

I am 20 and I don’t know what I want to be, but I was supposed to give the kids an example anyway. The first thing that came to mind was “journalist” because that’s what I’m studying, but at the moment, I don’t see myself really living out my full potential as a journalist. I don’t have that ‘it’ factor to become the kind of journalist I want to be. Yet.

And then naturally, the 2nd thing that came to mind was “teacher”. I often tell people I want to teach but not be a teacher in the normal sense of the word, but I didn’t think the rural students would be able to understand that. So I just said I wanted to be a teacher. Iko, I still remember your disbelieving expression when I said that! Hahaha. In a way this post is a reply to Iko. Unlike me, Iko said he wanted to become the President of Indonesia. I often wonder if he was trying to broaden their perspectives, trying to help them dream, because after that, when I asked him if that was really true, he said that was just “an answer he gave”.

And then I felt all kinds of things, I wondered if I had just said “ibu guru” to make things simple for a community that was not ready and could not evolve that quickly? Or was I worried that if I said I was gonna be a journalist, the kids wouldn’t know what that was? I don’t know.

Sometimes I wonder how exactly these “what is my ambition?” exercises help kids, when we all already know they’re just drawing the correct answer, something to please the teacher. They can’t possibly know what they want to be at such a young age. Not the slightest idea. It doesn’t change very much, community to community, year after year. How do we get children to understand that there’s no right and wrong? Why are they so afraid? The Acehnese children were afraid, and the children at the orphanage I visited in Puchong were not very much different.

Or maybe there’s no need to spend so much time worrying about the outcome or (in)effectiveness of these exercises? Maybe what’s important is that we breach the subject, and tell them they have a future? At least make them think about it? Give them a reason to work hard? Maybe that’s the point?

Anyway, back to why I wrote this…I LOVE TO TEACH, Iko. Maybe I am not so sure, and that’s why I am writing this. I need to convince myself that the answer I gave you, the kids, and my headmaster 9 years ago was a true answer. My headmaster, by the way, said “You’re so smart. Go be a doctor, use your talents to serve society!” Haha.

Every time I come back home and see the young lives my mum gets to influence and mold through her English lessons, it’s like watching magic happen. When I see their noses buried in books my mother stocks up specially for her children “because some of them are not rich and they don’t get to read a lot of books”, I can see their curiosity piqued, their quest for knowledge encouraged. I love it when I meet children who can see learning as a purely fun process instead of a good, obedient thing to do to earn their parents’ praise and affection (although I’m sure there’s an ounce of this in everyone).

When I hear about how my mum lets her students literally make Chinese buns in her English tuition classes (and eat them afterward)…learn how to do magic tricks…put up sketches…and how her students tell her that they fondly remember all these activities, it’s really watching the classroom come alive! I want to stand up and applaud when my mum addresses bullying and other issues that happen in the lives of her children through her lessons…I find it so exciting that you can make an impact like that. It’s not just English lessons. It’s about lives, lives, lives.

The girl who is a slower learner than others. The boy who has a stomachache every time he’s made to study. The shy, those that can’t speak well. The little improvements they all make. That’s the best thing of all.

And so perhaps it doesn’t look quite feasible to fight the monster called the corrupted and unfair Malaysian Education System. Not if a person of my skin colour becomes a primary or secondary school teacher, no way. See that’s why I don’t want to be a “teacher”. Well I’m still learning more about societal structures and my world and how best I can contribute.

But every teacher can make a difference to every student he or she comes across.

Don’t you dare tell me that doesn’t count for something. And stop saying becoming a teacher is an unambitious dream! To my dear friends involved in education in one way or the other, YOU play a very important part in shaping the next generation. Thank you for stepping up.