Trisha Reloaded

Dedicated to Trisha, as always. Dedicated also to L, my source of inspiration, and the reason why I choose to see the bright side of teaching.

Thursday, June 29, 2006

Much Ado About Hair

Two days before the school reopened, he text me:

J: Is it OK if I straighten my fringe?
Me: Sure. Did you colour it though?
J: A little. But you can’t see it, unless under the sunlight.
Me: When I check your hair on Mon morning, there’ll be lots of sunlight.
J: But it’s only a little. Please show some mercy.
Me: I’ll try. But you’d better stay away from the discipline mistress.

On Monday morning, his hair did not pass the ultra-conservative , Jurassic standards of the school. Not because of the straightening, or the colour (detectable only if your eyeball is 5 cm away from his hair), but because the newly straightened fringe was nearly touching his eyes. J was told to cut it shorter by the end of the day.

Tuesday morning, re-inspection time. J had trimmed his fringe with the skill of a neuro-surgeon, meaning he had cut it shorter by 0.1cm, I think. The prefect, brandishing a pair of scissors, ordered J to trim it there and then. J hemmed and hawed, so I had no choice but to pull him to one side.

“Looks like I’ll have to do it,” I said, waving the scissors with a malicious smile.

J thought I was a nice fella and submitted his crown of glory to my expert hands. I positioned the scissors, and before he could blink his eyes, made a horizontal swipe across his fringe, just above his eyebrows.

“Oi!!!” he shrieked. “Wa lao, how can you cut horizontally??!!”

Gee, why didn’t it occur to me? The poor guy would be the subject of much ribbing from his pals now for looking so nerdy.

In the evening, I text him.

Me: I am very sorry about your hair. Hope it can be salvaged.
J: It’s OK la. I can correct it and make it nice again.
Me: Don’t give me another opportunity to cut your hair ok?
J: Haha. OK OK.

Moral of the story: Teachers make lousy hair-stylists. So don’t give us a reason to cut your hair.

Saturday, June 24, 2006

The problem language

ST journalist Chua Mui Hoong echoed something that I've felt for a while since I started teaching. Her article "The problem language is really English" (ST, June 24) identified a problem that I see everyday in the neighbourhood school that I teach.

The average HDB kid has not much problem passing or doing reasonably well in Chinese. It is English that they struggle with most of the time. And yet, for so many years now, MOE has been putting its spotlight on the teaching of the Chinese Language, going so far as to recruit teachers from China, fiddle with syllabus changes, embark on study trips to China, introduce Syllabus B for Chinese, etc etc. Who will benefit most from these changes? If you ask me, the kids who have a hate-relationship with Chinese, come mainly from English-speaking homes, and hail from the more elite segment of our society.

Your HDB Ah Seng watches Mandarin soaps, listens to Mandarin pop, and converses in Mandarin most of the time, even in English class. I know, because I teach them everyday. So when Lee Hsien Loong's son claimed that he could not understand what went on in the Worker's Party rally, he epitomises the plight of many teenagers who are bred in English-speaking homes. I can confidently vouch that many of my students from my school can attend and appreciate Low Thia Kiang's delightfully eloquent Mandarin speeches.

So, Chua Mui Hoong is definitely right. The problem language is English. The majority of the students here are not coping well with English, despite the fact that MOE erroneously call English our first language. Why we took so long to recognise or admit this, is probably a result of who complains the loudest. Whose kids cannot handle Chinese in school? Who is emigrating because of our Mother Tongue policy?

Who does MOE want to help first?

Now that we are finally putting the teaching and learning of English under the microscope, I really hope something good will come out of this. Still, I am miffed that ang-moh teachers who are newly qualified could apply to teach here in Singapore. Plus, MOE's insistence that they should be those who are qualified to teach English as a first language. I personally think English should be taught here as a second language because that's the reality for most of us here. And we need teachers with experience in teaching EFL/ESL.

Anyway, now that we have identified the real problem, I hope we can move on to finding the right solutions.

Mass depression

It is comforting to know that today till tomorrow, I'm most certainly one of the 20,000+ teachers in Singapore who are fighting an onslaught of depression with the start of Semester 2. Misery loves company.

My dreaded Teacher's Record Book is next to my laptop now. Time to plan another 10 weeks of lessons. Better plan my English lessons properly, before the ang-moh teachers ascended en masse on our island, to show us local teachers how to teach English properly.

Sigh...first they agonize over the Chinese Language, now they want to mess around with English Language. An ex-Chinese teacher in my school shared with me that even the Chinese teachers from China (hence, native speakers of Mandarin) are not really that brilliant in their teaching, which makes you wonder why we think the ang-moh teachers are better than our local teachers.

I think I need valium now.

Wednesday, June 21, 2006

6/6, almost!

While waiting for your turn for Lasik surgery, you do not want to hear horror stories of how someone's surgery has gone wrong. Like the girl who sat across from me. She kept dabbing her eyes, and I heard her explain to her mother how the cornea flap was not cut properly and the alarm in the machine that was supposed to go off to alert the doctor of the error didn't. I winced, and fretted and asked myself again why I was doing this.

The Lasik procedure itself lasts about 3 minutes and is totally painless. By all counts, it shouldn't generate so much fear. I can imagine how my wisdom tooth extraction is 10 times longer, and 20 times more painful. And let's not even get into the travails of labour pain (of which I endured 12 hours of it). So I shouldn't have to pray so hard, for myself, for the doctor, and even for the machine (let the alarm work for heaven's sake, if need be!). But I did, desperately.

It was indeed a strange experience. Amidst all my ridiculous and unwarranted fears about not being able to keep still during the surgery, of maybe having a sudden need to pee or sneeze etc, I managed to lie motionless, while my eyeball was being sucked up and locked into position, and the laser beam zapped my cornea. A distinct burning smell wafted in the cold laser suite. Could it really be that parts of my cornea was being fried, barbequed, incinerated?

Then it was all over. Sure my eyes teared and felt prickly for a while. But hey, I was out of the hospital at 6pm, and by 9pm, I could watch Germany thrash Ecuador on the telly, the scoreboard at the top right corner appearing as clear as day.

At the review checkup today, I was told my eyesight is almost 6/6. This is unbelievable! This is like being born again! I'm $3000 poorer, but I felt like I've regained my lost youth. A second chance at seeing the world the way it's supposed to be seen, free from appendages and external lens. Wow!

Friday, June 16, 2006


3 days more to 50% near perfect vision. 4 days more to 100% (fingers crossed).

My spectacles and contact lens paraphernalia (o screw the spelling!) are soon to be things of the past. Next Monday and Tuesday I'm going under the laser and I wait for this as eagerly as punters wait for the announcement of the 4D results.

What is it like to be able to wake up every morning, and see the clock, and my daughter sleeping peacefully next to my bed, without having to grope for my glasses? Indeed I have forgotten what it was like to have perfect vision since myopia claimed me as its victim when I was 13.

Now I wait, with bated breath. For a new, clearer, unhindered vision of the world around me. Now who wants to inherit my unused, unopened disposable Bausch & Lomb?

Tuesday, June 13, 2006

What soccer widow?

Just as there is sexist advertising assuming women need men to get them a supplementary credit card, there is also, in my opinion, the sexist belief in the existence of soccer widows this month.

Are there no women who love their soccer more than their husbands/boyfriends during this World Cup season? You obviously have not seen me glued to Channel 27 till the wee hours of the morning while my husband and daughter snore away in the bedroom.

I SMS soccer scores to my male friends who either do not have cable or do not have the luxury of enjoying school holidays now and I am quite capable of giving my 2 cents input on a match. And if you even dare ask me if I know what an off-side trap is, you'll have to bear the wrath of my feminist roar!

2 World Cup seasons ago, I was pregnant with L, and I remembered watching matches on projector TVs in pubs with my husband and his drinking buddies. Needless to say, I was quite an oddity there but I reveled in my ability to talk soccer with the guys.

In the last World Cup, I had just finished my Teaching Practice and after the June hols, I went to my new school, and discussed the significance of the World Cup being held in Korea and Japan in my English class. That year, the comprehension passage which I set for the exam was, you guess it, on the World Cup. Also, L was already 4 years old then, and we would watch some of the matches together on TV. L, I discovered, had an uncanny ability to pick the winner in most of the matches. This season, she did it again when she rooted for Australia while I, in my adult smugness, proclaimed Japan the unequivocal winner. Now I don't brush aside her predictions so readily.

After suffering the tedium of 2 weeks of holiday lessons, it is wonderful to be able to stay up to watch the matches, unlike my non-teaching friends who have to work the next day. My elation is short-lived, I know. For when school re-opens, and many people take leave to watch the Finals, I wonder what options I, a teacher who must show good example and hence not pontang school, have?

Sunday, June 11, 2006

But..I was entrapped!

We were driving on the North-South Highway on Saturday when we were stopped by the Malaysian police for going over the speed limit.

The officer appeared to be scribbling a summons ticket, while my friend KY, the driver, fumbled for his driver's license. We waited to see what the officer would say. He mumbled something in Malay, which we could not understand. KY asked repeatedly, "So how much is the fine?" Now KY, you see, is a greenhorn when it comes to driving in Malaysia. It didn't even occur to him that there could be possibly another way of handling a summons situation in Malaysia. The rest of us passengers whispered amongst ourselves and were deliberating if we should "offer another solution" but since KY was the driver, we thought we would let him take charge.

After some time, the officer was still hovering around our car, the summons ticket still not leaving his hands. Finally, he leaned over the window and asked KY, in English, "You want summon or not?" KY turned around and asked us, much to our bemusement, "He wants money, is it?" We broke out in guffaws and said, "Of course lah!"

So, instead of paying RM150 at the police station, we ended up lining this officer's pocket with RM50, which he accepted swiftly and waved us on our journey.

Now, lets get this straight. We do not believe in bribery. We would never do this in Singapore. But, waylaid on a highway in foreign soil, and cornered by a law enforcement officer, we succumbed. We became partners in crime.

Which led me to think about Adrian Yeo, and how he was lured into bringing drugs to an undercover CNB officer. The recent argument about the entrapment tactic of the CNB folks made me wonder if had our recent experience occurred in Singapore, say if a Singaporean police officer had asked us if "we want summon or not" and since we were given a choice, we decided to pay him, rather than pay the fine, and then later we were hauled up for "bribing a public servant", could we plead the case that we were entrapped? ("He made the offer first", "He tempted us", "We wanted to pay the fine but he wouldn't leave us alone", etc).

I'm no expert on the nuances of the law. But suddenly, the furore over the CNB officer's tactic began to make some sense to me.

Monday, June 05, 2006

Same Boat

One thing I do (and I suspect many teachers do) when I attend some teacher seminar thing is to talk to teachers from other schools and see who's got the worse deal. So we compare things like what English essay quota we must meet, how many Saturdays we have to go back to school, what time we knock off work...etc.

My latest survey is to find out who's got to give holiday lessons and for how long. Guess what, almost every other school I have had the chance to check has 2 weeks of holiday lessons for the Sec 4's. The only exception I have found is an independent school whose students undergo the through-train program, so no O levels to fret over, and blissfully no necessity for holiday lessons.

Other than that, it appears that almost every other school, neighbourhood calibre or not, are committed to wearing the teachers and students out by having lessons for 2 weeks this June. No parent has actually complained. I suppose they are very grateful the schools are so earnest about helping their kids face the O levels. No one has also questioned the effectiveness of this program. No one has wondered if depriving people of rest is helpful to achieving good results.

Meanwhile, teachers of Sec 4 students are collectively moaning the loss of 50% of their break. No one dares to utter a protest because we realise many schools are doing it, so why are you complaining, you lazy bum?

We are all in the same boat, suffering the same stress, same lethargy. Oh, for a voice of reason to pierce through the malaise of insanity in this system of mindless academic pursuit! Save our teachers, liberate our young ones. Please.

Rising from the Ashes

This is the Trisha, previously from Top of Mind, who was unwittingly logged-out of Blogger for some inexplicable reasons for one whole week. I had so much trouble logging in to my previous blog, and no amount of username or password retrieval attempts had succeeded. In fact, I discovered to my horror that I was unceremoniously erased from Blogger's database! Help from Blogger wasn't really forthcoming. So I figured the best way to resurrect myself is to start another blog.

Sorry for the interruption. Please update your blogroll, and stay in touch, ya?