Regaining hope

Regaining hope

Posted this on Facebook a couple days ago, but thought I’d share it here too since I haven’t updated in a while.

(29 March 2012)

Today, I went into my weakest and most challenging class to teach them simple adjectives like sizes, colours, and shapes. Thirty minutes into the class, even with a lot of activities and drawing and colouring, my kids got me very frustrated for not knowing words like big, small, long, short. I mean, what did 6 years of primary school teach them??

So I did something irrational after I realized that it’s been almost four months of school and they still haven’t learned anything! These 25 kids need serious help. So I put them into groups based on where they live, and came up with 6 groups of 4-5 kids each. I told them that from now on, they’ll have extra class with me after school/at night and I’ll make sure they attend, even if it means I’ll have to get them and send them back.

They were shocked and immediately told me that some of them live deep in the jungle and there are ghosts everywhere at night. I’ve been to their houses before, they’re about 30 mins away and the road is actually quite scary even in the day. But I told them sternly that it’s ok, as long as they want to learn, I will make sure they get to learn.

“Teacher, betul ke ni? Banyak hantu tau?? Kat tepi sungai tu ada batu nisan tau??” (Teacher, are you sure? There are a lot of ghosts!! There are lots of tombstones near the river!)

But in my frustration and gungho-ness, not even ghosts can scare me wtf. Plus, I have to show my kids that I will do anything to help them and hopefully they’ll want to help themselves.

When I exited the class, I immediately regretted doing that. Am I out of my mind?? Here I am, struggling with everything as it is, and I have no idea if I am mentally or physically capable of pushing so far. They live pretty far away so I don’t know if I could drive when I’m already exhausted from teaching all day.

But I remember Rakis, my orang asli kid’s face and the conversation I had with him yesterday. He used to be a really happy kid, but the past few months he’s been very sullen and angry all the time. He said it’s cause he can’t understand anything, and I can’t give my attention to him cos everyone else is crying for help/running around beating people. Plus, on that day, he actually crumpled up the worksheet I gave out because he didn’t know how to do anything. Rakis needs help, and I’m at my wits’ end as to how to help him.

So I started with him and a few of my weakest but less misbehaving boys. I got them from their village and it was nice to see them waiting for me by the roadside in the darkness, with their backpacks and jeans and best shirts and eager smiles. We had a very productive night reading peter and jane and reviewing stuff learned in school. This pic is of rakis reading with utmost concentration, and he was SUPER focused the entire time I just wanted to hug him and tell him that he’s doing great. When the other kids were playing around, he continued reading out loud. When I asked them to come up with their own sentences with a verb and noun, they kept asking me for help but Rakis sat there and thought hard for his own sentences.


Iqmal, thinking how to read “Here”. Every page has the same few words but he still couldn’t read them, but he never gave up trying.

This was taken by my housemate, Angie, last month when I had the first extra class. We don’t have a table and can’t afford to get one, so we made one with cardbox and a broken cupboard door hahaha. It collapsed and we rebuilt it with tape again and again.

These kids are really really weak, but they are so eager to learn. After this first extra class, one of them asked me EVERYDAY if he could come again. But because things have been crazy for me the past month with assignments (for my diploma in edu) and lesson planning, I kept telling him maybe next week, maybe next week. After a while, he gave up asking 🙁 So I’m glad things got easier and I could have him over again a few days ago.

Anyway, when I sent them back, we listened to hitz fm and had a karaoke session in the car (mostly me singing haha). They were bickering about what was the singer singing, “cikgu itu “happy” kan?” “bukanlah “here” lah!” “bukan lah “him” lah!” (the word was “hero” but that’s beside the point). I told them to read any English books at home despite not understanding them and to listen to English radio stations.Then, I met some of their parents. Some were indifferent and didn’t care where their kid was, some were very appreciative. But they all had one similarity: they all came from homes that are very not conducive to learning. Dilapidated, noisy, dirty..

I drove home drained from the long day but I could still hear their voices in my car. It’s defining moments like this that made me realize that they’re worth pushing myself for, even if I have to start from scratch, from peter and jane book 1a.


I have so many more stories to tell! Some hopeful, some downright depressing, some frustrating, some angry, some happy, some really emotional. I’ll get to them slowly when I have time. Thanks for reading despite the lack of updates!


UPDATE: On Friday, the day after the extra class in my house, a teacher reported to me that he saw Rakis reading an ENGLISH BOOK during moral class. I shook him and begged him to tell me more, and he said Rakis was reading about simple body parts like eye, nose etc and seemed engrossed. I wanted to burst into tears, mostly because I was so touched at his determination. Then I told myself: one step at a time, one step at a time. Body parts now, Stephen King next.