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? Take some time to think about why we are really here; are we here to wake up every day to make money, drive fast cars, and live the ‘Instagram life’, or are we here to make a real difference, a real impact, on this world?

As teachers, we made this decision 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 future generations how to survive in our evolving society?

My experience on a Teaching Fellowship in Malaysia

Malaysia is a beautiful country in a vibrant part of the world and a population of 32 million people. With 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. At the start of 2018, I 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 realized I missed that constant interaction with the students whom I’m impacting, and this was when I decided to look into teaching opportunities abroad.

The LRTT experience, for me, was enlightening, motivating, exciting and touching. As Fellows, we achieved many goals both professionally and personally. The experience wasn’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 of us 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

I worked with teachers, school leaders and the students to help embed different teaching practices within the school. Completing a fellowship 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 very 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 engaging and different ways to teach, without needing many (if any) resources at all. We all believed that teaching needs to be fun and engaging for the students to make their learning meaningful and memorable.

My co-Fellows and I accomplished a lot, whether personally or professionally, throughout our time in Malaysia. We were made up of five international volunteers from Australia, two New Zealanders, two Indians and three British teachers, all with very diverse backgrounds. We all had to step out of our comfort zones to trek through the National Park in 40-degree heat or swim at a beach very different to those at home, to run a professional development session with ten non-English proficient teachers, or teach classes without any technology. For some, it was a completely new experience just to stay in a hostel!

Teaching abroad with LRTT was an experience I would not change for the world!

This experience was definitely that of a lifetime and one that I would not exchange for the world. The teachers in Malaysia are amazing and 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. My key message to the teachers of Malaysia is to keep being awesome! If you put your professional development first then you will have a much greater impact on your students and your school community.

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 I know that this instant is more than a fleeting image. I know that this moment, every part of it, will live on forever.

Written by Nathan Shonhan

LRTT Fellow, Malaysia

Nathan was a Fellow on our Malaysia teaching Fellowship in January 2019. Find out more about our teaching Fellowships abroad.