Pitchaymutu Tulasi is a Physics teacher, currently serving his 10th year in Kolej Tuanku Ja’afar (KTJ). Described by his students as a respectful and loving teacher, Mr Mutu has a Msc in Education (Science Education) and a BSc in Physics, Chemistry and Mathematics from USM. A man of many interests, Mr Mutu is awe inspired by the mysteries of the Universe and thus, besides his passion in Physics, he delves a little in astronomy, not to mention having an interest in reading and poetry.
What inspired you to enter your field?
To be truthful, during my time, there were not many choices. The electronic industry has just started flowing. Some people were bold enough to enter the science, research and production field, but most of us took the safer path, which was teaching. Even so, I naturally enjoyed teaching and I knew I could do well in it. So it was a combination of factors such as affinity, besides a lack of choice which led me down this path. Also, longer hours are required in fields such as engineering and doctors, besides more energy required for the job, so those were the reasons that I chose to enter this field.
What do you consider the most important skills or attitude needed to succeed in as a teacher?
Your attitude is number one: You have to have patience, which I have plenty. You must also understand your subject matter. Once the subject matter is well grounded in you, you can manipulate it when presenting. As an example, in Physics class, every year I do a different method of presentation of the same topic. I’m not sure why this happens but I like it, it shows how “alive” the topic is. So mainly, what’s important is our attitude: It must be positive, where you want to make a difference.
We must always think about how to present lessons and if students do not understand, we must figure out why and come to a solution. Things change, so teaching methods that I found worked at one time, might be outdated now. As an example, I’m running two Upper Six classes now. I may want to apply the same teaching methods for both, but it doesn’t happen. Sometimes, someone might ask a question and I use it as an opportunity to explain and the class goes in a whole different direction. So the ability to adapt is also an important one.
Like I was discussing with my colleague, teaching is a combination of art and science: you must also create laughter in the class, perhaps crack jokes: So that the moments are lighter, to make the teaching moments more fun. That way, they might absorb more.
“We must always think about how to present lessons and if students do not understand, we must figure out why and come to a solution.”
What can aspiring teachers do to prepare themselves for the field?
You need to do some learning theories. You must have a good, loud voice. Confidence is important, which can be developed in time to come. But more importantly is your body language: Be dramatic, dramatise things in class. Don’t just teach, but come to a point where you make yourself funny.
As an example, when I ask the class “Can they make a high pitch noise?” and the whole class becomes shy. And when they ask in return “Sir, can you do it?” Then I do it! Don’t be shy: As teachers, you must do it for them to follow. You must be open. You can be made fun of but in the end, that will land very well, land strongly in the teaching efforts. So be brave, be forward.
Of course, a lot of people have the gift of the gab, so they keep talking. They might think they’re doing a good job, but their words might not necessarily sink in. So as I said, it’s an art that develops over the years. But for a start, you must have the confidence, you need to be brave and learn some skills.
So that’s why in the teaching practice, they say you must have a set induction: You start off with a topic that is interesting: That’s how you start off the class. Then you develop the class and tie up the loose ends, draw a conclusion in the class. But it doesn’t always work so over the years you may modify it to your own needs, so this is what you need at the start of being a teacher.
In preparing to become a teacher, read more and understand the topic, learn the human relationship. You must develop your own self to become someone that loves other people, someone that doesn’t hurt others. So develop a good personality, and combine it with the teaching skills, and the right attitude. As a Greek philosopher once said, “Learn as if you’re going to live forever, but live as if you’re going to die tomorrow.”
“You can be made fun of but in the end, that will land very well, land strongly in the teaching efforts.”
What is the best Teacher’s Day Gift you have ever received?
Not much: All I need is a simple thank you. But one memorable incident was when one of my students came to thank me for her A*. She found it hard to understand the concepts at first but she put in a lot of effort and strove really hard. The questions that came out were difficult and she thought she wouldn’t make it, but she got an A*. She brought a mooncake to thank me.
Ultimately, it is not the gift, but the thought that counts: Every gift to me is an excellent gift. I like the small notes that students write. Students throughout the years have been sending me such small notes and I have kept and compiled them in a small plastic file. It is good. The notes that students give really make me feel appreciated.
What do you think about students attending extra tuition classes?
I do not think it is necessary at all. Tuition centres make a lot of money because of parents thinking that tuition is important. Some students say that they get their 10A’s because of their tuition. But actually, they got the 10A’s because they were capable of it. What the tuition teachers do is that they drill you: But, were you to put in the effort to drill yourself, you would have done very well! So it has become a culture. The stigma is to the extent that the students think they will fail if they do not go for tuition. I think the government is carrying out efforts to remove tuition via methods such as abolishing certain exams or changing the structure of certain exams, yet tuition centres are surviving. This shows how ingrained the culture of tuition is. I feel that only for the weaker students, there should be an in-school tuition system for those students.
Although, I ultimately do concede that there may be problems with the government school system that leads to parents sending their kids off for tuition: Kids do not get to choose their teachers, which may be one of the reasons for the culture of tuition.
What’s your opinion on mental illness in students?
To me, everyone has mental illness to a certain extent: Of course, we all have our happy, sad or depressed moments.
When encountering students with mental illness, as teachers, we can only show them kindness and love. This will facilitate them to become better and eventually come out of it.
When a student faces depression, their friends should play a larger role in helping the student recover. As one Greek actor said, “We don’t have psychiatrists, we have friends.” All we need are friends that really listen, that show concern and really try to understand the friend. This will help the person come out of it.
As teachers, our role is to strive to be patient and courteous with students, where they should not feel overwhelmed or overly pressured by studies. But in reality, there are limits to human patience. It should be what we all strive towards: More patience, kindness and tolerance.
What is the difference between working in the private and government sector as a teacher?
In looking at the private sector, teachers are answerable to stakeholders- Namely the parents and the school, where the school is running on the parents’ money. There is possibly more effort put into in the private sector where the teachers are answerable to the parents, where they put in more effort to make sure that the parents are always satisfied.
But in the government sector, the stakeholders will be the government themselves, which is such a big body where they might not have the scrutinising ability to monitor all the teachers. So teachers might have more freedom here, which is not a good thing where as long as they do the minimum job required of them, they will be able to survive. Here, where the teachers are not that worried about the parents, there may be ill effects, such as the teachers not putting in as much effort when compared to the private sector.
What is your opinion on the future of education in Malaysia?
If I had my way, I would revamp the whole system: They have spiritual lessons such as agama and moral classes, but I think it’s failing. This is because they put in exams: A rogue might get an A* in moral exams, even though they have attitude problems such as lying. There’s a mismatch here where they can get 100 marks even though it does not reflect their actual behaviour.
It might be difficult to measure, but I’m sure there are ways. So I hope in the future there would be methods to evaluate a student not just based on their academics, but other aspects as well such as attitude. So maybe they got an A for Physics, but if they get E for their attitude, reject them so that they will strive to become better people.
The society is also very materialistic now where people must have high paying jobs, they must study at Oxford or Cambridge. Of course, the prestige is there: Someone does well and they reap the benefits, such as scholarships.
But the society needs to learn to be less materialistic: Accept that every job has its merits. If everybody is going to be lawyers and engineers, no one is going to be janitors! In the UK, as an example, I think they pay a lot for odd jobs such as janitors.
So I think the education system needs to promote the low paying jobs as being just as important, so people might consider them. But you should have an education, a qualification for such jobs: So that your education can help you handle the job with the proper approach.
So overall, I would say there are problems with the education system that needs to be changed, mainly the mismatch of results and attitude, and how we should promote an education system that recognises the importance of all careers.
To you, what do you find unique about your profession that makes it different from any other line of work?
First of all, you’re relating to other human beings in this line of work. It is unique in the sense that teaching is an art and a science at the same time- And not everyone is an artist.
As an example, an actor when interviewed once said that he is everything at once: When he acts as a lawyer, he is one; When he acts as a doctor, he is one.
The same goes for teachers- We are everything at once! We act as parents, teachers, counsellors to the kids and this, I find this truly unique as a teacher.
But this career is changing- Nowadays, we’re being treated more like clerks where we do a lot of peripheral work, such as printing and all. I feel that someone else should be assigned for jobs like that while us, as teachers, should be put to use in the classroom.
“Learn as if you’re going to live forever, but live as if you’re going to die tomorrow.”