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, September 10, 2008

Quick sneak

I'm playing around with the new Google Chrome and I thought, "Heck, if I had the time to fiddle around with a new browser, I should be able to update my blog."

So, this is not an update about any latest happenings, although a lot of things had happened since I last wrote.

This has been an eventful year so far, where teaching is concerned. I have new responsibilities, which I take on with equal parts of enthusiasm and trepidation. I don't know if I have gotten myself into a minefield. But I choose to stay positive and think of the big picture - which is as long as I feel I'm still making meaningful contributions to my students and my own self-development, then I can't be that wrong.

My daughter had just had her e-learning day where she stayed at home, logged in to the computer at 7.45am, did her assignments that were posted online, and even dutifully took her temperature and reported to her teacher with a few clicks on the mouse. And she's only in primary 4! We have certainly come a long way in education!

OK, this is just a quick sneak to my blog before I hit the sack and get enough rest for a week of frenzied exam marking. Looks like no matter what position you hold in the school, the marking will never ease. I'll still be carrying red pens in all my handbags, and seeking new quiet cafes to settle down with my scripts.

Note to myself: The happiest teachers I have been seeing around school are the relief and adjunct teachers. They say it's because all they do is teach, without the stifling admin work and meetings that the rest of us teachers get. I shall remember this when I plan my next career change.

Saturday, May 03, 2008

My Beloved Class

They don't know it but I actually like them a lot. In fact, I think of them very often, even on weekends. I've never had a class where I look forward so much to seeing my students. My colleagues will say it's because they're the best express class for that level and I'm just lucky to get such a form class. Wait till you get a Normal Technical class, then we'll see how much love you still have for them.


But even with the best express class, you still hear teachers complaining about the students. So and so doesn't pay attention in class, this one talks too much, that boy gelled his hair, etc. So, if some teachers are just fond of picking faults with even the best express class, then there really is very little they are happy with and I wonder how they get through each day of teaching.

As for me, lucky or not, I shall savour every moment with this class, warts and all.

So, why do I love them? Let me count the ways -

I love them for their enthusiasm when they greet me every day. Whether it's the beginning of a school day, or the end of a grueling and humid day, there's always a buzz when I walk into the classroom. They give me smiles, and silly jokes, and our lessons are usually interspersed with the easy banter of old friends, though we've only known one another for 4 months. They don't know how much their cheerfulness is like water to parched land. I'm sometimes exhausted after lessons in another class but going to this class and being welcomed by their exuberance instantly perks me up.

I love them for being honest with me. When they're listless and unresponsive in class, they'll tell me why. So that I'll know it's not me. It's the time of day, the weather, or the stress of a test later on. I'm sometimes amazed by their sensitivity to my feelings and I'm touched by their thoughtfulness.

I love them for being who they are – the studious, the sporty, the clownish, the gentlemanly, the demure, even the ones with the gelled hair, untidy fringe and the girls with the skirts that are too short. I'm beginning to discover more and more of the varied characters I have in this class and each new discovery is a delight to me. I can't wait to unearth more gems in this class as the months unfold before me.

Certainly this class is not perfect. But I'm not looking for perfection. It is good enough that I have a class that I feel such a closeness to. As I take their attendance every morning, I derive a sense of joy from just looking at them. I scan their faces, and as I tick against their names in the attendance book, I wonder what the day will hold for me as I step into class later. I walk with a spring in my step towards their classroom, and even before I step in, my heart warms to hear their voices. I'm filled with anticipation, and for some incredible reason, because the class possesses an energy that has the power to galvanize me into wanting to give my best, I always feel good after the lesson.

This will be a marvelous year. I have a class I can sayang unreservedly till November, and I don't want to be anywhere else.

Tuesday, April 01, 2008

Annual song and dance

I've done this many times over the years, but each time the day is about to descend on me, I become a bundle of nerves.

Tomorrow's the day. The day when my two big bosses will be observing my lesson, and giving me an appraisal on my teaching ability. I haven't prepared my materials yet. I should be doing it now. But I'm blogging instead because I need to get the nerves out of my system.

It's not like I will lose my job if my lesson didn't go well. But if it didn't go well, my fragile self-esteem will take a beating.

I wonder if doctors and lawyers get observed by their superiors on a yearly basis. And even if they did, I wonder if it's fair to compare their observation with a lesson observation.

The students know the routine by now. Some will cooperate with you. Some will take the opportunity to display their expressive skills before their long-awaited captive audience. At all events, a lesson observation is a most contrived, unnatural affair. You don't get to see a teacher's real teaching ability. What you see is a show, put up for the purpose of being observed and appraised, and the students put on masks, and either behave exceedingly well, or nightmarishly bad. It's an atypical lesson. Both teacher and students heave a sigh of relief when it's over. The actors bow out of stage, glad to be able to get back to a normal life as it should be.

Thursday, January 24, 2008

Faint signal

Several people have asked me if I'm still alive in cyberland, or if I have migrated my blog to some secret hideout.

"Blog fatigue," I told them.

I'm simply exhausted. But not to the extent where I'll shut down my blog - yet.

I'm just sending out a faint signal for now, to say that I'm still here, still teaching, still trying to be super-mum. Still trying to stay sane in the midst of the O level results frenzy, setting targets for this year's graduating students, counseling students, and trying my darndest to stay motivated and uplifting in this crazy world.

* * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * *

On another note, to those who lambasted the famous Principal who gave her now immortal words to her Sec 5 students, perhaps this quote may make you think a bit about another possibility which is not necessarily better:

"We schoolmasters must temper discretion with deceit." Evelyn Waugh

I shall not say more. It is a tough job trying to motivate kids who don't want to study. Let those who have tried teaching a neighbourhood school cast the first stone.

Wednesday, June 20, 2007

Hard truth

I didn’t think it would come to this, but it did. My daughter L presented me with her mid-year report card, and suddenly my almost perfect world of gungho teacher, modern mother and superwoman-wanna-be fell apart.

Is it possible for a teacher-mother to have a child who almost flunked her exams? Many people think teachers' kids have it the best – free, 24/7 on-demand home tutoring. Except that in my case, it isn’t like that. Exhausted at the end of the day, I often do not have the time nor patience to coach my own kid. I have also stupidly thought I could be the hands-off, non-conformist mother who will challenge the system and not succumb to the Singaporean obsession with grades and tuition and one-upmanship.

The result of my naivety? My girl only passed 1 out of 4 subjects in her recent exams. It is heartwrenching to see her tasting failure at such a young age. How does she feel? Does it bother her? What happens to her self-esteem?

How does a teacher who spend hours teaching hundreds of other people’s kids feel when her own child is now sinking and she realizes, with a horrible shock, that maybe she is responsible for this? That while she may have devoted time to helping the weaker students in her school, she has left out the person who should matter most to her?

I don’t know how to deal with this guilt. The irony of it all sickens me.

I think of the last year which I have spent pursuing my part-time Masters course and now even that seems so self-indulgent and shallow. Maybe they are right after all, that you can’t have your cake and eat it too. Right now, I need to cut off the excesses, and forget about my own quest for personal achievement. My child is drowning and saving her is all that matters. Because when she fails, I feel that I have failed too. And no amount of impressive degrees and thank-you cards from my students can assuage the pain.

Monday, April 30, 2007

National Ed vs Moral Ed

A friend I had dinner with last night asked about the 2 months inactivity in my blog.

Frankly, I was surprised, and dismayed too, to realise I had let things slip for so long. The usual workload is the chief culprit, but the other reason, I suspect, is a sense of tiredness and a creeping despondency over the state of things around me. I don't know what to blog, and if blogging about anything makes a difference at all.

My teaching is fine, I'm still happy doing it. But the environment in which I have to work in, is beginning to feed my cynicism over whether there's anything motivating, inspirational or optimistic I can still impart to my students.

I'm not talking about my school environment. I'm talking about the larger society, where the ministerial salary hikes, the political strutting of people puffed up with a sense of their own self-importance, the denigration of other countries and their leaders as 'ordinary' and hence not as unique as our own, have invaded my thoughts in the last month. All these self-justification and materialistic reductionism, run counter to the many values I espouse and want to impart to my students.

"I don't know how to infuse National Education (NE) in my lessons anymore," I told a friend recently. "I can't explain, with much conviction, many things our leaders are doing. I don't know what to say when students ask me why our government is the highest paid in the world, or why we need to have 2 casinos."

"Forget about NE!" he replied. "Don't you think it's more urgent that we infuse Moral Education now?"

It really got me thinking. I think my friend is right. We're living in a nation that's moving alarmingly towards the worship of mammon and elitism. I think if our young ones grow up thinking it is alright to sacrifice basic virtues for economic reasons, then we've lost our soul.

Perhaps it is out of necessity now that we infuse Moral Education in our lessons, rather than relegate it to a 30 minute lesson every week, and often sacrificed to do revision for other subjects near exam time. Instead of requiring that teachers hammer hard all the NE messages into our students' heads, it is more crucial that they hear more about values from us, values that are getting harder to see practised in real life by the adults around them. After all, if the fundamental values of integrity, honesty, compassion and humility are passed on successfully to our kids, there won't be a need to do NE anymore. They'll know why we need to love and serve the country.

Saturday, February 24, 2007

On 'stupid' students

At a Chinese New Year gathering yesterday, someone asked me a rather interesting question.

“So what do you do with students who are stupid?”

I was completely caught off-guard. I mean, I try very hard not to label anyone, especially my students, as “stupid”, and God forbid that I actually utter such harsh pronouncements on anyone under my care. So to be asked a direct question on my handling of “stupid” students left me speechless for a while as I grapple for an honest answer.

“W..e..ll,” I said, seeking the right words to convey the complex feelings I have about students who are less bright, “I encourage them in little ways. I praise them for even the little progress they have made. I want them to understand that they are not stupid, they just need more time for things to click.”

“But that means they are stupid!” my cousin insisted. “What if you have explained things many times and they still don’t get it? Hence they’re stupid, right? Why don’t you just tell them they’re dumb? Why tell them they’re ok when they’re not?”

You should have seen my jaw drop to the floor. I couldn’t believe the words I was hearing, from a parent with very intelligent kids. Thankfully, his wife butted in.

“How can a teacher say such things to a kid’s face? What good would it do? A teacher is supposed to encourage a student, not tear him down!” She spoke my thoughts actually.

To be fair to my cousin, I think he was merely trying to provoke me into thinking about and revealing some of the real but uncomfortable scenarios teachers and parents face when confronted with children who are not even mediocre, but are slow, not bright and who made you realize in a perverse way why streaming is a necessary evil in education.

I detest streaming. I have seen what the labeling does to a child’s self-esteem. I do not like to see such stratification in the schools, where often, the express students are treated differently from the normal streams (especially the normal technical stream) and yet, I know it is very very difficult for a normal technical student to cope if he is placed in the same class as express students. To those rare few (and my emphasis is on the word rare) who have crossed the great chasm, I salute them for their diligence and tenacity. But for the majority, such a meteoric rise can only be a dream.

But I am digressing. I was going to talk about how I countered my annoying cousin’s question.

My 'sagely' reply : “No one is stupid in everything, unless you have some mental disorder. Hence I see no reason why being frank to the student about his “stupidity” as you would like to call it, is beneficial to anyone. If you can’t do Math, ok, that’s not your strength. But you’re not stupid. I’m sure you are good in something else. I don’t believe a teacher should go around pronouncing anyone as stupid.”

Actually, I also wanted to niggle him about his Chinese, because I know that was the one thing he struggled with in school, despite graduating with top honours in other subjects. I could even be malicious, and ask him frankly, “So why are you so ‘stupid’ in Chinese?”, just to see how he would respond. But we were going to lo hei soon, and that would have spoilt the entire joyous mood.