Tuesday, January 20, 2015

2014: The Fault in My Starry-Eyed Journey

At this very moment, I am thankful that I’m alive, blessed and inspired.

             2014 is such an eventful and unforgettable year. I expected a roller-coaster journey as a first-year teacher. Never did I know how emotion could fluctuate so much in a day. Kids frustrate you in the morning but the next couple of hours the others came all genuinely motivated and determined. Some of these attributes last for the rest of the year. Some need to be ignited at times. Some desired values lost in the dark abyss. After all, this career is mentally taxing and soul consuming for me, at least.
              I hold strongly to my principle of optimism, relentlessly believe in potential and kindness of humankind. Passion and patience will win over any aggressive strategy.

            I glanced at each eyes of theirs, I see hope and dream. My students did not know the life beyond their comfort zone or what the world has to offer. 
            I’ve stopped Facebook postings mostly because I’m worried I’ll end up romanticizing this profession. We often filtered the unpleasant things and shared our best moment with the students. I’m afraid I will be emotionally attached with the kids. Well, I think you can’t forget amongst your first students. I love them like a love song. But,..

         Hakikatnya, bukan mudah untuk menyentuh hati dan memanusiakan manusia.

         I started my first three months with all tips-and-tricks, being all strict and scary. It didn’t stay for long because I tend to forget to apply the sanction and gave them second chance (or more perhaps). Two important things I want them to remember are ‘’respect’’ and ‘’try your best’’. The ‘’Scholar Dollar’’ system was applied to motivate them. They were given a printed dollar note for abiding the class rule and winning the game activities. At the end of the month, they would trade the scholar dollars for a few stationaries, snacks and book vouchers.
         I intended to do this for the first semester and beyond that, they would already instill the motivation within themselves without these tangible (and costly) rewards. This will also be my vision for this academic year (with a couple of budget-cutting plans).
         So, let’s remind myself of why I want inspire the kids of Malaysia. Let’s remind myself the joy of giving to others. Remind me of their struggles and their smiles. Only by giving you are able to receive more than what you already have.

1.       This is 16-year-old Arif. A very nice young boy who respects his teachers and speaks only good. This is him working during post-final-exam schooldays. Lifelong learner, huh?

           He struggled through my math class because he is slow reader and unable to differentiate between 9+9 and 9x9. I wanted to get him diagnosed for dyslexia but I was swamped with work, too bad. As you might guess, he was teased by his classmates and friends.  Numeracy and language proficiency in this class are extremely low. They were called the last, the worst and the lost. A few boys are slow-readers.  Knowing education inequity and experiencing the environment are two different things, really.

         At first, I felt sad, helpless and poignant for this kid. He might not able to write a resume. How would he estimate his money when he received his paycheck? However, my biggest fear is how he will thrive in the future.  Would he end up in the low-entry job? My academic track record has never seen anything like this before.

         So I used LINUS literacy and numeracy book for him and a few others. I got the resources from my mom and they were designed for primary school students. Arif will always try his best to solve the questions in the book. He is quite passive and hesitates to ask if I stand beside him while he works on it. Knowing this, I tried to give him some space and check once a while. Thus, his friends  would not focus on him alone and reduce the peer pressure surrounds.

        All I said was ‘’Good, cuba lagi’’ or
‘’Bukannya tak boleh buat, kena usaha lebih sket’’

        One cheeky guy in the class often said;
‘’Hang dah terlepas kereta api la, ni buku budak-budak hoi’’

       But it did not get on his nerves and he keeps on working.  

This is his diagnostic scores in March 2014.

He did the same test in October 2014. 

          He made incremental improvement but it is just NOT ENOUGH. The passing grade is still far. Many factors must be taken into consideration including the student’s preparation and surrounding.    I did the best I could to help, with whatever resources I can get, to whoever I can, whenever and wherever I could.  Could I do better this year?

          At the end I have come to realization that I just want them to be a human of dignity and bring good to the others around them. I want them to be the best version of themselves, be it a mechanic, an international chef, a lecturer or an entrepreneur. After all, is it not what the education over-arching goal is about? 

Monday, January 12, 2015

Sharing Session (TFM Leadership Seminar 4)

    Sharing Session In Regent International School, Sungai Petani.
    ( Teach For Malaysia Leadership Seminar 4)

    Our school is in small town of Padang Serai, where I grew up in but spent many years of schooling outside. This is the school I passed through for the last 24 years but never step my foot into the school's compound. This sport school has nearly 2,000 students with average multicultural tolerance.

        I know a former student of this school who is not willing to further his post-SPM study. He lost his motivation and has settled for less. He was offered to several public and private universities but decided not to go. ''I could not survive through English classes'' he said. Another time, he said he prefer working rather than going to college.  His excuses went on and on. Now he is working in one of Penang's local councils. This 20-year-old boy is my brother and he is the reason I Teach for Malaysia. I realized that as much as I want to help him, he must first help himself. After four months of working, reality hits him hard and now he said he aims to be in college one fine day. I was relieved to able to hear his 'one day' mission.

       Being posted to my hometown and my brother's previous school, I believe I am in a perfect place for a significant change.

          Each teacher can recount numerous highs and lows in their teaching career. There were days when I ended so happy and enthusiastic that I knew I had selected the right profession. On the other hand, I had days where I definitely questioned teaching as a career. These were days where the students seemed uninterested, too talkative, or even worse a blow up occurred and nothing got accomplished. Thankfully the average combined with the positive days outshine my negative days.
          A boy from my aspiring class was loud and obnoxious. Let's call him Amin. His class is the 12th streamed class. The first three months into the year, I was beating my head against the wall trying to connect with him. I could at least get his friends to be involved or at the very least to sit quietly. He sat in the back row. I would ask questions of students, picking up some names. Unfortunately, every time i called on him he would respond with a flip answer. If he got an answer wrong, he would get angry. He also called me as his girlfriend, trying to win me over, left lot of missed calls, returned his scholar dollars because a friend accused him of stealing them and explore through my personal stuff and handbag. One day, he was shouting to me during lesson and when failed to get my attention, he kicked chairs and tables and disrupted the whole lesson. I sent him to the discipline teacher. His anger and mumbled words were almost too much for me.

      He missed class for two days and we got a lot accomplished during his hiatus but I began dreading for his return. On the day of his return, I met him in the staff room. I told him that I care about him but not him alone. The other 31 students still need me and they want to learn. I gave him permission that if he felt like he was going to lose control in class he could step right outside the door for a moment to collect himself.

      From that point on, Amin was a changed student in my classroom. He listened, he participated. I could finally get to see the creative side in him. His math solving skill is unique. He is very happy to get a LINUS numeracy workbook I took from my mom, to work on his own. He never, ever used the privilege I had given him to leave the class for a moment. I believe that just giving him the power to decide for himself made all the difference. The irony is this boy, Amin shared the same first name as my brother.

      In the end, this experience touched me as a teacher. Students are people who have feelings and who don't want to feel cornered. They want to learn but they also want to feel as if they have some control over themselves. I tried not to make assumptions again about a student before going into their class. Every student is different; no two students react in the same way. It is our tasks as teachers to find not only what motivates each student to learn but also what motivates them to misbehave. If we can meet them at that point and take away that motivation, we can go a long way towards a more effective classroom and learning experience. Fellow friends, teachers are like band aid, that sometimes we do more than teach, that we help heal hurt feelings, broken dreams, and lend an ear to a problem.