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IT is that time of the year when we celebrate Teachers Day in the country. If we claim that English Language matters, then certainly, English Language teachers matter just as much. There has been a lot of hue and cry over the level of English language proficiency in the country and English Language teachers too have been the brunt of a lot of criticisms.

I do not condone teacher bashing in the Press. It really does not help anyone, especially the teachers. It only dampens their morale and has a negative effect on the profession as a whole.

We certainly need to celebrate the many teachers who give some much of their time, energy and themselves to their work. For those with a passion for teaching, it is more than just a job. Both students and parents immediately recognise this breed of teachers.

My own experience as a student celebrating Teachers Day is still very fresh in my mind. Teachers Day was celebrated for the first time in the country when I was a Form Five student. As a class, we bought a bouquet of flowers for our English teacher (who was also our class teacher) and another for our English Literature teacher.

The two teachers were even more surprised that a class of naughty boys could be thoughtful enough to buy them flowers. There was certainly something special about both these wonderful ladies that led us to show our appreciation. They worked hard at making us improve our language proficiency and teaching Shakespeare to us was a major challenge! I still want to say “thank you” to them.

The following year we got a disastrous teacher who sat in front of the class and wanted us to read a novel aloud line by line. We protested and she changed her style a little but received no flowers.

Later in life, when I became an English Language teacher, I saw how during Teachers Day, English Language teachers were often among those who received many gifts from their students.

In school staff rooms, English Language teachers are sometimes seen as a different breed of teachers. Other teachers might even find them a little too loud. Still, the English Language teachers often seem to connect with students and students want to flock around them.

So what’s the secret? Having been an English Language teacher once, I think I know what it is. In the good English Language teachers’ classes, lessons often go beyond the textbooks and students are able to relate to the classroom activities and discussions. All the more now as all English Language teachers also teach literary texts.

The resourceful English language teachers use a variety of teaching aids in their classes. Issues raised in language class reading texts are often connected to literary texts such as poems and even popular songs with similar themes. These activities almost immediately get students’ attention and the lessons become meaningful to their lives and the English Language class is no longer just about learning a language. English Language teachers often bring games and drama activities into the classrooms. There is a fair amount of fun in the learning process.

And outside the classroom, it is also the English Language teachers who work with students for a range of competitions organised not just at the school level but also at the district, state and national levels. These competitions include choral speaking, public speaking, debates, essay writing and drama. Besides these activities, English language teachers are involved in other academic and co-curricular activities in the school.

It is indeed appropriate for us to be mindful of the things these teachers do and the many challenges they face on a daily basis. Let us be more supportive and not be too quick to criticise.

As a small token of appreciation to English teachers, we like to offer a gift to two English Language teachers. The Malaysian English Language Teaching Association (MELTA) has agreed to give two free places to two teachers who wish to attend the upcoming international conference in Kuala Lumpur from June 1-3. Details are at the MELTA website www.
melta.org.my

We invite teachers to write to us, in about 300 words, and tell us what they have been doing as English Language teachers and why they should be given this opportunity to attend the conference. Send your entries together with your contact and school details to [email protected]

In the subject line, state “English Language Matters”. The deadline for submission is May 25. The selected teachers will be informed through email.

Finally, here’s wishing all teachers, “A Happy Teachers Day”, especially the English Language teachers.

Sow the good seed, seek not the harvest.

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