An Important Job For Important People

on Thursday, 25 February 2010
As I am sitting down in the computer lab (we call it the access room), I wonder about the joy of being in the occupation I'm in right now. Lets see... there isn't much to complain about when you get to sit in an air-conditioned room, go online and blog about me being in an air-conditioned room, and make sure that the kids in here don't make too big of a fuss.

What do we plan out for the minority students? Since in my previous blog I mentioned the exuberance of some teachers to create exciting activities to build character, I've resorted to showing them English movies instead. My reasoning for this is that the English movies at least will expose them to the English language. Really. Watching movies is essential in building up the vocabulary and pronunciation. Really! Zombieland can be very very educational. Especially in terms of vocabulary. Real obscure vocabulary. I mean, not every movie has the vocabulary:


So what is my part of this learning process that helps students become better more wholesome people?

The only serious thing I did to benefit the kids is:

"Yes, you may go to the toilet. Go... Go..."


on Wednesday, 24 February 2010
Tomorrow is the celebration of the Muslims prophet Nabi Muhammad S.A.W. and my school is pumped with a lot of wonderful activities for the Muslim students. This is great. In my opinion, the good thing that religion can do to a society is to bring everyone together regardless of their race to celebrate a common interest and festival. It's really great that almost all of the teachers are excited about the day.

So what about the non-Muslim students?

Yours truly is the teacher in charge of the non-Muslim students. Importantly, I didn't want to lose out in terms of activities compared to the ones planned out for the Muslim students. Since the non-Muslims in my school are only a handful (probably 40+ students in the entire school), I thought it will be cool to bring them to an open area to play some nice games involving them sitting in circles, involving them to run around to do some tasks. This of course with the help of the handful of non-Muslim teachers (all 8 of them) facilitating the activities that I have planned out.

However, some teachers think otherwise. They feel that it would be better to let the students sit in the access room or computer lab, show a movie, and let them sit there in the room with movies the whole day. I mean, it's OK in the sense that it'll be manageable (or no need to manage them since they'll just be cooped up in the room) and students get to enjoy air conditioning. However, I was really looking forward to some games and some character-building activities.

It is sad how I felt the need to conform to some of the teacher's opinions. How I wish that I was a more senior teacher. I'd be like:

"Takpe, takpe, biarlah kita bermain dengan pelajar. Jarang diaorang dapat main macam ini. Main je simple-simple."

I just felt obliged to say:

"Oklah, apa saja yang cikgu-cikgu rasakan baik. Saya pun tak nak susahkan cikgu-cikgu semua, tapi mula-mula saya merancang nak bermain games dengan mereka di dewan terbuka. Simple je, tapi kalau cikgu-cikgu rasa takpe, biar je lah. Kita tayang movie,"

I somehow just hate myself for saying those words.

Keeping things light

Nothing is more challenging than getting students to like something they've always hated.

I find it very challenging to try to break the status quo of 'hating' English amongst my students. It is difficult when someone already has a preconception of something or someone - trying to change that will take a multitude of tasks and hip-hip hooraying before they can get back into the groove of learning. I just noticed that some of my students actually did not look forward for English classes initially and they admitted that they were very despondent when it comes to the English classes.

Slowly, they confessed that the mood during the English classes are shifting into a different gear. It is even more apparent when the class that I'm not teaching now is wanting me to teach them again because the sudden change of mood in the classroom to them is not that interesting (according to them, of course, I'd think that a more experienced teacher is almost definitely better).

Let's face it. Students love fun. If they can have fun while learning, why not?

Especially kids with very poor proficiency. They are already below the learning curve and are struggling to keep up with the ongoing syllabus. It is up to the teacher to shift gears and make sure that the students are following the momentum of learning.

I'm trying my best to bring a lot of fun and engagement in the classroom.

I just hope I don't run out of ideas. Google really helps.

We've been mapped

on Tuesday, 23 February 2010
I saw a kid holding an electronic dictionary.

I can't believe I saw such wonderful technology in my class.

Rumours had it that my place has finally received it's newspaper courier in the small Sedco township.

Sabah Times is the only papers in English.

Houston, we've been mapped.


on Monday, 22 February 2010
I cannot accept someone telling me that I have to reduce something or change in my teaching strategies. I mean, of course it is acceptable to have some form of constructive criticism but it just doesn't change the fact that I'm a stubborn pig-headed jerk that just wants thing my way.

Or the highway.

If I have to admit something, it is the fact that I can get quite dogmatic, egocentric, narcissistic and egomaniacal at times. I can't stand having things a different way; even if it is in the spirit of improving my present situation. It sometimes becomes counter-productive and I end up doing a lot more just to get things my way.

Bear with me my dear students. I don't mean to be mean. It's just that,

I'm completely hopeless in my emotional quotient.


on Monday, 15 February 2010
Don't tell me for one second that I don't know what your culture is all about. Don't tell me that there is a certain rule or regulation within your culture that permits the nastiest of attitudes I've ever experienced in my lifetime.

How is it even possible that you allow a guest to stay outside the house for over an hour waiting in the heat of the sun while you are relaxing in you house?

Is it really how you were raised? Is it really what old folks of your circle of acquaintances tell you everyday? That when a guest of your friend arrives in your house, he should be left out in the hot sun just because he is of a different gender?

My gender is now an issue if I want to visit someones house? Really?!!???

So as long as I befriend another person who is a woman or a lady, it is NOT PERMITTED to enter the house? Even as a guest?

What is it that you do when a guest arrives? Here are just a few things that come to mind... just in case you were still unsure about what to do when a friend of yours rings your doorbell to pay a visit to your house.

  1. You say "Hello!" and hopefully it's in a cheerful if not semi-friendly tone.
  2. You ask him about his business coming to your house. Just a simple "Yeah, is there anything I can do for you?" will suffice.
  3. Upon knowing the reason of his/her visit, you let him in if he has some business that requires quite some time with the people in the house. If he's just there to take something or to inform about anything, there's no need to ask for him to come in (though I think it's just so very courteous of us to invite him in for a drink even if it were just a customary gesture).
  4. Depending on him having to wait for a response of his business being there, you make him feel as comfortable as possible until he takes his leave. Inviting him for a drink, or just sitting down while waiting for the business to be settled, or just coming in as a 'salam' or what we Malaysians love to say 'ziarah-menziarahi'. Bukankah kita ini bangsa yang sungguh menggalakkan kita semua menziarahi satu sama lain? Bukankah itu satu budaya yang kita sayangkan sangat?
  5. You throw in an "OK, nice having you here. Do drop by for tea next time" or "Too bad we can't chat for long, hopefully you come by again OK? Nice having you every once in a while," or just "OK, thanks for dropping by,"

I'm not the most courteous of people. Yet, I think if a guest or just a friend of my friend's arrive, I'd like to try my best to make that person feel comfortable. Show that person that your home is always welcome to friendly visitors. At least, the very least I will offer them 'air bujang' to show them that they are always welcome to have a sit and to chit-chat. I don't know about you, but that's just me.
I mean. Seriously, which part of your brain thinks I'm stupid enough to think that because of your race/religion/beliefs/ideals/taboos DOES NOT ALLOW guests to come over just because he is of a different gender? I'm a teacher. I know about all the cultures/subcultures and all the things that has to be done. If I don't, it is my business to find out. Remember: AS A TEACHER, I HAVE TO KNOW. If I don't, then IT IS MY JOB TO TRY TO FIND OUT MORE ABOUT IT. Not necessarily as practice, but for knowledge.

DO NOT use your race/religion as an excuse. It's not just silly because I know what is in it. I know what are the laws that surround the idea of guests arriving to your house. WORSE OF ALL, I think it's just blasphemous to perverse your religious ideals and claim that it is a certain way (when it is clearly not) just to suit your own comfort.

You disgust me.



on Thursday, 11 February 2010
Just for fun, I thought it'll be funny to have a list of things that I've done so far as a teacher. Of course my list would be slightly different compared to other English teachers but I think it probably covers every single darn task that a regular English teacher will have to face when he/she becomes an English teacher (or just being a normal teacher).

Here it goes (in no particular order of time/importance):

  1. Teach a minimum of 5 classes. 5 x 5 = 25 periods. Read it: minimum.
  2. Mark 2 books per class = 2 x 5 x 35 = 350 books at least every fortnight. Some teachers have 4 books per class. You do the math.
  3. Become the assessor for both the Pentaksiran Lisan Berasaskan Sekolah (PLBS) and Ujian Lisan Berasaskan Sekolah (ULBS) for all the English classes. PLBS is for form 1-3, ULBS is for form 4 & 5. One file for each type of assessment, 1 file for each class, and 1 file as the Ketua Pentaksir (I am...)
  4. Be the teacher for this thing called NILAM. Which basically means that students are encouraged to read in class. Really.... Really??
  5. Become involved in the school English Language Club (Ketua Penasihat). YAY!
  6. Train choral speaking team. YAY!
  7. Train school public speakers. YAY!
  8. No debating team in sight.... PIONEER A DEBATE TEAM!!! YAY!
  9. Create form 1 English diagnostic exam papers...
  10. Write out yearly plans for form 4. Adjust yearly plans for form 1 & 4 as well for the new literature component.
  11. Write out lesson plans by hand, I repeat... by hand. Yes, 10 more years to vision 2020.
  12. Be in charge of the Disciplinary Unit. That's right. Yours truly is a discipline teacher.
  13. Handle low-key disciplinary cases. Low-key meaning almost berat.
  14. Be in charge of the school prefect's board.
  15. Be in charge of the St. John's Ambulance Brigade. Though I haven't really done anything about it yet.
  16. Be in charge of the school's Red House. TWISTER!!! TWISTER!!! TWISTER!!!
  17. Be in charge of the Red House's marching contingent. TWISTER!!! TWISTER!!! TWISTER!!!
  18. Become the head coordinator of the Form 4 classes.
  19. Be in charge of school table tennis training, sending of contestants, and overall student management in the club.
  20. Go for English Literature courses that are just repetitions of my 4 years in UPSI. No offense to the facilitators. You guys were great.. just that I've been there, done that - more gruelingly.
  21. Mark English exam papers. Sometimes for classes that I don't even teach. See how considerate I can be?
  22. Become a class teacher.
  23. Chase kids for school fees. Yeah. Chase - running on 2 feet.
  24. Ensure kids get school text books. Thanks to the swift system of the SPBT teachers, this is such an easy task.
  25. Help kids fill out their information into the system. Once again, our statistics teacher... *respect
  26. Help kids fill out their scholarship forms. *salute to the scholarship teacher as well.
  27. Help kids check their hostel entrance confirmations.
  28. Help kids reapply their hostel entrance requests if needed. Why would the best student in Beluran not get an entry? WHY?
  29. Help kids get their school PE outfits and sizes.
  30. Help poor kids get their school sponsored uniforms.
  31. Help kids who cannot comprehend English to complete their homework.
  32. Tutor kids with learning problems personally after classes.
  33. Motivate kids who are completely behind in learning English.
  34. Motivate kids who have completely lost faith in the school system.
  35. Motivate kids who have completely lost faith in themselves.
  36. Motivate kids who have completely rejected the idea of learning.
  37. Motivate kids who have completely rejected the idea of living.
  38. Manage students during sporting events.
  39. Manage students during assemblies. Which includes the usual fainting or *ahem ahem, feinting
  40. Manage students during Annual General Meetings.
  41. Sing in front of the students (important! this encourages students to be sporting) during formal events.
  42. Contact book salespeople to get books for students.

I think I'll be adding to the list as time goes by...

It's only after one month anyway...

Total Physical Response

I pride myself as being the only avenue of some people to speak English to.

I am absolutely stubborn when it comes to the language I use amongst my students. Almost all the time, I deliberately speak to my colleagues in Malay immediately after having a tough conversation in English with a student right in front of the student. It is to show them that I deliberately do not want to use Malay when I speak to them. You want my help, you need my assistance, you're going to have to listen to me speak in English even if you are not going to speak it.

What if I need their help? What if there are things that absolutely need their immediate reaction, comprehension and response?

Is it still possible that I get what I want by making it hard for students to communicate with me?

For the past 3 days, I've been going through sports (Yeah, three days. Not 1 day like in the Peninsula). Being involved in numerous activities in these few days, my students are always in my disposal. I need them to intuitively assist me and follow my instructions to the dot to make certain events successful.

I found it very difficult to convey simple messages i.e:

"Get the leader of the marching contingent to come here," 

"Have you gotten everyone to come here?"

"Tell Cikgu Hartini to get the girls food and drinks,"

"Do not wait for people to call you. You see and guess(should be 'judge' but it's too hard) if you need to help out. Don't just sit there waiting!"

Each sentence above had to be repeated numerous times, with action, facial expressions, extremely kiddy gestures and of course, the involvement of the Malay language. The real conversations are really:

"Have you panggil orang?"

"Mana (with the universal hand gesture of 'where') Cikgu Hartini? Still not beri (while gesturing hands moving out as though feeding) food and drinks to girls? (pointing to the girls)"

"You must faster (with the running action) tolong dia (with the action of cuddling a baby while pointing at the fainted boy). Don't, jangan tunggu (repeated twice with the hand waving in a crossed manner frantically) he faint (while giving the facial expression of fainting) then only you get up tolong,"

Sadly, most of the time, my instructions and my methods of giving information in English are like that. There is never a time where I'm not physically painting out the picture, not showing them a facial expression of sadness or anger while mentioning a word with that connotation and not waving my hands around as though I'm inventing a new version of 'hand signaling'... which is something I'm gradually learning from my 'special education' teacher slash housemate.

There is unfortunately no other way that I can convey my messages effectively without those mentioned strategies. I've tried writing down instructions (in class lessons), I've tried giving visual clues (i.e. pictures or pointing to a related object) but it doesn't beat the complete rendition of a mime when I'm speaking in English to my students. From a 3rd person's point of view, it looks like I'm acting like a fool or overreacting about something that seems to petty... which is understandable. I can understand that a teacher would think:

"Adrian tu tengah buat apa? Padahal nak minta budak tu ambil barang je, macam nak buat banyak aksi je..."

Unfortunately, I think, it's a necessary evil that I'll have to live with.

SMS - Severely Misinterpreted Signs

on Friday, 5 February 2010
Lately, I've got a feeling that I've been sending mixed messages through the Short Messaging System (SMS). I feel that there are a few possibilities:

1. My English Has Deteriorated
Due to the long period of being in a place where there is nearly zero English usage, I've got a feeling that it is possible that my English is also disappearing. Of course, I perpetually utilise the language in other various avenues. This is however nothing in comparison of being surrounded in an environment where I have to use English all the time wherever I go to. How would one become good at something when his/her life is not in-tune with the environment that he/she is in? It's not exactly damaging, but it does have an influence.

2. The Language Semantics Differ
Of course English remains the same language around the country no matter where we go. The sentence structure, grammatical rules, and other linguistic related aspects about the language itself is exactly the same. The cultural and sociolinguistic features however might differ greatly. What might be normally a casual sarcastic remark could be a major insult in a different place. A remark that could have easily been taken as a joke is completely unacceptable in another. I feel that there is a distinctly different sociolinguistic context between Kinabatangan and my hometown of Ipoh. Sarcasm and subtlety in speech aren't that noticeable here. Things are directly interpreted and therefore mean something different completely - something that I'm still adjusting to with sometimes devastating results.

I would like to think that it is not the first reason of language deterioration. I still speak English all the time when I talk to some of the English teachers (some are more eloquent than others), an Indian teacher, my girlfriend (on the phone or when I meet her in rare occasions), and when I'm conversing via internet. There really isn't that much reduction in usage to significantly affect my language proficiency. Besides, I'm now a certified professional of the pedagogical aspects of English. There shouldn't be any signs of deterioration in that part.

The sociolinguistic differences is the one that I find most difficult to adjust to. It's not completely different, yet sometimes I feel that the things that I say are not exactly responded in the right way. I'm not talking about people agreeing or disagreeing with what I say (that has nothing to do with the semantics, it's opinion). Sometimes I feel that messages aren't getting through. I feel also sometimes messages are mistakenly interpreted as anger, doubt, or some other negative connotations when there is no such intention when I read it again. Here's a practical example:

"Please come and see me. I'd really like it if we met personally to talk things out, instead of just talking through the phone. Is it possible that we come up with an agreement face to face? I'm sure you understand, right?"

What can be interpreted from those sentences? Is there any sarcasm or any sign of someone ranting out anger or frustration?

Personally, I feel that things can be interpreted differently depending on the tone of the conversation and what it is leading to. Of course the exact same sentence can mean a whole different meaning if the context that it was said in is of a different tone. I'm aware of that semantic significance.

But what I feel is that my meanings, intentions, and messages are misconstrued a lot of . A LOT of times. I don't think it's coincidence or misunderstandings anymore.

There is a difference in the culture of using the English language.

You just can't say some things. You just can't. No matter how neutral or how innocent your intention was.


on Thursday, 4 February 2010
I realised, I keep coming up with so many different ideas of the top ten list when I read my students' work. It really is amazing how sometimes ideas can become really interesting and how grammatical errors can cause the semantics to swing around like a curve ball....

They are telling me how their parents/siblings/family members have inspired them to become successful. In between, telling me their actions, hopes, dreams, and what their parents/siblings/family members have done to inspire them so.

.*drum rolls...

                                                                        ... unedited as always

My parents is important to choose my friends I go out with.

My parents take care of my sleep, eat, drink, bed, and others.

My parents watch me from infant until become now like a bigger children.

I want to thank my mother for having me in her womb for 9 months, 10 days. She sacrificed her day on the 21.10.1993 to let me out.

My father takes care of me very much with all the help from my mother.

She (referring to the mother) is the best. I love how she give birth to me and keep me in her womb for 9 months.

I love my brother. He is take care of me which is why I love him. I love him not because I like love him but because he is my brother type of love.

My parents is my love of my life. I wish to succeed in my life so I can keep them.

My father is my best hero. He is so best that I can talk about anything to him besides about me have boyfriend, about my studies, housework, about my friends, and many more.
.and.... *timpani rolling...
My father and mother is best because all my life since I was a children, they contain me with a house.

*insert big band jazzy ending with fireworks and cha-cha girls dancing

I Jsut Cna't Mkae Snese Of All Tehse. Hlep Me!

on Wednesday, 3 February 2010
When a person is dyslexic, he cannot organise and make sense the sequence of words that form a basic sentence. In worse cases, the sequence of alphabets that form a word. There are many degrees of dyslexia. In fact, some of them might happen to very normal people who function perfectly in spoken language. Their oral capacity to utilise the language has no bearing to their written capacity. These people can function socially and have tremendous Intelligence Quotient at times. In other words, their capacity of learning IS not hampered by their disadvantage of reading and writing abilities.

I am interested to know about the differences between dyslexia and the condition of being uneducated. Of course, the common conception would be that an uneducated person is just someone who has not received the proper quality or amount of education thus hampering his ability to read and write. A dyslexic person is not someone of that condition but due to abnormality in his vision/language function, he cannot read and write no matter about the quality or amount of education.

Really? That's it? Too generalised and misconstrued right?

I personally feel that there's a fine line here. In fact, if we go to the extremities (which happens quite often), some people who are uneducated commonly show signs of dyslexia too. They can recognise individual alphabets, graphical cues and charts. These type of information are very meaningful in their interpretation and oral debates are of course very doable for these individuals. However, when it comes to reading, spelling, constructing an appropriate sentence, many native speakers of English even, can't decide whether or not the word noun is spelled N-O-U-N. Sometimes, to a certain degree, they don't even know the word noun when they see it.

I'll be frank. There are times when I assume that a kid has dyslexia. Not only is his English in shambles, his written native language is horrible. Not just horrible, sometimes incomprehensible. He can neither make sense of the words nor sentences regardless of it being English or Bahasa Melayu. Is he dyslexic? When he cannot read and write in any language functionally, is he dyslexic? What about if he receives special classes like after school programmes and special one-on-one guidance by the teachers? If the person still cannot cope with the simple functions of written language after that, do we blame a medical condition or an educational neglection?

I for one get lost in between these two situations sometimes.

And I haven't even asked about dyslexia for mathematical functions. Can he make sense out of mathematical equations? Do the numbers and sequences confuse his mind as well? If he looks at:

'I cannot read this sentence properly because I have dyslexia' and can't make out what is written. Is it also the same when he looks at:

54a - 7.12b(12 + 70a) = 3201 +  (41 - 74a)         ?

Can he make out that mathematical equation?

Is it in a sequence he can follow? No? Yes?

It boggles me sometimes. Really does.

Your classroom is all yours... for now.

on Monday, 1 February 2010
I always tell my students that the environment is key in learning a language. Sometimes, the changes happen around the individual instead of from the individual themselves. To become immersed in the culture of speaking English, the surroundings have to support and prompt you to use the language. In more linguistic terms, there has to have function the society.

That's normal right? I mean, of course with a supportive environment, the conditions to improve will enhance and thus making the learning experience become more intuitive and natural.

What if the exact counter is happening from the environment? The enforced change from the individual is not only rejected but countered aggressively by the society. Sometimes, the rejection does not come in a form of an action but the failure of reactive response to the individuals who try to make a change.

I make it sound easy when I claim that:

"If you change your surroundings, display all sorts of English information around you, force yourself to speak in English, things will slowly change."

There is a hint of naivety in that statement. It sounds so idealistic that any enforced change can happen with the snap of the finger. There is no bigger flaw in that statement than the concept of change. 

Change is something that cannot happen instantaneously. Not only is the change unseen in the short term, those who often begin the proposal do not get to reap the benefits of which they've sown. It is downright difficult to convince young adults to push for something that most probably they won't enjoy but their descendants will in a few years time. The change is not only gradual, it's so long term you have to acknowledge that sometimes, the change is done for the sake of others and not for yourself.

"Change the classroom, fill it up with beautiful posters and writings of English quotations and information. You surround yourself with things that you feel will help you improve."

After one year, they will change to a different classroom. You start back at ground zero. How are my students going to be motivated to invest in something that is going to be so temporary?