Wednesday, July 3, 2019

University Teacher


This post is dedicated to my graduating students. Congratulations!




I never seriously wanted to be a teacher. Never. I know myself. I am too impatient for the job requirement. When I used to tutor my high school friends, I would get easily frustrated when, for example, they couldn’t understand calculations for trigonometry or calculus just because Add Math came naturally to me. If I could understand it, why couldn’t they? I was hot-headed. My friends used to joke that they wanted to put my picture on their table during exam because they feared my angry face.

In college, I had friends who actually wanted to be lecturers. They talked about their dream to sit in front of a class full of students to share their wisdom and philosophy. I would just listen to those dreams. That was not my dream.

My dream? I wanted to work in the field. During my scholarship interview with JPA, I said that I wanted to be a political analyst, not really understanding what it means. I just wanted to work whether it be in a political party, or an NGO, or a think-tank, or perhaps as a special officer. But I never seriously thought of pursuing a master’s degree, much less a doctorate. I remember being an undergraduate and thinking I have spent ALL my life being studious, I REFUSED to continue my study. I thought I was sick of studying.

But then, life gets in the way and God has his plan for me. Just for the heck of it, like most of my current students, I applied to a few universities to do my master’s degree. I got accepted to all three of my dream universities: Columbia in New York, Georgetown in DC (with a personal email by the professor congratulating me on my acceptance), and the LSE in London. As someone who is quasi-superstitious, I felt God was giving me a huge nudge to do it. So, instead of applying for jobs, I spent my final semester and the following summer break applying for a scholarship. 

But the old Syaza returned following my graduation from the LSE. I WANTED TO WORK. No PhD! Even though by then I had two personal invitations by faculty members at IIUM and UM to do my PhD and become a lecturer, I said, “nope, nuh-uh”. Enough studying. Time to work. So, I did. For a year I tried working and it turns out…I HATE working as an executive. Sitting behind a desk with a manager breathing down my neck was NOT for me.

Leaving behind a steady paycheck, I went back to IIUM, accepted their offer to fund my doctorate and the rest is history.

So, now, how do I feel about teaching? I. Love. It.

I thought I would hate teaching. I used to tell myself that when I joined IIUM I would dedicate myself to research, and teaching would be secondary. Thus, I surprised myself very much when I accepted a part-time teaching position at a private college knowing that teaching would take me away from doing research. But guess what? I’ve loved every minute of it.

Why do I love teaching? Because it gave me hope. When I talk to my students, I realize that there is a glimmer of hope for Malaysia. Our youth are not as hopeless as the media makes them out to be. They just need guidance and some support. When I allow them to talk freely, a discourse materializes in class on issues that are close to my heart, namely the role of religion in politics. Coming from the US and the UK, I was pessimistic on how serious Malaysian students are to understand the separation between the private and public spheres. To my surprise, they understand. Not all of them agree with me, which is fine, but at least they are willing to listen and discuss. That gives me joy. And that is all the motivation I need to continue teaching.

So, the moral of my story is, you never know where life is going to lead you. I know it is scary graduating with a political science degree; it’s not medicine or engineering, so what should you do for a living? I’ll tell you; the sky is the limit. Seriously. Because with a political science degree, you don’t have to be boxed into a specific profession. I’ll just end with what I always say to my first- and second-year students: it does not matter what is your major as long as you do your BEST at it, because if you are good, people will come knocking at YOUR door.

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