Friday, April 29, 2011

Of Punching A Hundred Noses and Putting a Stop to the Boo

My students participated in the Zone level Choral Speaking Competition two years ago, 35 of them. We got the third place, out of three participating team. I was extremely proud of my students despite the loss and I still am proud of them to this very day. They had lost in the competition, but in my heart, they had won. It was not easy for my kampung kids to get this far. They had done enough. I was really proud, no doubt about it.
     However, something else happened that day. Something that I have never told anyone before, not even to my colleagues. I heard a boo. A faint boo. I thought I was the only one who heard it, so I kept silent. I did not want to upset my students. We came from afar. My students had struggled hard to be able to stand there on the stage alongside the other English-speaking city kids. They did not deserve a boo, not even a faint one. I wanted them to know that they had made me proud. I did not want a faint, insignificant boo to upset my precious ones and hurt their feelings.

     We were having our lunch when one of the students approached me.

     "Teacher," the boy said. "They booed us".
     "I know. I heard."
     "We are not good enough."
     "You've tried your best. I'm proud of you."
     "I want to punch their noses."
     "No. You don't want to do that."
     "Yes, I do."
     "I know. So do I. But you shouldn't."
     "Why shouldn't I? They've been rude."
     I put aside my meal and had a gulp of mineral water to clear my throat. Then, I looked at the boy in the eyes and said, "You may be able to punch one nose, but I don't think you would want to punch a hundred noses."
     "A hundred noses?"
     "Believe me, my boy, that boo you've heard just now was not going to be the last boo in your entire life. All throughout your life people will boo you. You can't punch the noses of all the people who boo you."
     The boy was quiet for a while. Then he said with a hint of desperation in his voice, "Then, how do I stop them? I don't like being booed."
     "Be better. Learn English. The boo will stop."

A few months later in the same year, I attended a workshop for English co-academic activities in KK. We discussed all the concept papers for all the English co-academic activities, and I must say that I had enjoyed myself tremendously throughout the course. I was bubbling with enthusiasm, I could not wait to get back to Kunak and shared all my newly acquired knowledge with my fellow teachers. I was ambitious. I wanted to conduct all the co-academic activities at district level, select our district's representatives and send them for zone level competitions. I wanted to have fun, I wanted my students to have fun. I wanted them to learn English the fun way.
     When the workshop ended, I headed straight back to Kunak. I went to PPD to inform my bosses of my enthusiastic ambition. They told me matter-of-factly, "Cikgu, we have to postpone all the co-academic activities for this year because we don't have money. There has been a budget cut. (Chuckle, chuckle). Well, I bet you've heard all about it, Cikgu. It's all in the news. Politics, politics."


Let me put this as straight-forwardly as I could. Kunak teachers, please tell me: why do you think our students fare poorly in UPSR English paper - despite our endless efforts - extra-classes, weekend programs, night classes, centralized workshops and etc, etc - year after year, our subject, the English language will always reside peacefully at the bottom of the rank. Is it because our students are that stupid and thus impossible to be taught? If they really are that stupid, how come the results for Mathematics and Science are significantly much, much better? Please do not tell me that Mathematics and Science are easier than English. NO! Who are we kidding here?


This week has been a crazily busy week, but also a crazily happy week. The secondary schools in Kunak are having their English carnival, and due to the lack of English teachers (there are only three secondary schools in Kunak), the primary school teachers are invited to help out, mainly as judges for competitions. I was involved as a judge for debate and drama. Needless to say, I have had a lot of fun.
     The best moment was seeing my former students participating in the competitions. I saw my ex-students whom I had trained as public speakers and choral speakers when they were my students in primary school, now becoming debaters and drama players in secondary school. How much they have improved. Best of all, they still love English. In fact, one girl told me that she loves it even more now. "Learning English is so much fun, teacher," she said, with a laugh. "I hope to be an English teacher someday. You know, like you." Ahahaha. I just could not stop smiling. Flowers, flowers, blooming in my heart.
     Needless to say, she had made my day. ;-)


Less than a month ago, I was complaining about the way our co-academic coordinator handled the selection of participants for zone level competitions. Apparently, the Senior Assistants for Co-curriculum for all the schools in Kunak gathered for a meeting with the chief coordinator and discussed amongst them who should participate in what, and guess what? Our school got Action Song! Lucky us!!!
     I was grumbling and grumbling for a few days. How could they do that to us. How could our Senior Assistant agreed that our school would represent Kunak in the Zone level for ACTION SONG (oh my goodness) without consulting me first. What a heavy responsibility.
     I talked to my colleagues about it. Fortunately, my fellow English teachers were all very positive about it. "You do the music, Cindy. Don't worry about the moves. We'll take care of it." Great! Music is okay, but don't ask me to choreograph the moves and actions, I told them. I told them again and again: Don't ask me to do anything that requires me to move my 'robotic' body gracefully. We had a good laugh about it, and amazingly, after three weeks of laughing and working and practising with our kids, I am now more than ready to go. We are ready to go. Our kids are ready to go.
     Then came the text message from hell: "The organizer for the Zone level Action Song competition has decided that there will not be any competition held at the zone level because their PPD is too busy to handle it. They have volunteered to represent our zone for the State level."
     "Teacher! Teacher!" the little ones shouted gleefully as they gathered around me in a circle. "Do we have practice today? Do you have our costumes ready? When are we going for the competition?"

     I always believe that as a teacher, it is a SIN for us to not teach our students. But a GREATER SIN than that would be to DENY our students the OPPORTUNITY to learn.


     As straightforwardly as I can: Kunak teachers, our students are NOT stupid. They fare poorly in UPSR English because they do not have enough opportunities to LEARN English.

     But we teach them a lot of English. We teach them every day.

     Teach them what? We teach them HOW to answer EXAMINATION QUESTIONS.

     Answer me: Do we teach them English? Do we ACTUALLY teach them English? I bet many of our students, especially the Year 6 students are able to write complex and compound sentences based on a picture stimulus (Sentence Construction - Paper 2, Section A) with all the proper adjectives and adverbs, like this for example:" The committed teacher is teaching enthusiastically in front of the classroom while the hardworking students are listening attentively and writing diligently  in their notebook." Wow! Impressive, don't you think? But try to ask them a simple question such as "Why do you like Justin Bieber?" and they would answer "Because Justin Bieber best lah, teacher!"


     Ayang and Mimi were two of my favourite students. Both got A for their UPSR English paper. But I did not remember giving them a lot of exam drills.
     What I do remember is dragging them along to every public speaking competitions, both district and zone level, every year. I spoke as much English as I can with them. I asked them to keep a journal where they could write anything they wanted in English, and handed the journal to me every Friday. I would read their writings and wrote my responses to them in English.
     I encouraged Ayang and Mimi to read a lot of English books. We would read novels and discussed the characters and the plots. When we had time, we would watch English cartoons and movies. Both Ayang and Mimi kept a small vocabulary book that they brought with them everywhere.
     Both Ayang and Mimi aced their UPSR English paper in 2008. They are in Form 3 now. And they still love English. Mimi sent me a message in FB recently, her English was flawless. I saw Ayang participating in public speaking and drama competitions at secondary school level almost every year. Both are confident English speakers, and I am very proud of both of them.


Exams are important. UPSR is important. But not nearly as important as Education.

     I am no education expert. I am just a small, simple teacher. But I want to do my job. I really, really do.
     I love English. I love teaching English. I want my students to learn English and to be good in English, but I do not want just that. I also want my students to LOVE English.
     More than that, I also want to be an educator. Of course, I do not possess all knowledge and I cannot provide my students with every knowledge that they need to know. But as a teacher, my biggest role would be to provide my students with the opportunity to know it. The opportunity to learn.
     I become who I am today - an English teacher who loves English and loves teaching English - not because my teacher had drilled me a lot of exam answering techniques. My English teachers had done a wonderful job in teaching me grammar and reading and writing inside the classroom, but I gain my confidence to speak English mostly from my participation in co-academic activities outside the classroom. I used to be an introvert teenage girl when I was in secondary school, but Miss Gertrude had forced me to join the debate team when I was in Form 1 (for full story: click here). Though I am still unable to eliminate the shyness in me (it is in the gene, okay), but if it was not because of Miss Gertrude, I doubt that I would have the confidence that I have now as a teacher, and also as a speaker. More than that, I think Miss Gertrude had succeeded in opening up doors for me, providing me with the opportunity to learn and gain the knowledge and experiences that I may otherwise would not be able to get had I not join the debate team in my secondary school years.
     I am not against examination. To tell the truth, I love exams. Exams give me the challenge that I need as a student. Exams give me a sense of accomplishment. Exams motivate me. I love getting straight As in exams, I love scoring three pointers or four flats in college. If you ask me, I think exams are good. I would not agree with those who want exams to be abolished.
     Having said that, I also think that education is much, much more than just passing exams with flying colours. Consider this quote by Albert Einstein:

     "Education is what remains after one has forgotten what one has learned in school."   


I was walking through the corridor at SMKKJ earlier this week, I was on my way to judge one of the debates when a handsome student greeted me. "Hi, teacher."
     "Syahril! How you've grown. You're so handsome."
     Syahril blushed. "Hehehe. Thanks, teacher."
     "Are you one of the debaters?"
     "No, teacher. But I participated in choral speaking last week. I looked for you."
     "I was not involved in choral speaking. So how was it? Did you win?"
     "No. But nobody booed."
     "Nobody booed?"
     "Nobody. I learn English, teacher. And I want to learn more. I want to be really, really good."
     I smiled. "Why, Syahril?"
     "I don't like being booed."

     I gave Syahril a pat on the back and moved on to Room 1. I have a debate competition to judge.


Malaysia National Education Philosophy:

"Education in Malaysia is an on-going effort towards further developing the potential of individuals in a holistic and integrated manner, so as to produce individuals who are intellectually, spiritually, emotionally, physically and socially balanced and harmonic, based on a firm belief in and devotion to God. Such an effort is designed to produce Malaysian citizens who are knowledgeable and competent, who possess high moral standards and who are responsible and capable of achieving high level of personal well-being as well as being able to contribute to the harmony and betterment of the family, the society and the nation at large."


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