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.

Wednesday, August 30, 2006

I teach because

It didn’t seem like so long ago that I wrote this, and today, 8 months later, I see my students in the same classroom, heads bowed low in full concentration as they wrote their English essays for the preliminary exams.

I walked down the rows of tables, and I looked at each one of them, youngsters whom I had spent much time with the last 2 years, and I knew, with a sudden pang, that they would leave this school soon. How do I explain the wave of melancholy that swept over me, as well as the slight anxiety as I peered over their shoulders to glimpse at what they had written?

I wished I had telepathic powers, as I frantically sent thought signals to each one of my different charges. Please watch your tenses! Punctuate your dialogues properly! Don’t put a comma there!

How is it that, even as I face many daily frustrations in my job, my heart surges with anticipation and hope the minute I step into the classroom and as I look at the 41 pairs of eyes, I know, with absolute clarity, why I am still teaching?

The other day, a student SMSed me, the student whose hairdo I had botched up, and he said, “(sniff) Thank you for the 2 years of guidance. I will remember you forever.” My eyes welled up, and I was too embarrassed to explain to my husband why an SMS from a student can turn me to such mush.

Tomorrow the school celebrates Teachers’ Day. For some reasons, I don’t wish to be there. I am quite uncomfortable about the outpouring of gratitude and appreciation from my students, an avalanche of thanksgiving all in one day that seems rather unnatural. I feel very pai seh to receive gifts from students. In any case, I have a whole year of memories of wonderful moments with my students to savour. And a simple, heartfelt SMS from a student when I least expect it, is enough reward to last me for this lifetime.

Friday, August 11, 2006

A Tall Order

The headlines screamed "Judge raps teacher for infantile behaviour" (ST, 12 Aug). I have now developed the instinct to cringe in nervous anticipation whenever I spot the word "teacher" in a newspaper headline. And this time my reflex action has proven my fear to be valid.

Now, why can't the headline read "Judge raps 43-year-old adult for infantile behaviour"? Surely that should be the thrust of the report. That an adult is behaving in a juvenile way, and not that a Teacher is guilty of the misdemeanour. What is it about Teachers that presupposes we are moral icons of society? OK, so we are tasked to "mould the future of our nation" and that carries with it some heavy responsibilities but surely how can any reasonable person expect us to be saints?

I am not saying the Teacher in this particular report is any less wrong for her behaviour. We are talking about the obnoxious Everitt Road resident whom we wouldn't want to feature in the One Million Smiles campaign. But the point is, does being a Teacher precludes one from being less than perfect?

How on earth can I live up to the ridiculously tall order that the general public has of me?

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Forum writer Lin Kaiping also wants MOE to do this :

"...consider importing not just native-speaking English teachers, but also native-speaking Mathematics, Science, and Humanities teachers. Alternatively, ensure that all would-be teachers have a minimum English standard before they are accepted into the MOE service." (Emphasis mine. ST, 12 Aug)

OK, lets get this straight. I think I can just about swallow, albeit with some difficulty, the need to hire native-speaking English teachers. There is a serious lack of qualified English teachers in Singapore. While doing my teacher training at NIE not too long ago, I was quite shocked to count among my peers, Physics and Maths graduates who were assigned to teach English. They struggled with the definitions of nouns, verbs and adjectives. Some wrote essays that were quite badly organized. Compulsory modules on English Grammar and Phonetics were foisted on these poor fellows. But we know it was a desperate move. I'm sure these teachers would rather be teaching something else rather than English. Hence, hiring native-speaking EL teachers may solve the problem of this temporary shortfall.

But native-speaking teachers of other subjects? Are you out of your mind, Mr Lin? Have you kissed the asses of too many Caucasians that you are ready to dismiss local teachers so derisively? Granted, local teachers may not speak perfect English all the time, but what makes you think native-speakers speak flawless English, and are far superior in teaching Maths or Science? Is the prime responsibility of a Maths teacher to teach Maths well or to model good English?

Many local teachers do speak intelligible standard English. Even if Singlish creeps into their teaching, it is essential to build rapport with the students. If Britons or Australians or Americans appear to speak better English than us, it is because they are ensconced in a largely monolingual society. As long as we insist on bilinguallism in Singapore, then Singlish is here to stay. Eradicating it from our daily lives is as easy as asking Singaporeans to be less kiasu, if you ask me.

Local teachers are very aware of the need to speak good English in class. So give us some space and time to use it more and more in the classroom. Let's not rush to embrace foreign 'talent' at the expense of developing our own resources.