The Little Things

on Monday, 26 April 2010
The best thing about being a teacher is not the praise we get from the school's administrator for doing a good job in a Mercu Jaya PMR event.

The best thing about being a teacher is not about receiving an extra bonus at the end of the year.

The best thing about being a teacher is not about getting enough materials to start a TOP TEN LIST.

The best thing about being a teacher is receiving gifts from your students.

Yes, I said it.

Not expensive-out-of-the-world type of presents. The little things.

Cards, letters of appreciation, little tokens with those...

'Sir is the best teacher I known you,'
'Good sir the best!'

... sentences that require a little tweaking here and there grammatically.

It somehow makes you feel good about yourself. When you feel bad and out of place, these little things make you feel on top of the world. I might be getting a little ahead of myself but I really love these small tokens and gifts from students. Especially when the whole class decided to give you something.

It really makes a teacher feel good about himself. Suddenly, you don't need to take those Prozacs no more. It really makes you feel like you're reaching out. No matter how much you think you're failing to do your job appropriately, they come out to tell you how much they love you and love what you've taught them all this while.

I love my students with all my heart.

Sarcastic Saturdays

on Saturday, 24 April 2010
Don't you just love Saturdays?

Isn't a beautiful Saturday morning FULL of cartoons on TV and you just seem to have tonnes of activities lined up for that wonderful weekend starter?


You have to go to school, with probably a classroom filled with joyous hostel students (all 8 of them), and you have to prepare your lessons and activities for them. Isn't that just joyous?


Your classroom has such wonderful energetic kids and they just can't wait to do all your work and activities on that Saturday morning. May I add that the mornings on Saturdays always seem cooler and cozier with just a tad bit of morning dew.

TETTTTTTTTTTTTT!!!!!!!!!!! *I think you should know what this is by now.

Put a smile on your face, enter the classroom and start the day with.

Good MORNING CLASS!!! Isn't it a beautiful morning today?!

*get the stares from your happy cheerful students 

Say it with me...


A country full of B's and C's

on Wednesday, 14 April 2010
A few hours ago, a teacher asked me a very intriguing question.

Adrian, how would you grade an individual in an oral test?

Of course, the teacher was referring to the SBOA or School Based Oral Assessment and her attempts to try to evaluate her students who are having zero competency in English. A fruitful discussion soon sparked between us and we shared our ideas about how we grade individuals orally. Many issues soon came up and I'll talk about all of them soon in my other blogs. In this blog, I would really prefer to open up the issue of:

What is the value of an A vis a vis a B, C, or D?

Importantly, when we say,

This student got a C in his oral assessment.

What does that really mean? How do we value the C? I mean, as far as laymen impressions go, we all know that A is the dream and it's damn good and an F means your English is probably rotting somewhere in the gutter.

What about the B's and C's?

How would you say that this student was a B and not a C? What is the empirical standard? What are the measuring instruments used to validate that a person was a B speaking person? I know this sounds a little fuzzy; trust me, if this has got me to think, I'm pretty sure you, reading my confused thoughts are riding on the same ol' truck. Here's another way to look at it: imagine each sentence below was spoken orally and you are supposed to grade their levels based on these sentences.

My teacher is very the fantastic because he is very good in his teaching.

My teacher are very fantastic because he makes very good teaching class.

My the English teacher is the best teacher because he good in teaching.

Him English teacher very good in his teaching class in my class.

My English teacher is very fantastic is because he has very good teaching method.

Now, none are of the A category. These students should not be failed either (at least I won't fail them because their messages are completely comprehensible). These are perfect examples of B's and C's.

So, which one is a B? C? Do we count the number of errors when they speak? I'm sure some of you reading almost immediately begin to correct the errors and think that the value should be based on the number of red ink on their sentences. Remember again, this is an oral test. Even if you did have the liberty to correct their every sentence individually (which by the way, in my opinion, complete bullshit if you say you can), are the syntactical rules in spoken English exactly the same as that of written English?

I'm pretty sure your answer to the last question is "Not really,"

Going back to the question:

Which one is a B? C?

Based on my discretion,  I would grade all of these answers a C accept for the 4th sentence which would get a D. This has nothing to do with intrinsic knowledge about Universal English Standards, it's plain ol' Adrian's experience in life of using English and his own damn validation of what's good and what's bad. Fair? Not fair? Let's try not to judge too soon first.. read on...

If all variables are set aside and the only things taken into consideration are the capability of a student conveying his/her message(s) and variety in utilisation of English sentences to convey more effective messages; the 4th sentence lacks that of the other sentences. I try to quantify that by saying that in the other sentences, the students try to say 2 things:

1. The teacher is good/fantastic.
2. The reason behind that claim.

The 4th question only has a claim without reasoning. This is of course believing that there are no other sentences besides the ones mentioned above. This is a typical method used by almost all teachers to give grades. Compare, contrast and then make an eventual grade based on the first grade given. If the first sentence deserved a C, the second sentence had to be more effective or proper to get a B. This completely skips the process of quantifying a B and instead just focuses on the exact quantification of a C, and revolving around that grade (better or worse). Again, judging already? Wait, I'll get more empirical about the formal standards soon enough, patience...


I'll ask another brain-wrecking question. How do you say in the beginning that the first sentence deserves a C? and in oral assessments as well?

If you take a look at the M.U.E.T. oral standards (see, told ya), they say things like:

Highly expressive, accurate and appropriate; hardly any inaccuracies.
Expressive, accurate and appropriate but with minor inaccuracies.
Generally expressive and appropriate but with occasional inaccuracies.
Fairly expressive, usually appropriate but with noticeable inaccuracies.
Lacks expressiveness and appropriacy; inaccurate use of the language resulting in frequent breakdowns in communication.
Inexpressive and inaccurate use of the language resulting in very frequent breakdowns in communication.

*Taken from the scheme of the M.U.E.T. band standards in Communicative Ability.

Note the bolded words and then ask one more time.

Which one of those words refer to the C? Which one of those words refer to a B category?

If you feel you can pinpoint out exactly how it's done, give me a holler.

I appreciate your awesome effort in trying to spark a debate.


on Tuesday, 13 April 2010
So, teaching them the graphic novel Journey to the Centre of the Earth really is interesting. There are so many things that you could do right from the introduction step to the following chapters. What I did with them in my lesson was Coded Messages.

I told them that they had to think like Arne Saknnussem in the novel. They'll have to write out a coded message that could be deciphered by their friends using very simple numeric codes given by me. After writing down the codes, they'll give the books to me which will then be shuffled and given back randomly to different students to decipher. They LOVE it!

For example: A = 1, B = 2, and etc...

So, for a message that writes Adrian has sexy legs would be coded as:

1/4/18/9/1/14     8/1/19     19/5/24/25      12/5/7/19

I mean, it doesn't have to be sexy legs... it could be:

Adrian has sexy arms
Adrian has slightly larger than average but not visibly obnoxious testicles
Adrian has the most well shaped Adam's apple
Adrian has the most well-toned beer belly.

... you get the picture...

Kids really like it that they get to make secret codes and leave secret messages in their books. Even if it's as simple as this. Eventually, I changed the numeric code into other symbols based on my discretion which made it more difficult but they still loved it. I highly recommend it to teachers as a great activity for the first chapter or the introduction to the great traveler Arne Saknnussem.

So, here goes... unedited as always


10. Don't touch my book. Please give me back.

9. My father has en airoplane he has bought from USA.

8. The doctor was poking about among the rows of printed circut inside the colum.

7. I love my family forever and ever until I die. (awwwwww)

6. Hurry! Climb the tree and take the rambutans!

5. I will kill you if you tell my secret.

4. When I grow up, I want to go to the centre of the earth.

3. Gukky bear.

2. Today is my birthday! (so happened, it really was her birthday!)

My teacher English is very handsome.

*insert big band jazzy ending, with lots of confetti, balloons dropping down from the dome ceiling, can-can girls dancing, Jessica Alba holding out the award for Most handsome English teacher of the year and me sobbing my brains out saying "You really love me!! You really, reallly love me!" as I walk up to the podium to receive my well-deserved acknowledgment. End all of this commotion with a gentleman's bow from mua and pyrotechnics going crazy with neon lights blinking "Most Deserving Recipient of the Year".

I say... I really know how to make myself feel good.

Resisting the Dark Side of the Force

on Sunday, 11 April 2010
OK, I didn't like the previous layout because it had a very demotivating vibe going on whenever I opened it...

It sorta looked like:

The Blog for People Planning their Suicide

The Blog for Those Planning to Murder Their Spouses and Make It Look Like an Accident

The Blog for Cat Autopsy Surgeons... no, no... The Blog for Kitten Autopsy Surgeons

The Blog for Rat Whiskers Pullers

The Blog for Goldfish Deep-Fat Fryers

... you get the picture...

The Untouchable(s)

If you have students who have problems with simple English syntax, how can you train students to do activities i.e. choral speaking or debates? Here is the path I took to make sure that students get things done quick and efficiently.

That's right. Last minute panic. Not for me, but that's the idea you have to screw into your students when they are given an activity or task that requires quick completion. Personally, I didn't really feel quite comfortable with this type of approach because I like it that my students are stress-free. You know, my suggestopedia (refer to previous blog).

Based on my short observation, getting students all panicked and having a sense of urgency is beneficial in its own way. It's not the only way but it can certainly be utilised to great effect. I tried it out in one of my activities and it was certainly effective in getting their brain functions into high gear.

So how do I create this last minute panic situation? Simple, as the arbitrary power among the students, I give them a do or die situation. Tell them the severe immediate consequences that will be enforced if they do not come up with something in the next 2 minutes.

I swear, if any of you do not come up with a version of a rooster call when I want you to, I can promise you certain elimination from this group.

Boom! Everyone starts cockle-doodle-doing away like me going into a barn-sale with my best (and worst) roosters. You even get the voiceless roosters trying to call out the morning alarm at her very best even though she never had a voice before.

Smart you say?

Well, it's not the last minute rule that is hard to come up with. Anyone can come up with elusive threats. Trust me, if there is one thing that teachers can do awesomely well, it's threats. BIG GINORMOUS threats.

The difficult part is the build-up before the threat. As a teacher, you must be clever in creating an environment and condition where everyone believes dogmatically that you are the divine power. You have to make sure that at the snap of your fingers, students get in line and sell their soul to the devil for a dime.

Of course, I don't wish for them to sell their souls to the devil.. unless by the devil, you mean me... course.

So, in order to do that, what I do is clear demonstration of prowess. Trust me, nothing gets your students more hyped up and confident when they know their in good hands. You must show that you are the penultimate example of awesomeness. You are the one they aspire to emulate. You are the only source of guidance and solace. That is difficult. That is not just difficult, it takes time. You must create this situation with constant demonstration of your ideals and ideas to make something work.

Demonstration is crucial not just to show that some things are attainable but also to eliminate the possibility that some students just do not know what is the benchmark of your definition of success. Show it to them; show them that it is attainable with their current ability and knowledge. Show them that if they fail to reach it at that moment, you are there to ensure that they do. Make sure that they get the message that if they can't reach it, it is the lack of their participation/enthusiasm that is the factor; not the flaw of instruction on your part.

Make your position untouchable and unquestionable. It is difficult but well worthwhile when done.


Why should the students believe they can reach something when you are not showing that it can be reached?


You're fired!

on Friday, 9 April 2010
How do you tell someone who is interested in joining an English activity that he/she can't join it?

Even when he/she has given 110% in commitment?

.... I feel like Donald Trump...
. minus all the glamour and cash

Gulped and Gasped

on Thursday, 8 April 2010
Teaching drama to students can be daunting. To me, teaching Gulp and Gasp to my form 4 kids have proven to be exciting and creatively draining (if there is such a term).

Here's the situation,

Students are not passive but can't seem to get their expressions even after direct examples from me. For example, when I tell them to show me an angry face, I always begin by demonstrating for instance, what would be my interpretation of angry. This is to ensure that students who might not be as talented as others have a clear example of how some actions should be done. I cannot assume all my students are good in their facial expressions. Students who I feel are stone-cold in their face muscles are quickly given clear examples through demonstrations and descriptions of those demonstrations. Of course, if you were still wondering

"Can this shmuck really teach dramatic expressions and acting skills?"

My reply here is...
"You feelin' lucky... punk?"

Having said that, still, some kids are finding it very difficult to control their emotions and expressions. They can't seem to show happy or sad when needed. The only constant emotion I get from them is giggling. Yeah... giggling is not an expression (it's an action) but from my perspective... you can just bite me.

How do I get my students to feel like it's a real drama class and that they have to take those facial expressions seriously? I tried to make the classroom like those reality talent shows where I allow students to give short feedback and I give feedback while and post acting. I tried letting them have their way and just be an observer (only giving feedback post acting). I even tried doing examples first before they discuss and practice among their groups so that they have an idea of what to practice. In other words, I've tried many ways to make sure that their practices and rehearsals are fruitful.

What does this all mean? Time extension. I'll be frank to say that I can't spend the whole year doing 1 drama. I have to teach the other components in the subject because students need to answer exam questions this coming May, 24th. How do I suddenly halt this practice process and rehearsals? I can't. When you start to teach drama, it'll be devastating to me (and them) if I were to suddenly go back to the other aspects of English i.e. letter writing for the other classes and then teach drama for 1 period per week only. I have to make haste to complete this drama month and revert back to the other things.




*fetal position, sucks thumb.

To all the teachers out there, a friendly reminder from yours truly:
Kids love to act and dramatise. Don't steal that away from them and just do plain note taking and discussions. Let them act it out. All my classes are damn excited about doing it that they've been talking about costumes, props, and I can see very weak students rehearsing their lines in their groups IN ENGLISH!

Of course they're going to take a long time to perfect the lines, expressions and actions.


As though they were not taking a long time to do anything in English anyway.

*note to self: feels good saying shmuck one more time.

You... you make me feel brand new...

A fresh page for a fresh change,
Though seems at first a little strange,
To the eyes so pleasing at every corner,
Navigate out if you find it a bother,

As the divine power of this blogging page,
I can choose to do what I want at any stage,
To give it life or to end it's existence,
I'm the one in control of its growth and decadence.

Don't know why I chose to make this rhyme,
When this week I really have little time,
To think it rhymes really isn't my kind of thing,
Instead, I would love to think of it as rapping,

April's the month to start anew,
For this is the month to act the fool,
So I think I should introduce myself properly.
The walking definition of sexy, Tan Shueh Li.

The Curtain Folds

on Tuesday, 6 April 2010
For the past few lessons, I've been trying my best to bring out the actors and actresses in my students. To me, the inclusion of a drama component in our literature syllabus is by far the most interesting addition in our English subject. Better late than never I always say...

Here is what I've been doing and what I would suggest if you have students similar to mine. Their competency ranges from very weak to fairly average. They are a mixture of very passive and fairly active students. The only thing that they all have in common is the love of watching someone else screw up when doing their dramatisation.

You cannot expect them to read the dialogue, understand the dialogue, memorise it within a week, and then come up to the front and start hitting it off like Douglas Lim or Afdlin Shauki (I just love my local references). If experience has taught me well, I know that even good students will find it problematic to come up with a satisfactory performance within a few periods.

Which means, you have to stretch your drama preparation, dialogue comprehension, expressions and action training, and audibility training, into different lessons.

I felt that probably it wouldn't take too long to train students about audibility or dialogue comprehension but I was wrong (when will I stop assuming things?). You have to take your time with the students and make sure the whole drama performance is organised as though you were directing a Broadway show. Seriously...

... Broadway.

You'll have your own set of divas, the self-appointed directors, the underdogs, the creative writers and many other personalities that will either make your drama colourful or a total wreck. Even at this point, management is essential. No, no - it's all about class management.

Another thing to take note is time. I cannot emphasise enough the importance of giving my students time to prepare. Preparation is key. Planning is what that makes weak students more confident and gives them the courage to step forward to scream like a damsel in distress. The weaker your students, the more time you have to let them practice their lines and come up to the front for rehearsals. Remember, giving your students time to prepare and practice in class also means that you might look as if you're doing nothing as they are practicing in their groups.

NO! NO! NO! You might not be giving them anything but you are on the constant lookout about their progress, group dynamics, and to quickly step in if you feel that they are starting to lose direction and focus. Seriously, the more I give them freedom to practice their lines and rehearse, the more I have to step in to guide them and give them pointers to suit each individual performance.

It is time consuming and it could prove very frustrating when students do not generate the right results that you expect even after you've given them your supposed sufficient time. Once again, experience has taught me that time is relative when students of weaker competency are preparing. Their expressions are not as effective, their lines are not as well-read, and their entire dramatisation seems to be a wreck most of the time. You have to constantly provide your own comments and feedback even if it means taking up a lot of time... a lot of time.

One thing good about this whole preparation step is that the syllabus itself has already helped you. If you would want to give them a drama script before this year, you'd have to prepare it yourself. Not only would you have to prepare, modify, and distribute it to each student, you'd most probably give up after realising your dialogue isn't simple enough. The scripts now are already provided. ALL the students have it and it is compulsory to follow the script. This simplifies the preparation of the script and is extremely important in the teacher's perspective.

Weaker students find this very engaging and a well prepared script in the literature component is really an easy thing because they do not have to come up with their own lines and worry about grammatical errors. All they have to do is to remember the lines, what they mean, and give it their best to win the SMK version of a Grammy. I've witnessed very weak students finding this process very easy because they have the book with them at all times and can choose to memorise it repeatedly as though memorising algebra formulas to get the lines right. Hey, whatever works for each individual, I suppose.

As a result, I see good and encouraging practice of the English language in the classroom. Naturally, when they are memorising the lines, they are memorising the syntax of the language. Not only that, when forced to dialogue it out, everything about the spoken aspect of learning English comes to play. This might seem like a very simplistic memorise but don't comprehend and superficial way of learning to many people. You'll get skeptics trying to belittle this effort by saying:

"They're just saying it because it's their line... they don't even know what they are saying in the first place..."

... true.

Hey, before this, they weren't even trying to practice saying these lines.

1-0 to the students.


on Monday, 5 April 2010
On the 30th of April, I'll be going for an interview as a part of the package of being a government agent. It really is an interesting topic of discussion among the new teachers as they try to speculate the impending events that could happen during the interview.

Of course... it entrails to:

                                     ... in case you were wondering, SPP stands for Suruhanjaya Perkhidmatan Pelajaran

10. Interviewer: OK, sila masuk. Siapa nama?
      Interviewee: OK, sila masuk. Siapa nama?
      Interviewer: Huh? Kenapa ini?
      Interviewee: Huh? Kenapa ini?
      Interviewer: Oh... nak main-main ya?
      Interviewee: Oh.. nak main-main ya?
                       .... you know where this is going..

9. You go into the room, confident as ever, head up high, chests out and smart with your tie... You look at the panel of interviewers, you see Randy Jackson, Ellen Degeneres, Simon Cowel, and the ever hot Kara Dioguardi.

8. Interviewer: OK, apa pendapat kamu mengenai pengajaran Bahasa Inggeris dalam sains dan matematik?
    Interviewee: I think it's really good because it really prepares students for tertiary level literature.
    Interviewer: Setuju. Apa pendapat kamu mengenai penguasaan Bahasa Inggeris yang lemah di kalangan
    Interviewee: I think that's difficult to answer because that would be situational depending on the area
                       you are in.
    Interviewer: Saya rasa kamu bagus menjadi seorang guru.
    Interviewee: Thank you, that means a lot to me.
    Interviewer: Kamu boleh keluar sekarang.
    Interviewee: Thanks.

7. You enter the room, the room is empty, you start walking to the chair, and the three interviewers jump at you from behind going "BOO! Gotcha!"

6. Every now and then, you see the lady interviewer staring at your crotch. Licks her lips, and gives you the "I got you babe," wink in the eye. *shivers.

5. Interviewee: Good morning.
    Interviewer: Good morning... OK. So, did you get the x-ray?

4. You enter the room, you see the chief interviewer carrying a small chihuahua, stroking its head, a small pink purse at the side, blond hair, make-up thicker than asphalt tar, with manicure and pedicure that resembles Lady Gaga's fashion sense, and she says "Hi, my name is Firdaus. Sit down please,"

3. You enter, trip over the tiles that are uneven and apologise. With a stern and unflinching voice, one of the interviewers say: "Do it again, puppy..."
2. Interviewee: Good morning. May I sit down?
    Interviewer: Good morning and yes, you may. Do you have any other tricks this morning?

The interviewers ask "So, Mr. Adrian Tan. Honestly, is it true you have a friend with an enormous penis? I'm not that interested but I mean, seriously... like legendarily long? I heard it has its own life and will? May I see it? Can you arrange a meeting? When can we see it? Does 'it' have a facebook profile? Come on, don't be stingy... let us see it."

*insert big band jazzy ending with lots of 'confetti' from the legend's tng tng.

The Legend is in the blog.

Say it with me...

The Legend.


on Thursday, 1 April 2010
I'm not a poet at all... but here goes...
Supposed to come up with something for choral speaking instead...

By: Tan Shueh Li @ Adrian

The ocean’s resource, the beginning of earth,
The big blue planet, from the waters gave birth,
The lives that are, from where we came,
Gives Mother Earth its rightful name,

A streak of crimson ray of light,
Breaks the cold and lonely night,
Awakes the sound of silent sleep,
Our sun with energy, it does not keep,

The greatest savannahs and misty mountains,
Our paradise and our real-life heavens,
Umbrella canopies, our forest domes,
Gives us a safe place to call it home,

Trees stand tall and spread their reach,
The greens look bright and never dead,
Roots run deep into the soils so rich,
The very ground of nature’s bed,

All eyes open and limbs all stretched,
Creatures awake for their morning catch,
The sound of roosters and rustling leaves,
Time for crickets to roll their sleeves,

From little critters to magnificent beasts,
Even tree-ants help out at the very least,
Symbiotic chains built from mutual trust,
To live together, this harmony is a must,

The big blue whale with its strength and grace,
Has not an evil look in its face,
Shows to us the mighty and the strong,
Just needs peace to get along,

From the shadows creeps a horrible monster,
With fangs of steel and teeth of a chopper,
Start to hack, chew, and choke,
The once majestic old mighty oak,

Tumble and crash makes a crying sound,
In this chaos, peace can never be found,
Why? Innocence? That all doesn’t matter,
If you are there, you better scatter,

The once blue sea from whence we came,
Its life and beauty will never be the same,
The once mighty whale that ruled its depths,
Will slowly vanish with the faintest breath,

Deep blue seas now jet black oil,
Vast laid cement covering nourishing soil,
Lush green forests and flourishing meadows,
Now just tall blocks casting us with shadows,

Helpless and speechless, our lands of green,
The crimes which cannot be spoken or seen,
The sight of a figure that is small but bad,
A creature once a friend but has turned mad,

Bloodshot eyes with a grin so evil,
The very living incarnate of the devil,
With technology and weapons to slice and dice,
Without ever thinking once or twice,

What can be done against this whim?
With a mind hell-bent and viciously grim,
Destroying everything that dares come near,
Makes death so ugly, it shrouds you with fear.

So here is the message if you still do not feel,
That we are just slowly trying to kill,
Mother Earth who has never, ever taken,
Without providing everything it can in return,

Give life a chance to take a breath,
Do not lead it to its certain death,
We plead and beg for you to see,
Our earth should live for an eternity,