The Lion Who Needed a Heart

on Saturday, 30 January 2010
I still remember it pretty clearly... It was a very productive day. Not only was it a very productive day, students were paying full attention. They were so interested in the topic (it was about sex, so of course they were interested) and were completely engaged in questioning, giving out their opinions (mostly in their native tongue, unfortunately) and more importantly, they were learning about something new. Medical Marvels - Form 4.

For about 15 minutes, I was enthusiastically explaining to them about the beauty of modern medicine and how invitro fertilization has helped millions of people who were struggling to get children to finally conceive. It was not a miraculous accident. I told them how modern scientists and doctors strive hard everyday to come up with something new to help humankind in health, longevity, and quality of life. Awed by the idea of such medical possibilities, the students inquired so many questions about the causes of infertility, the effects to different sexes, and how it affects family planning. What a wonderful classroom scenario right?

"Ugghhhhh ughggggghhhhhh hARRRggGGGgGGGGGHHHHH!!! WAAAaahAHHHHHHH!"

.... wondering what that was eh? It's a distant scream from 2 blocks away. A girl went hysterical again. Not hysterical funny hysterical. Hysteria.

Immediately, my 15 year old students gazed out the window in horror. It's not something new. This has happened since 2009 and it was many times worse than the conditions we're facing now. Everyday, lessons are interrupted by wailing and screaming of these so-called possessed students and the actions of these girls are even more distracting. Kicking, flailing of the arms, body contorting, erratic behaviour, and frantically running are just one of the few mild things these girls do during the so called hysteria.

I'll be honest with you. Kids are scared. OF COURSE they are scared. They don't know any better. When they see their friends acting abnormally and involuntarily, they immediately put up a defensive-hostile reaction and become panicked and emotional. If I am 13 years old and I hear a girl screaming from a distance, I'd probably be a bit nervous and wonder if everything is out of control.

A teacher cannot lose control of their classes focus. It isn't easy at all and in fact, I had to take my time off my subject matter to calm the students down and make sure that management is still under control. Not only must I command and take a general-esque position, I must show a strong and fearless persona. Students who are nervous immediately seek for adult protection. It does not necessarily warrant a form of action i.e. brute force to fight off enemies, it comes in the form of an image. When they see that the adult is calm, they see that the adult is in control, they naturally feel like it's eventually going to calm the fuck (yeah, I said it) down.

We cannot afford to have teachers who are afraid to deal with it. We need teachers who immediately take charge and wield their magic wands to make all these disappear. Not the case of hysteria, but the fear of those observing it.

We cannot afford to have teachers who do not inform the students about it. It is wrong to assume that the kids know what is going on, they know what it is all about and know how to deal with it. The teacher has to take charge and feed back confidence among the students. Not by the power of discipline action; through the power of knowledge.

I took at least 30 minutes in each of my classes I went into to describe the case of hysteria. By telling them it's about stress, it's psychological, it is medically recognised as a common symptom among young girls who are mentally disrupted or to a more severe degree - epileptic. Whatever it was, I made sure I informed them. I educated them about the symptoms, possible therapy or help, and even drive through moral values into their heads. If you need more references, just use Google. I'm pretty sure it just takes a little bit to know so much more.

I told them how their friends who are having hysteria are in a lot of pain. Some of them might be under a lot of stress. Being a student is tough right? All the pressure of exams, peers, and just the idea of being a girl in our modern times could drive me into lunacy. Remember that this is all in your heads. How you deal with stress, pain, sorrow, happiness, and fun is going to affect your sanity. I had to drive into their minds that the only thing that could go wrong is for them to get too nervous and in the end, become hysterical themselves. If we cheer up and look at things differently, even the worst of things can become beautiful (which incidentally is the tone and theme for the poem In The Midst of Hardship - Latiff Mohidin. Form 4 literature component).

"Do not be afraid of your friends. They are your friends, right? When they get panicked and stressed out to such a violent extent, don't isolate them, hug them tightly and tell them how many people love them. In the moment of their hysteria, shower them with hugs and love. Do not control their movements as if you're trying to drop-down a bull, but restrain them with their safety in mind. When you surround people with so much isolation and hostility, the condition is only going to get worse. Let us give them love and joy; with that being the best cure to our problems."

With that being said, the nervousness and fear seem to have disappeared in their eyes. I don't know if it is absolutely working, but I know that at least a few of them are feeling better. After that week of pep talk about hysteria, my class shows less fear and nervousness when they hear a distant scream. In fact, when they do, they cheer loudly, clap loudly, become more active and laugh loudly (with me cheering them on) because they now know that sometimes...

... it's just all in your head.


on Friday, 29 January 2010
Following up the superhero theme of the week, I told my students about real super-heroes. They don't wear capes, they don't have web-slinging capabilities, they don't turn green when they're angry and they have no intergalactic surfboard powers. They are your everyday heroes. People around you who do almost everything for you. No powers, no strings attached, no prawn behind the stone. Genuine hearts trying to make the world a better place. (Form 5 text book topic - Everyday Heroes. Yeah, I use them. Big deal. I took Materials Development and Adaptation in UPSI. I am a professional in wielding outdated textbooks with added interesting twists. Bite me)

These guys are the real deal. Completely vulnerable yet venerable. They live through everyday doing the most difficult things you never thought was humanly possible. Single moms juggling 3 jobs with 3 kids going to different schools and trying her best to get tuition classes for her children. Tired dad, working day AND night shifts, coming home late in the evening, and still allocating time to sit down with his son to recite the Koranic texts.

Heroes like these are the real role-models of the society. I shared with them about my own hero as well. I told them about how my parents were from poverty-stricken families. Nearly stripped out from the right of fair education and how life was extremely difficult. Yet, they rose to the occasion and stepped out from that vicious cycle of life and went all the way to become teachers. My comfortable life is their doing. I will never take them for granted and will NEVER take for granted the comfort that I've enjoyed underneath their protective wings - my heroes.

So students too have to share their stories in return. Inspired by my own version of a hero, they too wanted to tell their tale. Sitting down, writing down their names and what their heroes did which was heroic to them. It was very engaging. They were weak in English and therefore always had to inquire translations, meaning, sentence construction, and sometimes not even knowing certain terms in their mother tongue. Having said that, all of them were very into telling the teacher (and in the end, the class) about their champions.

Production time! As usual, I call up volunteers to tell the class about their hero. One by one, students pop up their hands like groundhogs and scurry to the front to present them. Of course, being diligent enough, I had to summon out those I thought were trying NOT to share it. Some needed a little bit more encouragement, and sometimes, I had to literally pull them to the front. They think they can get away with NOT speaking in front of the class??!! Puh-lease... they know, my radar is always up for those passive flower-pots.

I prompted a kid to share out her story. She wasn't at all a passive student but somehow remained very quiet during this production process. Surprised, I called out her name and told her that her story should be shared. Being the brave and outspoken girl I knew she was, she nodded her head and went to the front.

Here's her story (unedited),

"My heroes are my late sister and my late grandmother... Their occupation is housewife. They are a take care of me since I was a child. Their life is difficult but always... share with me and learning together when I do homework ... Their caring for me all the time... I love them very much.. I miss them very much..."

She turned her head behind, covered her face with her book. Slowly walked back to her seat and hugged her friend beside her. Her friend immediately hugged her and signaled the OK sign to me as I was still caught up in the middle of her presentation. I was still floating amidst the honesty of her words and her guts. It was downright gutsy of her - sharing such an intimate story with all of her friends. Not to mention, sharing it with a teacher she barely knows for a month.

In response, I went up in front (I was sitting at the back. As usual, my position in front of the class is always given to those brave enough to speak up) to address the now restless classroom. This is what I had to say (edited and removed at least 30% of Bahasa Melayu):

"Obviously, all of us now know that our heroes are important to us. Unlike the previous lesson where we were happy and excited when we talked about Spiderman or Cicakman, today is the day where we find a deeper meaning in the word 'hero'. A hero is someone who you respect and love. A hero doesn't just influence you to change but most of the time, you immediately become a better person because of your hero. Sometimes, you don't realise how they have helped you or how much they have sacrificed just so you can get what you want. For some of us, we may realise it a little too late but it is OK. More importantly, we do not disappoint them and still go on striving for the best even in their absence. Do not take for granted about this concept of hero. It is they who make our world a better place."

To my wonderful students,

Thank you for sharing your stories with me.


on Thursday, 28 January 2010
One of the topics that my students just absolutely loveeeeee to talk about is marriage. To feed their marital desires, I of course force them to plan out their future wedding!

You should see the look on their faces when I said "OK class, now, plan your future wedding,"


When such an interesting topic comes along, of course there's always...

*drum rolls....

                                                      ... raw and unedited as always (please, mind the grammar)

My wedding theme will be green, blue, red, pink, gold, and some other decorations everywhere.

I want my wedding to have 900 guests from my kampung. *extra from the same person = My wedding is in isolated island. (now add up the 2 sentences!)

For the wedding 'hantaran', we have get many trays and I want to give him trays as well.

I will sit side by side with my future wife to show off to other all people that my wife and I is completed. (my wife and I.... very good usage)

My wedding 'hantaran' is very-very up, must be at least RM11,111,111,111. - Personally, I think she was still in the clouds when she was penning down the 1's.

For the 'persandingan', my wife and I is sitting down side by side together to show off us couple is very beautiful for this year.

I want to 'tingkuang' so to let my husband family know I is also join their family.

I want golden finger ring for my wedding.


I want to go to 'merisik' to find out if the woman is already owned by another human boy.

.*timpani rolling...
I want my many guest go to the mosque see my husband speak out the 'akad nikah' (wedding curse).

*insert big-band jazzy ending with lots of rice confetti ala-wedding style

Almost Genius

on Wednesday, 27 January 2010

There is unfortunately a common trend among the students' work. It is not about comprehension. It is neither about their tardiness nor their level of competency when it comes to English. There is unfortunately a favoured style of learning. When I was doing my project paper about learning strategies of different students, I was very clear about the different strategies employed by young learners of different competencies. The different strategies mentioned by Oxford (1990) were indeed very useful in determining the different strategies employed varying from direct to indirect strategies. WOW! imagine my blog having such a high-end referencing format... Oxford (1990)... hahaha... can't believe I wrote that down again. It's just been too long since I did that...

... anyway...

It doesn't take too long for me to notice that my students all favour one style of learning when they are trying to finish my work. Honestly, I don't like to say finish my work. I prefer solve my work... yeah, that's better. No matter what the competency level of the students, they love to copy ideas from books. That's right COPY IDEAS FROM BOOKS - just in case I wasn't clear enough.

I always push my students to produce their own answers and come up with their own ideas through either scaffolding or using other meta-cognitive strategies. (WOW!!! AGAIN WITH THE LINGUISTIC TERMS... I'm just so proud of myself... *pat myself on the shoulder). I discourage (almost preventing) students from looking at reference books and copying the answer from the reference book directly when I know the task does not require them to.

Let me get this straight first. I am not against referencing. My previous 2 accidents of such cool academic-esque writing is a testament to that. In fact, being a TESL graduate, half of my assignments deal with referencing and the importance of making sure whatever I take from others is duly noted. I want my students to refer to books and try their best to seek for clues and answers from all these areas. It is commendable without a doubt that they take their initiative to refer to their favourite reference books to enhance the credibility of their answers. However, we must clearly point out about it enhancing their answers. It shouldn't be the answer.

Questions that do require for them to research and find out from books are off the hook in this perspective. Questions that are in question (cool... questions that are in question~) are like:

What do you feel should be done to improve your school?

Is there something you are not happy about your environment. What would you want instead?

If you were given a chance, tell me something you would change in your life.

Clearly, such questions require opinionated answers. It is these questions that bring out the best in students. These are my favourite questions as these questions require students to think and present out their ideas. Nothing that they read from books, nothing that they can refer to and copy down into the answer slot. It comes purely from their brain-bank. I love listening to their original ideas and watch them pen down all those brilliant opinions that are unlike any opinion I can give - tainted with all sorts of input I've gathered through the years.

A child's opinion is always one that is completely superficial but honest. It is not rationalised in its finer details. It isn't as well-planned and is therefore something that is pretty general. They do not over-analyse and therefore are capable of generating myriads of ideas - incomplete but creative as always. Unlike me: an adult who is so obsessed about analysing, getting into the specific information, rationalising things again and again before finally accepting an idea to be valid. As much as this is important in life, I personally feel this stumps the creative process sometimes. Therefore, it's nice to sometimes look at students generating their own ideas. It's nice to see that I am giving them an avenue to think for themselves.

However, it is difficult to get them to change. It is so difficult for me to convince them to:

"Generate your OWN ideas! Think about other ways you can tackle the problem!"

"Think out of the box! There are so many options you can choose from! Do not limit yourself to what you can find in books!"

My students are sometimes almost completely unwilling to let go of their books. They are so dependent on what is written, they forget that the best ideas come from them. They feel that it is impossible for them to outdo the suggestions in the books. They have lost the confidence to think unconventionally. They forget that almost all the time, the genius is always the one with the wildest of ideas. Let us not forget how Galileo was shunned by his people when he talked about a spherical Earth. Let us not forget how people laughed at Howard Gardner when he predicted cameras need not use film one day. Genius in his/her time, is almost always misunderstood. We have lived long enough to learn from such cases. We do not immediately cast aside ideas so casually now. Neither do we judge the source of such ideas nor the outlook from whence they came. *hint: cosmic-theorist-genius is still going strong in a wheelchair.

I want so desperately for my students to develop that change. I want so desperately for my students to cast aside the dependency of books to generate creative ideas. I want them to refer to books for academic literature and of course to enhance their already brilliant think-tank to it's limits (or even beyond that). Again, the word is enhance - not copy.

This has nothing to do with their level of competency. I know that some students tend to copy because their competency levels are low, and therefore they need to refer to certain information to jump-start the sentences in English. This has nothing to do with the thought process whatsoever. This has nothing to do with their generation of ideas. The referencing to create a sentence in English does not at all require them to suddenly be uncreative. Sometimes, the best ones think about everything in their native language (some even pen it down) and then slowly pen it out in English. This does not stump their creative process as time is always allocated for them to ponder and translate those ideas from their native tongue (which is open to a whole different issue about getting them to think in English).

After a while of teaching, it is clear that almost all my students can emerge from that turtle shell and become a vessel of ideas; a genius in their own right and the capacity to become someone with important and creative ideas. Though the common trend among them right now is imminent from what I've mentioned, it is even more important that the teacher does not continue to nurture that dependency. It is time to take charge! I am going to strip away that comfort pillow they hug on so tightly.

"I'd really love them blue/red tights!"

on Monday, 25 January 2010
I love talking about superheroes in the class. The idea that comes along with talking about superheroes brings so much joy and enthusiasm in the class. I've not encountered one class that does not love to talk about their favourite superheroes; irrespective of race, gender, and level of competency.

If there is something that we kids (oh, suddenly I'm a kid too) have in common, it is the fantasy of being someone endowed with a gift. Not just any gift, but a gift of a divine kind. Everyone loves to imagine themselves as one of their favourite superheroes. Personally, I overindulge in such fantasies thus causing this outbreak amongst my students. I feel that the inner fantasy of flying, being invisible (a boy's personal favourite) and super-strength is not something superficial but a desire to overcome the shortcomings that I encounter in my life... really. It is sometimes the worst of days when I wish to become the caped crusader. It is during days when I'm facing schmucks when I wish I was the dark knight. I'm so into fantasizing, I sometimes fantasize with my own original ideas of superheroes. Shame I don't work for Marvel.Inc. or DC Comics.

Let's talk a little bit about those fantasies and what they might mean. I love the idea that there is a possibility that everyone has a hero inside. I love the idea that we might never know that it was possible for a man to fly like Superman. I also love the idea that all along, we might not know how to become invisible but we try our very best to work our way around it. Hence, the fantasy of having a superpower doesn't just become an overly-hyped idea, it becomes a stimulus to motivate us to achieve something similar to it. Of course, this idea might not be completely grasped by my students (being all hyper about their current superheroes) but being a teacher who wishes to drive this idea to them, I have to believe it myself.

Then the students are ready to think like a superhero.

So, all that is left is to let the creative ideas flow. If you allow your students to, they will have so many ideas, they become so drowned by their own creativity. I have to always guide them, give them a focus, make sure that their flood of ideas end up being recorded instead of just being an idea. In fact, this goes the same for even more mature adults like me. If I am not careful, I'll come up with silly things like Captain IamReallySmartboogieshippu (his powers are stupefying people who are near him. You know? An aura of stupidity? Orb of Confusion from Spongebob Squarepants? For example, a completely powerful villain walks near the hero and the villain suddenly goes "aaaahhhh... mama.. mumu... bubukuchi mama,")

"Angggugu mama... wookie baba muvimimi luku krllrgh"


When I finally snap out from that stupidity and look at my students, you can't help but notice that there are popular choices even among superheroes. I mean, who would be choosy honestly? If I was given 1 choice out of all those powers, it'll definitely be invisibility... no, no, invincibility... no! NO! Eh... X-ray vision! No! No! The ability to fly! No... no.... psychic powers! No, no... ArrrgGGGGggHhHHHhhhhh! In the midst of all these bamboozling ideas, one common trend is so imminent. Everyone wants to become godlike. Not godlike as in trying to become like the creator but to have everything. They want the ability to do anything - literally. Sometimes, when they think that one power seems to be the absolute power, they realise they want another that seems just as attractive. When does it all end? What do they end up with?

Superman. The whole idea of it. From the intergalactic flight ability down to the manly-inside-out-bright-red-spandex-slash-latex-mini-briefs. Trust me, scrotum damage and infertility don't even cross their minds.

*just insert your own image of scrotum damage here.

No kid in this world has never thought about Superman. They might have not seen Christopher Reeves (or know how to spell Christopher Reeves). They might have not known that Smallville was actually about the DC Comics' adapted character. They might have not even heard about the word 'Superman'. One thing remains certain, they all have thought about the idea of Superman - completely impervious to damage, immune to diseases, gallant and chivalrous. Who has not thought about being in the state of complete invincibility (neglecting the idea of kryptonite)? It sounds so simple but let us not forget that the idea was only published in 1933 by Jerry Siegel and Joe Shuster through DC Comics. This is a very complex idea. For a child, this idea doesn't come naturally, it comes with experiential awareness, observation, and even pain.

"If only I were Superman,"

Yeah, if only. If only we could all be Superman.

on Sunday, 24 January 2010

I'm personally a very strong believer in using multimedia, the internet, or any form of electronic gadget in my classroom to enhance the learning process. To me, in the 21st century, any teacher who is not willing to introduce such teaching materials in the classroom is seriously, seriously lagging behind.

The idea of using such materials sometimes is not entirely to encourage students to have hands on activities using these electronic aids. Of course, having them use these aids would be fantastic, but the idea of using them during your teaching can be good enough. Let's face it, students are very intuitive when it comes to handling computers. The generation of IT might have started with mine, but the complete immersion of its usage is happening right now. We cannot stop it. We cannot ignore it. We cannot expect the students to continue being interested with what was interesting back in the day. They are just too fast, too equipped, and too impatient with unfamiliar grounds - paper.

It's not at all an exaggeration. They are on the fast lane. If we do not try to catch up with them, they'll just end up being too far ahead with no one mature enough to lead them. It is stupid to think that we've got them under a string and pull them according to our own fancies. There is nothing that we can offer to them if we are not above their perception and version of high-tech. We cannot expect them to keep up and continue to be interested with us if what we give them is the same ol' same ol'. We need to kick it up a gear, drive uphill, and wait for them to arrive. That's right, we have to be ahead of the game.

I must always remain as the one who is the most up to date - the most 'in' as how young blood would say. If the students are into something new and fresh, I must already know about what it is and have already experienced it longer than they have. If the students are into some new high-tech gadget and are all goo-gagging over it, I should already know about it and am savvy enough to explain and divulge information about it with the students. Simply put, students cannot catch me by saying,

"Huh? Sir, haven't you heard about it?"

Once the above line is thrown out, boy... there's nothing much to be done about it to cover up your dumb-ass backward brain. You're already most probably tagged as 'uncle' or 'pak cik' because you still live in the 1980s pondering about 'dial up connection' instead of just going 3-G. How will students, who want to advance in their lives seek me out for advice about how to live in the modern world when they assume I am a total techie-dingbat? Yes baby, you better gear up your tech gear if you wanna get respected by the peeps. It's a geek-eat-geek world out there. You don't go dot com, you're gonna have to get your noob (Google if you're not familiar with this term, trust me... it's a start) ass out.

No matter what it is for, I must always show to my students that I am tech savvy. Not only must I show to them that I am tech savvy, but I have to be tech savvy. I might not indulge in everything that the tech world has to offer but I am knowledgeable about what is available. I might not be using the latest touch screen iPhone in the market but I know of it's function and everything about it. I might not be playing the latest version of World of Warcraft but I must certainly know what it is all about.

Why? Why must I know about all these things? Why must their interest become that of mine? It's not going to be necessarily your hobby. I doubt if you're not into these things, you're soon going to put it in the list of My Favourite Things. It is all about connecting. That's right, connecting. What might seem like a techie jargon is actually very relevant when you're dealing with students. There isn't much you can do when the students are talking about something that you haven't the faintest. For example:

2 kids striking up a typical conversation.
"Hey, why did you poke me yesterday? I'll throw my cheetah print pillow tomorrow. You just wait,"

"You can't do anything to me. I'm already at a very high level. Besides, you're losing to me in the mafia war. I'm going to get a better weapon the next time. You better get more followers tomorrow."

"Wow! That's amazing! I won't lose, I'll get you the next time. By the way, how's your farm getting along?"

"I'm a bit slow on that one. Just managed to get a cow and a few crops are being stolen. I'm more interested in the mafia right now."

"I see. Hey, maybe I could teach you how to build a better farm, you could teach me how to get more cronies for my mafia group?"

"That's settled, see you later tonight,"

If you're not into it don't be shocked. Your students are not trying to decide whether or not to be farmers or join the latest Italian Mafia. They're just doing something almost every sane-living person with an internet connection does - Facebooking. See? It's so common that you could change the noun into a verb just like that. It has become a completely accepted term because everyone is just doing things on their Facebook, they just got lazy to say 'doing things on their Facebook'. Facebooking.... really.

Please. If you still have no idea what that conversation was all about...

Hit your nearest Google outlet and seek for help.
*hint, the nearest Google outlet is normally next to a 7-Eleven. Just in case you didn't know. NOOB!


on Saturday, 23 January 2010
Teaching Form 5 kids about The Pearl isn't easy. It isn't easy because you try your best to drive in an idea into their head, hoping that they understand the underlying concept of a certain part of the story.

I was trying to explain to them the imminent danger one will face when acquiring something extremely valuable. So, they must come up with preemptive ways to protect themselves from danger. Hoping that they understand that Kino in the story should have also done the same thing.

So, here goes, original without editing...

*drum rolls...

                                            .... assuming the role of Kino

I will keep my guitar in a safe place.

I will maintain artistic for myself.

I will fight back to the people who come with the pearl.

I will lock my house all the time. (I know, it takes some time before you get it...)

I will not talk to people.

When people come to my house, I will run away.

I will make the security lock for room inside the pearl.

I will hide in my house and never come out.

When people come to me, I run.


*timpani rolling...
I will be careful when they kill me.

*insert big band jazzy ending and lots of confetti.

Being frank

You'll never know when you will reach out to your students. It could be something you were doing or saying the classroom about the topic you were teaching, or it could just be something you accidentally did. Every one of them has their own individual story. The stories could be your typical teenage-angst filled chapters and it can be possibly moving as well.

I'm not going to talk about the stories cause honestly, I'm not exactly sure what it is as well. I can only make an educated guess about it but that has proven to be wrong on more than 1 account.

I was talking about abuse. About how the power of the abuser grows with each day the victim remains silent. Basically, in the process of trying to get them to be completely honest in their journals, I want them to feel comfortable talking about their most sensitive issues and feel free to write down anything that they feel they want to share with me. Of course, I'm not just encouraging them to tell me about their problems but it isn't really an issue for them to tell me about their happiest moments in life. It is normally the sensitive problems that they ponder about writing it down.

"You must not be scared. The burden of such problems will explode if you let it store within yourself. NO ONE can bear such burden when you're at such a young age," I told my students. "In order to feel free and relaxed when you enter the classroom, you must be in a state where the stress level you have is manageable. In order for that to happen, you must manage it by either doing something distracting, or share it with a person you trust. Do not think for one second that no one cares about your problems. Do not even think for one minute that your friends, family, and your teacher is not concerned about your welfare. Your welfare and your happiness directly affects the people around you."

In that split second, a girl at the back starts crying. She starts sobbing and tearing while I'm telling them to share their stories.

"What's wrong?" I asked.

"Oh teacher, dia adalah... ada.... erm... nothing la," her friend explained.

Did I say something that made her feel emotional? Did she have something that is cooked up inside her that needs to be let out? Is she really emotional or there's something I said that caused her to suddenly be reminded about something in her life that sounds similar? I couldn't help asking her what was wrong, and typically she just shook her head, teary eyed, trying to convince me that nothing was wrong.

"So class! You see your friend crying and being upset. What should you do? Laugh at her? NO! You hug her with love and care and tell her everything is going to be OK. You give her all the love and 'kasih sayang' that you can give her. Do not pinggirkan (cast aside) these friends when they are feeling sad. You will realise that when the problems are being shared, her burden and yours become lighter. Semua akhirnya become very happy..."

All her friends around her started to hug her with laughter and of course with a jovial manner thanks to me prompting them with the taboo words 'love' and 'kasih sayang' (I know, that IS a taboo in this place). A short smile glimmered across her face. Just for a short while, the red-eyed, watery-nosed girl was laughing and giggling. The whole class gave a big "Awwww...."

Yeah, I mix it a little bit.

Don't tell me that's the only thing you cared to think about when you were reading?

Heartless, you.

It all begins with a dream

on Thursday, 21 January 2010
In the line of duty, I get a lot of dreams. Yeah, dreams. Kids with all sorts of ideas about life that you just never thought was possible to be concocted in one vessel of a person. The fact that such young children have such complex plans astounds me. It is also incomprehensible to me that they are able to rationalise what they want and what they have planned to do in life. When I was 17, my mind was basically just pondering about 2 things - hanging out and girls... or was it just girls? 

It would take years of blogging to talk about the different personalities of my students. I mean, literally, 6 classes, averagely 35 students per class gives you a lot of personalities. Along with them, their dreams. Personally, as I always try to understand and know my students individually, I try my very best to recognise each of them. Sometimes not by name but by their personalities and their dreams. I've come to realise that even that is difficult. Here's an example:

The most quiet student in my classroom barely utters a word during classroom activities. She is obviously introverted (or probably just in my class) and barely utters a word even when being prompted by me. After observing for a while, I notice that even amongst friends, she passively engages in conversation either through agreement statements or with short comments that were not initiated by herself.

Sensibly, I think that probably because her competency of English is probably a bit weak. Maybe that's the reason why she doesn't respond much in the classroom. Maybe she's also a soft-spoken shy girl who wishes to only be modest as that is how she was being brought up. There are so many other possibilities but my rational first impression would just be: she's probably just a shy girl. 

Hence, I was interested to see what she wrote in her journal. I love to know what does go on in the minds of such introverts. Never ever do I doubt the capacity of thought of any individual no matter how outspoken or shy they are. I read her journal and I knew immediately that she was not a shy girl. Not only was she not shy about divulging her hopes and dreams to me, she was very certain of what she wants to do and aspires to be something I hope she can achieve someday - to be a businesswoman. Not just any businesswoman, she wants to have an empire of baking and confectionery factories. All planned out with uniforms for the employees and what she has planned to achieve that dream. I know you must be thinking,

"She's just writing that stuff down to please you,"

I'm here to say that it could be true, that she could just be pulling my leg. However, imagine if she was being honest and frank about her future plans, I wouldn't want to be the one who brushes the dream aside as a passing fancy.

Here in this shy girl's persona lies an ambitious woman who is all prepped up to take on the world by storm. Not just a childhood dream of becoming a businesswoman, but a rational individual (soon to be graduating from high school) who is so certain about her idea of life. She wants it and has plans for it. Nothing about her persona from what I can see even reflects the slightest sign of such ambition. Nothing of her characteristics in the classroom portray an astute person, chests out, head up high charisma that her mind wants her to be.

Hence, I look at her with a different light. I talk to her with a different idea of her in my mind now. Not only that, I seem to look pass that supposedly shy figure and recognise that this person is not what I thought she is. I think it is so important that I engage with her in a completely different manner now that I know that I am dealing with a young adult with a great plan - possibly even more amazing than my own.

I have such respect for such individuals.

I used to have a dream and while trying to make it a success, I somehow feel like...

... I've lost the original dream.  

Teaching my students pleasantly puts me back on track by them sharing their dreams with me.

I feel humbled by their dreams.

Talking to the walls

on Wednesday, 20 January 2010
Discipline is paramount in teaching children. No matter what you say or do, if there is no emphases in discipline, your class is MOST probably going to be out of control. So far, I've witnessed a couple of scenarios:

Scenario 1
The teacher is talking in front of the class. The teacher is standing with a firm look on his face, with an authoritative voice, chest up and broad shoulders very angular, book in hand, reciting something related to the subject matter. The students listen attentively, almost unnaturally, giving him the best physical portrayal of attention and obedience. The class is quiet, orderly, and more noticeably to me, the classroom feels empty.

Scenario 2
The classroom is rigorously copying the notes given by the teacher with vigorous speed. The class teacher is also going at 140kmph with his pointy, writing down notes on the whiteboard with the best cursive writing you have ever seen. The students look up every 4 seconds, hands continuously moving wherever they decide to look, and the students sit down in an orderly, quiet fashion. Noticeably to me, the classroom is hectic.

Scenario 3 
The teacher is talking. The students are talking. The teacher is talking about the subject matter, the students are looking out, facing another, giving each other messages, shouting each others names, making a complete fuss with paper and anything they can hold in their hands. The teacher unabashed, goes on with her class with an unshaken look in her face as though unaffected by the environment. Noticeably to me, the classroom is distracted.

Which one of these scenarios portray discipline? Which one otherwise?

Personally, non of them paint the picture of discipline. Discipline to me, is something that goes beyond silence and obedience. Discipline to me, is something that means beyond reproach. Not about attitude in the classroom, but attitude towards the learning process. Do we want a quiet classroom that allows us to lecture all day long without the slightest hint of student response? If we have response, how do we want that response? Is it in terms of writing down something? If it is writing down something, is it writing down something that we have already written down?
Production is the highlight of my classroom all the time. Additionally, it is also an essential part of the concept of discipline. Sometimes, I forget the importance of input because I feel that the production of students have no limits. They can give you so much you forget that they are the ones learning. When students are in the production process, they are always focused, whatever the form of focus is. They are intensely trying to solve the puzzle and present materials that they forget that there is a written rule of discipline. The discipline happens naturally - they do it without them knowing it's a form of discipline. In order to get them like that, I have to firstly ensure that they want the production process; they want to do more and want to know what else they can do. I as their teacher must always be prepared to show them that there's a pot of gold at the end of the rainbow.

Therefore, interest to me is a prong of discipline. When students are interested, discipline is an automatic engine that they experience in the learning process. English as a second language can be a problem when it comes to interest. You want them to know an interesting concept, yet they can barely understand simple instructions. You wish for them to follow instructions, and they fail to comprehend vocabulary. It is a constant challenge to enforce language practice onto them while trying to get them interested. So the trick is to keep instructions simple, and the task at hand engaging. I for one have always believed that a disciplined class is a class full of students eagerly awaiting to do the next task.

You might be thinking, that's just a fact, there is no real argument in what I've just said. Hey, you know what? I completely agree with that fact. It's true. These things aren't new, not fresh, not even something that I came up with all by myself. It's just that sometimes, it's difficult not to state the obvious when you don't see the obvious happening. You go back to the fundamentals, walk through it once more and speak in your head..

"Are my students just listening to me, or do they want to listen to me?"

"Are they doing my work, or do they want to do my work?"
"Am I getting into their heads? Or am I just talking to the walls?

The Great Debate

If you're not familiar with The Economist, here's a short review of it's content:

1) It's a magazine that focuses a lot on worldly issues that span from business, economics, social issues, and other important faculties like language, technology and sometimes popular culture.

2) The discussions in The Economist involve serious discussions which involves statistics, opinions, and factual reports about a certain discussion. i.e. The Nuclear Programme of Iran (which so happened was the debate before this current one)

Having said that, the current debate that is going on now is:

This house believes that women in the developed world have never had it so good.

First of all, it is important to inform you a little bit about the layout of this debate. They have tried to moderate this debate by having a moderator and electing 1 proposer for each side (defending and against). The live debate is extremely interesting with polls and posting opinions that are for or against the aforementioned people and their arguments towards the motion. Sometimes, the opinions are perpetually biased to one side to make the debate more engaging, whereas some of the opinions are just making general statements and feelings (the moderator mentioned about allowing people to express their emotions) when they read about this debate.

Personally, I'm particularly interested in talking about the phrase women in the developed world. That to me is already a subject of debate itself. Terry O' Neil as the leader of the opposition has made it clear of her interest in that clause as well. She mentioned that the women in developing countries are probably in dire situations and The Economist is in no way implying that they are only interested in women in the developed nations.

Really? Sure about it? I think there are 2 prongs to look at in this clause. Firstly, lets talk about what O' Neil mentioned in her short statement. Are people interested? Are people concerned? Are they going to debate about it? To me, there is very little known statistics of such undeveloped places. It is not really the matter of concern, it is the matter of procurement. Really, would a country who has problems with famine, corruption, or even civil war will have time and the energy to decide on gender issues? We are appalled by the situations that they are in while we're sitting at the comforts of our ventilated rooms with a desk and a laptop. We are disgusted by the fact that while we so ravenously despise and detest our education, our systems, while in some places, the only system is corruption, the only education is counting change. How do these people in such situations bother about gender issues? I find it impossible to debate about people from such places as though we understand them, and even have the faintest idea about them unless you're in that situation or have been in that situation long enough to say that you understand.
Secondly, the fact that they mention women in developed countries as though they can all be stratified into one category. Women in developed countries mean? They're all rich? They ALL have opportunities? They ALL are receiving or experiencing the same amount of economic problems? This is completely impossible to generalise if there is to be a proper debate. You could say that developed countries are more capable of taking care of their own people. I say, BAH! Developed countries like the U.S. are in debt. Even if they were not, the division of class is extremely dire due to the concept of it's economy. Let me make this clear by stating the opposite. What does it mean then by women of third world countries? They are suffering? Poor? Uneducated? Exploited? Really? Living in a third world country, I can almost guarantee you that in my country, women are not only climbing ladders, they are building whole new ones and scrambling up these women only ladders. It is impossible to then generalise women of the third world.

It is insulting to say that women of the third world are such and such. I know of a few women right here right now, sitting near me in my staffroom that if I even hint of such terms to them, they'll cut me open, and slice me into bite size chunks for their latest broth. We have come too far to talk about this. We have already advanced too much in literature and technology that we shouldn't be overgeneralising things like how we would have done it 30 years ago. If we really want to talk about women in such debates...

... you have to give them more credit.


on Monday, 18 January 2010
Since I'm the type of teacher that forces my students to produce their own sentences even though they are a little bit weak in English, the harder they try, the more hilarious the errors get. Cheerios to them for giving it a go even though they know it's not exactly right. I love all of it. It really does make my day. So here it is for all of you to see. I'm not revealing their names, so I guess it's OK...

Here we go... *drum rolls....


*insert big-band jazzy introduction music with the timpani in the background..

I want to give myself into business

I want a speaking in English but always it don't become-become.

I future next time dream very much to become an English teacher. (Cheerios for using the right article. *Clap clap)

Teacher kan think that I kan very interested to learning English kan kan?

english is my favourite subject. english is very fun. My english teacher is very funny. english is very important. (Aren't you irritated by those little letters?) 

Student: "Teacher, how do you spell lipas in English?"
Teacher: L-I-P-A-S. Lipas (in a British accent)

Teacher, thank you for teaching English. I will always converge attention in your class.

My friend is beautiful. She is very white.

Dream me so long this is for become player football.

I love if teacher is slow in talking.

*insert big bang jazzy ending song with pyrotechnics and lots of confetti

I Wonder

on Sunday, 17 January 2010
The first poem of the new literature syllabus in high school, form 1 now belongs  to Jeannie Kirby. Bye bye Shakespeare, your (Life's a) Brief Candle is indeed brief.

I Wonder is a poem filled with a toddler's worldly questions and seemingly relevant inquiries about what is surrounding him (ahem... in Jeannie's case, her). If you've read Chicks or Kittens, this is an exemplification of how important it is to emphasise curiosity, bewilderment or trying to become not bewildered. The very first thing appearing in our Form 1 literature materials is the propagation to our students - the sense of wonder.

Why is it now, do you suppose,
That dad won't tell me if he knows?

These 2 last lines in the poem prompts students to question the facts that are around them and require them to obtain information in myriads of places. Of course, in it's very literal meaning, a toddler would ask his/her parents everything and anything at all - that being his only source of information. This poem highlights that it is often that that source of information does not provide for the individual enough answers or the ones that are being sought after.

The semantics behind this poem is about the wonders of the world and eventually leading towards the idea of God and God being the almighty creator and the reason behind certain phenomenons. This comes naturally when the students are trying to figure out the answers to the imposed questions. When I teach this poem to my students, instead on emphasising about that which comes very naturally, I emphasise a lot about questioning. I emphasised a lot about how I abhor students who do not question and ponder about their surroundings. Even worse if they wonder and question them but do not seek to find out more about it which is what I call being a nitwit and completely complacent of being uninformed. This, if not curbed at the very beginning of 13 years of age will surely develop into a nitwit trend of not wanting to know more. Therefore, creating a horde of zombies by the time they are 17.

We have the materials. We have wonderful materials. Well, maybe not all of it are wonderful. I refuse to believe that with the current availability of such good materials, why is it then that our students do not reflect the beautiful potential of the materials and literature that we are giving them? Why is it that the students are not pouring out their heart and soul when learning such insightful texts? Is it an accepted situation whereby students look at the texts, see words, see sentences, and do not want to know the beautiful semantics that it contains?


How will they learn such materials, if the texts are not provided to them? I wonder, I wonder, I wonder...

Our Current Resolution

on Saturday, 16 January 2010
More than 1000 kids.

Exactly 30 classes

150 periods per week.

3 English teachers. Just 3. 

How would you as the administrator, divide your employee's schedule so that it doesn't burden those 3 individuals too much with about 50 periods per week?

Ladies and gentlemen, our solution to the problem is simple.

Drag a teacher out who seems like they can speak in English, probably check on their SPM or MUET results, and just say these magical words, "Maaf ya cikgu, cikgu akan mengajar Bahasa Inggeris ya. Saya tahu ini bukan opsyen cikgu, tapi belajarlah dulu ya. Rajin bertanyakan cikgu Bahasa Inggeris kita yang berpengalaman. Jangan bimbang kalau ada masalah. Saya yakin kamu boleh!"

Sounds common eh? Here's an analogy that should crack your brains out. Here's a similar but not so common scenario.

A hospital does not have enough doctors who can perform heart surgery. The administrator who received a patient with a heart problem goes to his gynecologist and says these magical words, "Maaf ya doktor, kamu kena bedah juga jantungnya. Apa yang tidak tahu, tanyakan saja doktor yang ada membedah jantung ya. Belajarlah dulu ya, jangan bimbang kalau ada masalah. Saya yakin kamu boleh!"

Would you let a doctor who is not qualified to perform heart surgery touch your heart?

Then why would you let someone who is not qualified to teach English teach your children English?

Chicks or kittens?

Everyone in this world is born with free will. That's an obvious fact. The not so obvious fact is that whether it is apparent or not, everyone in this world is also born curious. More curious than a cat. A cat's curiosity might get it killed, but the curiosity of a human being leads it to infinite ends. Whatever the ending is, nothing can shake away the nature of us being EXTREMELY curious. Thus, we have the understanding that every child is also having a heightened process of curiosity. This plays out extremely well when learning is concerned. We must never let the curiosity snuff out. You have to keep them guessing. Don't let the students get a grip on your style and behaviour. They might know you're a certain kind of way in your teaching, but they can never guess what's coming in the next class. They know it's going to be something about reading, writing, or even public speaking but they are always dying in agony trying to figure out what you're about to do next. In other words, don't turn them into receptive students who await for you to provide for them. Spoonfeeding becomes the dependent choice of approach.

Let me state the opposite just to make it clear:

You see these little hatch-lings? Mouth wide open, completely defenseless, waiting for momma bird to come home with the worm. This is an example of students who are comfortable with taking what you are giving them. It is not about opportunities here. These chicks have nowhere else to go. They have no one else to turn to. There's only one thing their waiting for. The worm. The feed. They are not observing their surroundings, taking or snatching every opportunity that might be present around them.

I believe that the psyche of an individual is driven a lot by his/her sense of not knowing. When you don't know something, you are just put into a situation where you just feel like exploding inside thinking about it. Here is the practical application of what I'm talking about. You were talking to your buddies about this funny movie that you were watching. "Dei macha, so what's the name of that actress in that movie?" You are suddenly put in the spot of knowledge. You need to know, you must know it because you've seen it before. You must know it because you know that she's famous and has done all the movies that you find are at least of a 4-star rating. At that moment, you just don't know, and then you suddenly feel like a:

The fact that you don't know just puts you off at that moment. You are cracking your head, thinking back from the beginning of the movie where they were showing casting names all the way to the ending credits. Thinking about all the other movies where she acted in, getting all sorts of cues and hints in the dialogue to ensure there's some sorta hint you didn't miss out. You just can't seem to get the name. You know everyone else in the movie. All the way from Billy Crystal to Carrie Fisher. You even know their casting names from from Harry Burns to Sally Albright... you bang your head on the table and swear in a non-English language (my personal preference is Tamil and Cantonese) and head on home to do what all 21st century kids do best - Google.

Meg Ryan. Damn.... I knew it. I knew it was Meg Ryan... I just knew it and I just had to know it. It's not a life changing fact and it's not something that is important in my life... but I just had to immediately find out. I was curious. I am curious.

Everyday, my students are curious. "What is he going to do? Is he going to say that joke again? Is he going to do something funny? What funny thing is he going to do? Is he going to ask me a question?" It is not something that can happen just like that, you have to force on the environment to them. They are curious in nature, but if a lion is caged long enough, he lives to be fed and loses the potential hunter in it. You need to give them enough to get them learning, and you need to leave out a little bit more just to keep them interested. The fine line of such compromise is very dangerous but important if you wanna keep the tigers lurking among the bushes.

It's not easy. It's never easy. It's a downright problem to be able to come up with something new or something that keeps the kids guessing. They are demanding. When they turn from chicks to kittens, they become vicious, hungry, and suddenly ravenous for more opportunities from you. They'll squeeze you out of ideas if you're not careful to pace yourself. Beware! Do not think for one second that they are merciful. Ha ha. They can be bloodsucking and morph into mindless zombies going at you saying "TEaacHHERrrrggghHHH, Me wwaanNNTtt MoooRrReeeE EeNNGGglliSSSHHH WoORrrKKrrghhHH!!!" (sadly, some of them do speak like that normally).

Let's face it, we are all curious. Our students are downright kittens of curiosity. They live and breathe to find out more. They just can't do it if they got their hands tied up, blindfolded and gagged with a pork dumpling (fancy English name for cha siew pau). Let them loose. Let us give them something to work for. Let us keep them guessing.

Welcome to the real world

For those of you who know me... some of you could be thinking... NOW???? He's starting it now??? When blogging is like so completely old school (I heard the new 'in thing' is Twittering)? Well, better late than never, I'm doing this for a number of reasons (oops, sorry for not being specific. A particular Writing Skills lecturer would have knocked me on my head). There are 5 reasons why I chose to do this:

1) Journals, journals, journals.
I push my students (especially the more mature ones) to keep journals. Let me word it correctly - I force them to keep journals. Well, being a teacher who loves to force his kids to do things, I was thinking that it is important to lead them by example. Thus, my electronic journal.

2) Making it public.
I was always skeptical about this, I always like to keep things private and only for myself. The only one who has ever heard about my rantings is my beloved girlfriend. I was thinking, let me lessen her burden a little bit, and let everyone know of her pain for the past 6 years. :) I love you baby.

3) Keeping it real.
I wanna make things clear once and for all. I despise people who talk as though they know EXACTLY what is going on within the field of work that I am in. Well, you know a LOT about it probably, but you're not in it. I can't say I understand the pain of marines in the heat of battle... I know that it's bad, real bad... but I just do not understand.

4) Teachers and their free time.
You HAVE free time. Really. I'm not kidding you about it. If you play your cards right, do your work in time, keep the paperwork absolutely scheduled, I'm pretty sure from 2-10pm, you're doing something that has completely no relevance to your profession at all. To all you other professionals slugging it out till midnight and coming home in the wee hours, I feel you... nah, not really.

5) Me
I'm one of the most self-centered, self-glorifying, piece of work that I've ever known. So, when there's an avenue to talk about yourself and just rant on and on, it really didn't take much convincing for me to do this. You see, I can use words like copious and fatuous just to get you confused... apply bombastic words like anti-disestablishment just for the sake of using it.... and... you see how I can just go off writing crap?

So for those of you who are not into reading completely biased, judgmental, opinionated blogs, it's high time you take up a hobby like fishing or gardening and stop visiting this site. If you want the real deal about what's happening, no holds barred, well, I salute you for being liberal enough to read it.

Service with a smile!

Yours truly