AS a teacher, I get annoyed every time I am asked how many A achievers I can produce. If I say that achieving As is not the be-all and end-all in life, the response would surely be: “Oh, that means you are doubtful of your ability.”

It is a long-held belief that teachers who produce the most number of A-achievers are truly competent while those who fall short are treated with disdain.

In some schools, from time to time, a more capable teaching force replaces the less capable to ensure more passes in the UPSR, PT3, SPM and STPM exams.

Why is getting more As all the rage now? Granted, a school with more A-achievers can elevate its status, but the practice of reshuffling teaching staff to get better results can impact education in a negative way, as is evident in the frenzied worship of success and the stigmatising of lesser achievements in our current society.

But can all those As vouch for moral integrity? In the pursuit of excellence, are we any different from the Spartans in the past, who only kept healthy babies and left those with defects to uncertain fates in the wild?

Let’s face it – a teacher’s ultimate goal is not to steer his or her students towards getting As because not every student is capable of excelling in academics. If a student scores an F for his or her favourite subject, it is unfair to label his or her efforts as “insufficient” or “unsuccessful”. There is still a wider world of opportunities bec­koning such students.

A lecturer once reminded me that learning is infinite and that nothing can spell its doom even after a devastating failure. We humans are highly adaptable and hardy.

When Naimah was doing TESL (Teaching English as a Second Language) at university, her SPM English grade (C3) made her susceptible to contempt from her course mates, most of whom scored A+ in English. While the others only read the synopses of the novels used in the course, Naimah devoured every word from cover to cover and wrote her reflections of them daily. Over time, she made huge progress and ended up among the top in her class.

But on Naimah’s first day as a trained teacher, despite her proficient speaking and writing skills, a senior assistant poked fun at her SPM grade during a meeting.

Several years later, Naimah decided to pursue a correspon­dence course for a master’s degree with an Australian university. To qualify for it, she had to do the IELTS (International English Language Testing System). Her score, 8.5, proved that she was an advanced user of the English language. But still, to this day, she is constantly being reminded of her low score for English in SPM.

She knows she should not be disheartened so, on weekends, she conducts free classes for below average students. She also shares with them the nobility of every learning process and how success can come in different forms.

Ben Kiong was weak in Additional Mathematics and his principal was sure he would not pass the subject in the SPM exam. The principal called up the boy’s parents to tell them to advise their son to drop the subject. But Ben put his foot down and did not give in.

To discourage him further, the principal purposely got him to clean the toilet every day and even scolded him for being blind to his limits. The principal persisted in his attempt to stop Ben from taking the subject right up to the day of the exams, but the boy, who has a cheerful disposition, did not give in. He did his revision, sat for the subject, and left the exam hall with confidence. Fate was on the boy’s side as he passed with a rather decent credit.

Ben said he did not double his efforts because of the principal. Buying into what others say about his inability just wasn’t his nature, he explained.

The above anecdotes are concrete proof that those with lower grades can also achieve success with dedication and hard work. They also explain why being the best, average or the worst is only a notion. Standards of excellence are always changing, but what makes us stand tall in society is having a positive mindset to take whatever comes in our stride.

To be clear, I am not saying that scoring As is not important. However, we should not use this to define life. Let every teaching and learning process speak for itself. Don’t let exam grades become the only measure of success.