by GD-ELT Editorial Team
Nurfadzilah Nek Kamal, or more fondly known as Teacher Dilla, certainly needs no introduction. Her Facebook page Teacher Dilla's English Lessons - which has over 38k followers to date - is popular not just within the ESL teaching community but also among parents, academics, researchers, educationists, and anyone passionate about elementary-level English language education. The Facebook page, where Teacher Dilla shares her fun and innovative classroom activities and materials on a regular basis, has been a major source of inspiration for many school teachers as well as parents with young children all over Malaysia and beyond.
Teacher Dilla is a multiple award-winning teacher. She was the winner of the Best Presentation Silver Award at the International Conference of English Language Teaching in 2015 and the recipient of PPD Kota Setar's Innovation Award and 21st Century Teacher Award in 2016. Her works have also been widely featured at local and international levels, in various news media and academic publications.
In addition to her inspiring teaching approaches and innovations, Teacher Dilla is also well-known for her loveable and congenial personality. Following her posts on social media is pure fun - her love for K-Pop hunks is infectious, and so is her wicked and often self-deprecating sense of humour (e.g. she doesn't see herself as a tech-savvy teacher because she sometimes gets logged out of her own e-mail and can't figure out the password). But underneath the jokes and the trademark "why-so-serious" attitude is a visionary educator - an educator who takes pleasure in breaking stereotypes, to challenge the norms, and to constantly improve herself. She cares deeply not just about education, but also about the teaching profession (she wants to be "a primary school teacher with a PhD" because she wants people "to stop looking down at teachers").
Teacher Dilla has recently received the Hadiah Latihan Persekutuan, a scholarship award from the Malaysia Ministry of Education to sponsor her doctoral research on children's literature at the University of Glasgow, Scotland. GD-ELT is lucky to have been blessed with the precious opportunity to get up close and personal with this very inspiring educator.
A Chat with Teacher Dilla
GD-ELT: You need no introduction, but for the sake of formality: can you tell us a bit about yourself?
Teacher Dilla: I was forced to enter the teaching profession by my parents, who by no co-incidence were teachers themselves. They probably saw something in me that I didn’t, and despite my resistance, I eventually graduated with a teaching degree 12 years ago. I’m currently on study leave but I have had the pleasure to teach in SK Tansau Kota Kinabalu, Sabah as well as at SK Iskandar and SK Taman Rakyat in Alor Setar, Kedah prior to this.
GD-ELT: You are known by most teachers through your Facebook page – Teacher Dilla’s English Lessons – which has over 38k followers! Can you tell us a little bit about how it all started? What motivated you to create this page?
GD-ELT: Many people see you as a tech-savvy teacher – judging on your resourcefulness and the ingenuity of the teaching materials you have so consistently and generously shared on your Facebook page. Would you perceive yourself in a similar way? Would you call yourself tech-savvy?
Teacher Dilla: I’m more of a frantic learner – I learn better when I’m desperate! I also learn a lot from my followers. They were the ones who suggested I use Google Drive to share my materials. And also from my students! I learnt to maximise the use of my gadget from my much older learners, my level 2 students. I don’t consider myself as tech-savvy at all because I sometimes get logged out of my own e-mail and couldn’t figure out the password.
GD-ELT: So, what is your view on the use of digital technology in the classroom? Have you always used digital technology in your classroom?
Teacher Dilla: Too much of a good thing is bad, so I make sure there’s a good balance of digital technology and traditional method used in my classroom. My students enjoy a good old lesson that involves story books, paper crafts and outdoor lessons but they do appreciate online games and YouTube session every now and then, so its all about balance. I try not to rely too much on technology because technology can't be trusted - they bail out on you when you need it the most, so I train myself not to be too dependent on it. My lesson has to go well regardless of whether digital technology is used or not.
Too much of a good thing is bad, so I make sure there's a good balance of digital technology and traditional method used in my classroom.
GD-ELT: How do you see yourself as a teacher? What is your teaching philosophy? Does it align with your view on the use of digital technology in the classroom?
Teacher DIlla: I’m a yes-man when it comes to my students. A majority of my activities are based on my students' requests and about what they want. I believe happy children will just learn absolutely anything you teach them. And in a society where rules are rigid and a child's value is based on blind obedience, I allow my kids some spaces for a breather.
GD-ELT: How would you describe your experience with remote teaching when schools were closed due to the pandemic?
Teacher Dilla: I was depressed for a while and I gained weight. Some students disappeared without a trace, but one-third of them had been very consistent with attendance and participation. I hope those who disappeared on me had a great time enjoying whatever they enjoy doing, and those who stuck around would benefit from the lessons. Regardless of how they responded to school during the pandemic, I want all my kids to come out of this a better person and ready to take on any challenges that the future has for them.
GD-ELT: Can you give us some examples of how you conducted your remote lessons?
Teacher Dilla: Most parents refer to the posts I shared on my Facebook page. That was where they followed the step-by-step instructions and got access to the worksheets and other teaching materials. The rest [i.e. those who couldn't access materials from the Facebook page] mainly used WhatsApp. I made copies of related teaching materials and dropped them at the school for parents to pick up.
GD-ELT: We know that you use TikTok and videos for your online lessons. Can you tell us a little bit about how you do this? What is your view on the effectiveness of this approach?
Teacher Dilla: The best thing about TikTok is that it's user friendly and is relatively short and straightforward compared to YouTube. It's suitable for this new generation of students who seem to have short attention span. Also, it can be repeated over and over again, so students aren’t pressured to understand everything at one go.
GD-ELT: What were the challenges that you faced in conducting remote teaching, and how did you overcome them?
Teacher Dilla: The biggest challenge was convincing tired working parents who have no pedagogical training to be as excited as I was for a lesson. Since I was teaching young learners, the success of my lessons largely depended on the 'middle-men,' i.e. the parents. But I understand that they have to work and care for the kids, on top of taking over my job. The best I could do was to provide materials and guidance without time restrictions, which meant parents could just reach out to me anytime they wanted. I also left teaching materials at the school's guard post to enable parents to carry out the lessons that I wanted to happen without having to fork out extra money to buy materials.
I believe happy children will just learn absolutely anything you teach them. And in a society where rules are rigid and a child's value is based on blind obedience, I allow my kids some spaces for a breather.
GD-ELT: Do you have any advice or tips for teachers who are struggling with remote teaching due to lack of technological competence?
Teacher Dilla: Snail mail, delivery system, I don’t know. I think only the teacher has the answer to that. It all depends on you - whether to make it work or not.
GD-ELT: What had been your biggest concern with regard to schools being closed and students lacking in face-to-face interactions with their teachers for an extended period of time? Any thoughts on how this can best be handled – especially in our capacity as classroom teachers?
Teacher Dilla: Lack of face-to-face human interaction and excessive screen time. My school dealt with this by limiting lessons to only one subject per day for students. We also encouraged a lot of family-based learning which requires family interactions.
GD-ELT: What do you hope would happen when schools can finally resume fully as ‘normal’, when teachers and students can go back to being in their physical classrooms and do the stuffs they used to do before the pandemic?
Teacher Dilla: I hope they don’t try to revive UPSR! I hope children will be allowed more play time at school, to make up for the lost quality time with friends they went through in 2020. I hope children don’t get overburdened with extra work! I hope everyone in school focuses more on relationship-building and empathy because when education was put on pause and the world went on a break like in 2020, that’s all we have left.
GD-ELT: Do you think teachers will continue to utilise digital technology when they go back to their physical classrooms and no longer have to do remote teaching?
Teacher Dilla: I think online teaching is here to stay, whether face-to-face teaching will resume or not. There are perks of digital classroom done in a home environment that you can't get from a physical classroom at school, so I think we are going to utilise a good balance of both.
GD-ELT: You are currently in the United Kingdom, pursuing a PhD in Education at the University of Glasgow. As much as we are very happy for you, we could not help but wonder what this would mean for the Facebook page that we have grown to love so much. Do you have any plans for what is going to happen to Teacher Dilla’s English Lessons while you're on study leave?
Teacher Dilla: My plan is to share my daughter’s primary school journey in the UK school as a special needs kid on my page. Also to share my PhD notes, which I think is still very much related to what primary school teachers do. I’m also continuing to accept online teaching invitations from friends, which I will share on the page.
GD-ELT: Any final words of wisdom from Teacher Dilla for her loyal fans who aspire to be just like her?
Teacher Dilla: Identify your strength and use that as your teaching niche.
Published on: 5 March 2021
I hope everyone in school focuses more on relationship-building and empathy because when education was put on pause and the world went on a break like in 2020, that’s all we have left.
About GD-ELT Inspirer
In December 2020, the GD-ELT Editorial Team has launched a new series known as Interviews with Going Digital ELT (GD-ELT Inspirers). This series aims to feature outstanding English Language educators who have made significant contributions in the field of digital technology in language education in Malaysia. These educators have gone above and beyond their calls of duty to provide meaningful learning experiences for their students. They have also helped and inspired fellow teachers from all over Malaysia and around the world with their determination, selflessness, ingenuity, and generosity in sharing their knowledge with others.
Other articles in this series:
GD-ELT Inspirer: An Interview with Audrey Koh
GD-ELT Inspirer: An Interview with Dr Sirhajwan Idek
Check out our blog's home page to start browsing through more inspiring stories - written by teachers, for teachers.
Do you know a GD-ELT Inspirer? Let us know!
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