Come Teacher’s Day, stories of inspiring teachers often fill our social media timelines.
It may not be an exaggeration to say that Malaysians’ all-time favourite Teacher’s Day story is perhaps the story of Cheryl Ann Fernando, whose teaching journey inspired the movie ‘Adiwiraku’.
Cheryl went to a rural school in Kedah and helped form a choral speaking team which went on to become a top qualifier at a district-level choral speaking competition.
It was a triumphant moment for SMK Pinang Tunggal which had never ever won a prize, let alone make it to a top tier in a competition.
It has been three years since the feat was achieved but Malaysians can never quite move on from the feel good story.
Cheryl remains grounded
Despite her popularity, the humble teacher does not let fame get to her head.
“Ahh, my life is the same. I don’t think I became popular after the movie. Occasionally, people ask me if I’m that ‘kampung’ teacher but other than that, it’s just the same.
“While I love Adiwiraku (after watching it 25 times) and proud of it, I also remind myself that it’s important to move on and continue working for our schools. As long as we have kids struggling to read, my work is not done yet,” she said.
Cheryl now runs an organisation called Global School Leaders Malaysia.
“We work with school principals and their senior leadership team. Through a series of workshops and coaching sessions, we help them increase student achievement in their schools. In a way, I still teach but this time, to principals and other teachers,” she shared.
Teacher enjoying motherhood
These days Cheryl is also busy with the latest addition to her family, her 7-month-old daughter, Leia Darshini.
She said Leia’s name was inspired by her husband’s obsession with Star Wars.
“He wanted her to grow up and lead the rebellion, hence Leia. After having Leia, I realised I’m not a superhero after all. No wait, after I gave birth I thought I was a superhero and then we brought her home and I felt like such a failure. Being a first time mother, I struggled with many things – breastfeeding, putting her to sleep, colic and all that.
“In my head, I figured that perhaps motherhood will be something like teaching but I was wrong. If teaching is tough, parenting is crazy tough!” she said.
Cheryl said her life has changed in more ways that she imagined.
“I work harder and more efficiently now because I wan t to get home in time to be with her. I’m often tired, but looking at her sleeping peacefully is so worthwhile, as cliché as it might sound,” she said.
“Since I work with schools, I think of Leia in school. Will she like this school? Will this school be good for her? I feel like whatever I’m doing, I do it to ensure that one day, Leia and her friends will get to go to any school in Malaysia and it will be a great school,” she said.
Lessons from Motherhood
Cheryl said that motherhood has given her lots of lessons.
“I’ll never be rude to my mother again! Motherhood has opened up my eyes to just how tough it must have been for my mum to raise me. After giving birth, all I wanted to do was to apologise to my mother for all the times I was rude to her.
“I feel like I’m learning something new every other day. Perhaps, the greatest thing I have learned is that love isn’t just for a day. It isn’t something to be bragged about on social media. Loving a child means you have to spend time and effort to raise her to be a useful human being,” she said.
Teacher’s Day message
This Teacher’s Day, Cheryl has a message to her former students and teachers.
“To all the teachers who have taught me before and for the ones in my all-time favourite SMK Pinang Tunggal, Teach for Malaysia teachers and my Global School Leaders Malaysia teachers, know that the things that you do in the classroom every day is so great, it can change the nation.
“For all students, especially to my dear ones from SMK Pinang Tunggal, know that you are capable of achieving great things and please be nice to your teachers, no matter who they are!
“Happy Teacher’s Day!”
All photographs courtesy of Cheryl Ann Fernando