Alas

It took me two years to see changes in this one boy but I think I’ve finally seen a glimpse of that elusive light at the end of the tunnel today!

This boy is pretty good in English but he is so super stubborn and refused to do homework for the two years I’ve taught him. He slept in class, was never on task and ignored my consequences. When asked, he said he just doesn’t care that much about English.

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The crumpled paper on the left was submitted by him a few months ago, after much force and as you can see, he did it very grudgingly.

I don’t know what I did or why he suddenly turned around, but he finished his homework for the first time last month and when I read it, it was actually really good! I read it out in class and was all praises when he finally admitted that he used google translate.

Well….the fact that he even cared enough to google translate was enough for me. T___T (tears of joy)

But things started getting better! I told him I know he can write it well even without help and the week after, he submitted his essay (the one in the middle, written in pencil) and proudly announced to the class that he didnt use google translate this time!

I corrected it immediately and told him I’ll use it to put in the showcase file for this class, but I need him to correct it first and rewrite it in pen. Give it to me next week, I said. No, I’ll give it to you tomorrow, he said.

True enough, tada! I got it the next day. I read it a little; it was flawless and beautiful and was written so neatly and look at that amount of words!!!! Tears were streaming inside me but when he gave it to me, I said coolly, “I hope there are no silly mistakes this time”
To which he replied, “if there are I’ll rewrite it right now”

T__________T *clouds parting *birds singing *harps playing in the background

I swear I died and went to heaven right at that moment. But of course I had to stay alive so I can write about it here wtf

Why oh why did you wait two years to do this?? Right before I leave?? *holds his shoulders and shakes him for answer

But I know exactly what his reply would be. “Better late than never, teacher”
(To clarify, I’ve used all kinds of techniques with this kid. Affirmation, praises, calling home, home visits, disciplinary punishments, serious talks about future, begging on knees, kind words etc, NOTHING has ever worked. But then again, it could be a combination of all these that finally worked. Gosh I don’t know, it’s so hard to tell sometimes with kids! I just hope he keeps this up)

Monday Blues

Behold, a sight never before seen in the history of this class and for as long as I’ve taught them (2 yrs). They were all seated, participated in the activities and completed all the work on the board! I told them I’ll take a picture to keep as proof that they too can be successful.

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They felt happy that they are now “good” students, but what they don’t know is how incredibly far they are from where they need to be. Two years on, I’m still using standard 3 exercises for them and they STILL can’t do them. No amount of colorful posters, engaging activities, interesting teaching aids, house visits or incentives have helped push them forward. 

I now have a month left with them and though I still have hope that I can still push them a little tiny bit more (if they continue to behave), I know realistically that I’ve failed to close the gap for them. 

I know Rome was not built in a day, but I had no idea coming in that it would be this incredibly difficult. We’re constantly working in an environment where there are just so so so many factors preventing these kids from succeeding. 

Feels like i’m trying to get birds to learn how to swim, upstream, with sharks and crocs everywhere, only to realize that I too, don’t know how to swim myself. 

I’m so close to the end, and yet I’m still an eternity away from any real success with them.

 

p.s: I know this post is a little depressing, but I wanted to paint the most accurate picture of how I feel/how things are. Things are not always inspiring and hopeful, in fact, I feel mostly useless and unaccomplished most times. Le sigh.

The value of knowledge

The question we struggle the most this year as second year fellows is this:

How do we know if we’ve even made a difference?

The issue of impact measurement is very real, because what’s the point of us working so hard when we can’t even quantify to anyone what we have done?

Sadly, I’m feeling incredibly depressed these days because my kids who will be taking PMR this year did not do very well in their trials. In fact, their results dropped SIGNIFICANTLY for their trials. Granted, the questions are more difficult, but that’s still no excuse for them to not do well.

I’ve been thinking and rethinking this question of impact again and again. I promised myself and the kids that if we work hard enough, we will reach our target. Our target is 20 of the 32 students in that class will get A for PMR English. This is a super duper big goal because there had only been 4/5 As in English so far every year in the history of my school.

As of right now, we only have 1 student who has been consistently getting an A in English. ONE. And I’m aiming for TWENTY. *nervous chuckle

So in terms of quantifiable data, I guess I have none whatsoever to show that I’ve been a useful contributing member of the school. My weak kids are still weak, my good kids are still not great. I can literally feel the scalding of the judging look in every teacher’s eyes in the school.

“Why is this girl so silly, working so hard making beautiful posters and staying late giving extra classes when she has achieved no progress at all in their results?”

But today, my hope in myself is somewhat renewed.

I know I’ve achieved little to nothing in terms of quantifiable results, but I’d like to think that some of the impact I’ve made that can hardly be quantified are what’s most important. These are things that I cannot put in charts and graphs to show how much progress my kids have shown, or things that I cannot sell in my interview with future employers.

But essentially, these are things that keep me going on painful days, and things I will remember forever when reminiscing my days as a teacher.

One of the values that I really want my kids to internalize is the importance of having big dreams. When I first met my kids, they can never articulate what their dreams are to me. To them, getting 8As in PMR is important because..well..it’s just good to get a lot of As. They can’t tell me why the As is a ticket out for them, or why the pursuit of knowledge in itself is incredibly valuable.

After the poor exam results, I got them to write about their big dreams again and to write why getting this A is important in achieving their dreams.

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Most of them could articulate very easily what their big dreams are, and I’m glad they’ve been quite specific as opposed to just writing “I want to find a good job” or “I want to be a doctor”.

I’ve also had people coming to speak to them about what they can do, hence the Oxford University! (Thanks Melissa!)

(sorry please excuse their grammar/spelling errors)

BUT!

The best part are these notes.

Last week, I got them to write about their dreams for the children of Malaysia. At first they were like “hahhh dreams againnnn!” But once they started writing, they got so into it! Here are some of the most inspiring ones:

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This kid is super amazing. Notice that he wrote at the bottom: PMR Victim, Edy (his name). HAHA!

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Love how they kept asking the kids to dream big 🙂

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Can’t believe she still remembers the video I showed them after coming back from India!

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This is my absolute favourite. My job is done here!

After realizing that it’s very incredibly difficult to see huge progress in their exam results, mainly due to me being an inexperienced teacher and the circumstances, I’m so glad that they’ve taken something from me in my two years teaching them. I hope they never ever forget the value of education and will continuously pursue knowledge when I’m no longer there.

Other things that make me very happy:

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Kids preparing the board for me even before I came into class. The standard stuff Teacher Suet Li always writes: Day and date, agenda of the day, WARNING board, and kids who are absent.

Love my kids! (only when they’re not naughty heh)

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I never ever ever ever never ever would have imagined this sight in a million years (yes I’m being dramatic). Most of you would probably recognize this girl as Jaya, the girl who cannot even read one-syllable words (“the”, “she”) in the beginning of last year.Since we’ve started on the Sponsor A Child To Read program, she’s been coming to the reading sessions every week without fail. Last week, she asked if she could bring her siblings along. I thought she’d only bring her sister along, but she brought her ENTIRE family. Two brothers (13, 18) and two sisters (15, 8 ). And guess what? All of them can’t read (English) as well.

But here she is, patiently teaching her 8 year-old sister how to read one of the books donated by you guys. She herself probably could only read a third of the words in the book, but the confidence in her voice was remarkable. I still can’t believe that happened and I really really REALLY hope that even if the books may not be able to change Jaya’s literacy level right now, it will help change her sister’s.

One small tiny step at a time! #oneday

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Before the holidays, tons of kids came over to get books from my mini library! THIS SIGHT MADE ME CRY TEARS OF JOY!!!!

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Postcards from all over the world 🙂 Keep them coming guys! My kids love reading about different parts of the world and your short inspiring stories!

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Unrelated to teaching but I went rock climbing for the first time during the holidays! It was a lot more challenging than I’d imagined it to be but so much fun!

That’s all for today’s (or this month’s, haha) update. I have tons of other stuff to write about but shall pace myself so I have more materials to blog more often.

p.s: I already got a job for next year! Will not be talking about it too much for now but yays!

p.p.s: I have a MASSIVE surprise to share but will not be sharing it now until it’s somewhat been confirmed. YAYS! (super anticlimatic hahaha)

Is Okey

I wrote this on my Facebook a while ago and completely forgot to put it here too!

I never thought I’ll face this moment again this year, but…today, I crumbled. Every part of me shattered into a million pieces at the start of class and I couldn’t glue them back even till after the bell rang.

I entered my challenging class today with so much enthusiasm because I’ve prepared hard for it and I know that despite it being the last two periods, I WILL succeed today.

Barely 10 mins in, everything started falling apart. They kept talking and interrupting my lesson and after I told them that we will do some fun activities with the newspaper, they said they don’t want to do anything but sleep. I was mad but tried encouraging them further anyway.

“Ala teacher leave us alone! stop making us do anything!”

That was the last straw for me.

I took all the newspapers, walked out and threw them in the trash can. Students stopped talking and stared at me nervously. I took my mahjong paper filled with pictures and colorful papers out from the board very dramatically, folded them slowly and put them back in my box *dramaqueen

Then, what transpired next was probably the longest hour of our lives. I just wrote and wrote essays after essays on the board for them to copy. My chalk finished and I went to the next class to borrow some and continued writing. That’s what other teachers do and if they don’t want to enjoy my class filled with simple fun activities then I’ll do the same too.

Kids began complaining and whenever they did, I wrote their names under WARNING and they immediately kept quiet. All 28 kids wrote three 200-word essays in silence till the bell rang, all but one boy.
Before letting them go, I’ve calmed down so I told them that if they don’t want to learn the nice way next time, it’ll be essay time again. Most of them apologized for their behaviors and left.

I told that boy who slept through the class to stay behind to do the essays. He said no he won’t. I pulled a chair and sat next to him “I won’t leave till you do”. Then, nonchalantly, he took his bag from me and walked out of class while muttering “don’t waste my time”.

Dumbfounded, I choked back angry tears and just sat and stared at his empty book for 30 mins, wondering what else can I do with this boy whom I’ve put SO much effort in for months cause he’s always been difficult. I started tearing because I know I’ve completely lost the battle with him. I give up, you win.

Then, I went to pack my things and saw this on a girl’s desk. During the whole dictatorial copy-this-down stint, I’d slipped this note to students who were good and who wanted to learn. I felt so bad that they had to endure this because they didn’t do anything wrong. She wrote this in reply and left it on her table for me to see.

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When I saw it I just broke down like crazy and started crying and crying. I’ve already taught this class for almost two years and I’m leaving soon and I have no idea if they’ve learned anything from me. There are so many of them who wanted to learn but I’ve completely disappointed them today. Tears were just streaming down my face. Angry tears for my failures, sad tears for my kids’ future, frustrated tears for my wasted efforts, and relieved tears for this girl who did not give up on me.

Seriously, how the hell did movies like Dangerous Minds and Freedom Writers make things look soooo easy??
Thank you Rekka, I will get through this for kids like you. ‪#‎isokey‬

UPDATE: At 8pm the night after this incident, I had my first night reading session. Guess who showed up?
Yes. The boy who told me not to waste his time. He lives pretty far away and got his dad to send him anyway. He said he was just too tired in school and that he wants to learn now.

KIDS, STOP PLAYING WITH MY FRAGILE HEART T_______T

Dear Iqmal,

Sometimes I feel kids like you exist to make my life a living hell, but I know the truth is you have made me a stronger teacher and person. I remember when I first met you last year, with your big smile and eager eyes and you calling out for help every 5 seconds. And that moment when you excitedly waited for me by the road side with your pressed shirt and clean jeans for me to bring you back to read Peter and Jane together. You couldn’t even read the first word in the first book, which was Peter, but remember how you tried and tried the entire night?

I also remember, very vividly, you coming into my house stinking of cigarette smell in your breath and the look of defiance in your eyes when I nagged at you. But you kept coming anyway and you kept trying to read book 1A.

We made little to no progress last year and this year seemed to be getting worse for us. You started acting out in class, crawling on the floor to disrupt the lesson and you screaming your high-pitched voice. I know you never meant to hurt my feelings and I know you know I still care for you because you would do my work if I paid you one-on-one attention, but somewhere along the line, we both knew we were not getting anywhere.

Honestly, I was really so close to giving up on you. But last week, you were one of the very few boys from your class who came during Teacher’s Day. Shocked, I asked you why you came, and you said “saya datang nak jumpa teacher”. Then you, you little rascal you, waited for everyone to leave and took out a box wrapped with crumpled giftwrap and gave it to my shyly.

The thought of you sitting down wrapping the gift the night before, the thought of you finding ways to write that note IN ENGLISH, the thought of you cutting out that heart and pasting it carefully on the note, all that in contrast with thoughts of me wanting to give up on you.. just breaks my heart.

Dear Iqmal and the rest of the kids in that class,

I promise I will try harder each day and not give up on you. I will make you better people, even if you still can’t read by the end of this year. You will believe in yourself because you know there was once a teacher who always believed in you. This last line will sound cheesy as hell, but the reason why I’m on this path now is to be taught the meaning of humility, patience and grit by people like you.

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May you marry me?

Today, this boy who is really cheeky but has never really spoken English in class came to me at the end of class, having mustered all the courage his small 14 yr old body can contain.

“Teacher I ask two questions. Can I help carry the box and may you marry me?”

Sigh even after 2 years, they’re still trying their luck hoping I’ll eventually say yes some day. Oh well at least he spoke English!

 

p.s: i know i’m being lazy with my blog, but I’ve truly been super occupied lately. School holidays just ended and I spent half the holiday at the beach and the other half preparing for interviews.

yes, it’s finally time to think about what I want to do after the fellowship! Sadly, I am not going to continue teaching in this current school I’m at now (due to many many reasons, nothing to do with my passion for teaching and the kids, obviously). The kids all know I’m leaving end of this year and have been giving me lots of excuses why I should stay. The best one is this:

“Teacher, I can’t wait to see you pregnant!”

“WHAT? WHY??”

“You know, we see teachers go from being single to married to being pregnant all the time. I’m sad I can’t see you pregnant. Will you stay here pleaseeee!”

Kids, sometimes I don’t know how much my heart can take the love I have for all of you.

Anyway I’m still looking for other avenues related to teaching, especially with younger kids so if you know anything, let me know!

Happy Teacher’s Day!

Today is a good day to blog because it’s Teacher’s Day! WOOT! This marks my second teacher’s day and I couldn’t have been happier doing what I’m doing now 🙂

Thing are going fine in school, not absolutely great but I’m doing slightly better than just surviving. I was marking my students papers and very very sadly, most of my classes did pretty poorly. Obviously, it’s not any of my students’ fault and I’m glad we still have a few months to work on our weaknesses before I leave.

Yeap, this is my last year teaching. The program is ending this year and unfortunately, I will not be continuing my career here in this school. I like it here, I like the students, the school, the community, but I just can’t continue travelling so far and being away from home anymore. I know it’s a weak and lame excuse, and I feel terrible for leaving.

I told my students to write a letter to their future teacher, the teacher who will be replacing me (hopefully there’ll be one..). I told them to write anything they want and be sure to write a good one so I can use these letters to encourage people to come and teach them.

The results were something I didn’t quite expect. Their letters were AMAZING, so filled with emotions and were very inspiring! I really hope that these kids will get an even better teacher next year because they totally deserve the best education despite being so far away from civilization.
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Any beautiful woman wants to be this teacher’s pet’s teacher? Haha! He’s actually one of the cheekiest boys in class, always interjecting my lessons with irrelevant (but funny) comments.

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Can you expand her horizons for her? I can’t believe the depth of these letters. All they really really need and want is someone who can show them what’s out there, what lies ahead beyond their small village.

 

 

 

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HE knows you can do it, come and guide them so you guys can create history together! These kids are 15 by the way.

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They need someone patient and caring, someone who can show them English is important and can be exciting too.

Seriously, rereading these letters make me feel so bad for leaving and so terribly guilty because these kids are incredible. Of course, this job is challenging as hell but accepting the challenge has made me such a changed person.

Most of my students are at least FIVE years behind their grade level. These letters here are from my best class, and my four other classes can barely string a sentence together.

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This is the results from my weakest class. I was devastated when I finished marking, and was really depressed for the entire day. But then I realized something. They ALL tried their best! Nobody left their papers empty, nobody scribbled nonsense or gave up upon seeing all these words they don’t recognize.

Success doesn’t come easily and seriously, when you’re in this profession, you’ll realize that what doesn’t kill you REALLY does make you stronger.

Happy Teacher’s Day to myself and to all you amazing teachers out there. I bow my head in respect for all the hard work you’ve put into making your students better people everyday without fail. I have the highest respect and admiration for teachers who remain positive and passionate even after being in this profession for many many years.

“Jika hari ini seorang Perdana Menteri berkuasa
Jika hari ini seorang Raja menaiki takhta
Jika hari ini seorang Presiden sebuah negara
Jika hari ini seorang ulama yang mulia
Jika hari ini seorang peguam menang bicara
Jika hari ini seorang penulis terkemuka
Jika hari ini siapa sahaja menjadi dewasa;
Sejarahnya dimulakan oleh seorang guru biasa
Dengan lembut sabarnya mengajar tulis-baca.”

– an excerpt from Usman Awang’s Guru Oh Guru

 

You can go to London, Paris or Rome

You know I have this really weak and challenging class and I dread it so much whenever I have them the next day. What I did not realize is that this class, this awful gut-wrenching bloody-tears-inducing class is the main reason why I work so much harder each day.

For my other classes, I can do a mediocre job planning and it’ll still be fine but with THIS class, they’ll slaughter me alive in five seconds flat if I come in unprepared. Sometimes I tell myself that I hate them so so much, and yet I know they are the ones I would go the greatest lengths for.

This class has a huge problem with motivation so today I thought I’ll bring the world to them. We wrote an essay on our dream holidays last week and almost all of them wrote their dream holiday is to go Seremban or Malacca. They basically don’t know where else they could go otherwise!

So today we looked at pictures of Paris, London, Egypt, the seven wonders of the world, Disneyland! the Aurora!, Hawaii! and while I got more and more excited when I talked about those places, the kids got less and less interested and more belligerent.

“Ala who cares about those places!”

“What is that mouse in front of Disneyland?? Why would I want to see a mouse??”

“Big Ben? Big Bodoh la!”

Honestly, I was super heartbroken la. First of all, I spent hours preparing for this lesson and felt like a fool standing in front getting all excited for nothing. But then it sank in. Of course they don’t care, they don’t even know what Mickey Mouse is!!!! They don’t grow up watching western shows and reading about these places, so of course it meant nothing to them.
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After like 30 mins of me basically trying to get them to be excited by masking my disappointment and maintaining my enthusiasm, they reluctantly started writing their letters on their dream holidays to Sawittri.

But what I did not see coming was while they worked on their letters, they started getting interested in those places. They started asking questions about Eiffel Tower, and how much would it cost to fly to London, and if Taj Mahal is really that beautiful, and teacher, best tak pergi Disneyland?

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They came to my computer and started drawing the places in their letters and putting so much effort into making the Eiffel Tower more beautiful than it already is.

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I was so close to giving up on them, and what they really needed was for me to be really REALLY patient and to show them what they’ve been missing out on. One day.. my kids will conquer the world and will then realize what their teacher was so excited about.

(I know sometimes I sound so positive in my long posts but in actuality my kids are still as challenging as always, stealing my cellotape when I was collecting their letters, throwing papers everywhere for this maid to collect and shouting like hooligans when I let them out of class..but I guess a little positivity won’t hurt)

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p.s: Loga’s letter was the most impressive one. after getting the instructions, he took his chair and went to the furthest corner of the room to finish his letter. he pasted bits of TFM’s logo (don’t know where he got them from?!) and added so much stuff into his letter. SO PROUD CAN CRY.

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#TROLOLOL

The other day for April Fools’ Day, I thought I’d trick my kids a little but this trick became quite a lesson-worthy moment!

I told my kids two lies today. Firstly, I have THREE massive pimples on my face (like seriously will eat your face up that kind) and to save myself the embarrassment, I told my kids that I went to see the doctor and he told me that if I get stressed more, more pimples will pop and I will eventually die. “Anyway, the doctor said I have a disease called pimplocitis and if I get angry or raise my voice, I’ll get another pimple and if they finally cover my entire face, I’ll…..die.”
My kids got SO upset omg I feel so bad now. They were seriously well-behaved and kept trying to make me laugh hahahah

But I said all these with a straight face and immediately moved on with the other part. They finished their unit test last week and today I gave them their papers back. I only marked half, and gave them each a friend’s paper and got them to finish marking.

After they’ve totaled the marks, I told them this: guess what? You’ll be getting the marks of the paper you’re holding now! So if the paper you marked got 50%, that’s your mark which I will write in your report card.

I asked them if this arrangement sounds fair, and they immediately shouted no. Asked why, they said because “this is not our paper!!”. I said: “Well because as a class, we must work together as a team. If your friend didn’t do that well, shouldn’t it be your fault for not helping him/her to begin with? Sounds fair to me..”

Their mouths dropped and they couldn’t believe it. Then, out of the kindness of my evil heart, I said, “ok fine. if you’re not happy with it, you can choose to get your own marks, but 5 marks will be deducted from it. You have to make this choice WITHOUT looking at your own marks first and once you made the choice, you can’t go back and take this friend’s marks”

For eg: Syafiq, who is holding Elly’s paper (52%) can choose to take her marks or take the risk (depending on how confident he is of his own paper) and take his own paper back -5 marks.

With this arrangement, half of the kids chose to stick with their friends’ marks while the other half still wanted their papers back. I finally realized the joke is getting too far (though it’s quite a good lesson), and told them if they could give me a good reason for their decision (whatever it is), I’ll grant them their wish.

A girl, full of confidence, said “teacher, I want my own paper because I worked hard for it and I’m confident I did well”. Fair enough, so I gave her her paper back and she got her 80%.

A boy surprised me by saying “teacher I know I did well but I want whoever who has my paper to keep it, we’ll just work harder together next time”. He actually got 85% on his own paper, and the paper he was holding was 52%. T____T

After a while, I decided to just tell them that this is a joke. and that I’m not dying. They laughed and told me their hearts actually stopped beating for a while hahah.

But I’m actually quite serious about the working as a team part and I need my kids to be more confident of themselves!

“So….teacher…can I ask you a question? Are you still…dying?”

#dramaqueen #aprilfools

Rural living

I think when I decided to join Teach For Malaysia, it wasn’t really my biggest decision ever. My biggest decision was choosing to opt for a school that is located in the most rural area on the list. It was because I felt like if I’m already gonna do something so crazy, might as well go all out while I’m at it!

It was also because I don’t think I’d feel right serving underprivileged kids, only to drive the few minutes back to my comfortable suburbia house, back to the warmth of my welcoming comfort zone.

But…..barely a week into moving here, I’ve already started regretting it.

This place is perpetually filled with bugs, the water makes me sick and gives me rashes, I can’t sleep at night for fear of being eaten alive by spiders, there is practically NOTHING here but two rows of shops, the nearest civilization (KFC) is 45 minutes away, and the list goes on and on.

My stomach is filled with dread so heavy it sinks the entire universe every time I have to drive back here, so much so that I’ve chosen to just drive back every Monday morning instead (waking up at 4.30a.m has taken its toll on me).

I remember how I kept finding excuses to go back too, despite the crazy tiring drive. Whoops I left my charger at home teehee I guess I have no choice but to go back midweek and leave this horrible place for the night!
Whoops I brought one less baju kurung, time to go home now!! Whoops “accidentally” left my students’ books, must go get them!

And it went on like that for the rest of the year..

Along the way, I’ve completely forgotten why I chose to serve here. I’ve completely forgotten what I came here to see, to experience. And if I keep finding excuses to slide back into my bubble, I would have wasted my two years here.

I was reflecting on this as I was cycling around the paddy field the past few days, and truly for once, loving every moment of it. I came here to see and live the challenges the rest of Malaysia faces and I feel like I’ve failed myself by not gaining enough perspective before the year ends.

I realized that I can’t hate this place because then, it defeats the purpose of me trying to change the lives of the people here. If I can’t understand how they live, if I can’t empathize with them since I don’t try to live like them, then I’m in no position to decide what’s better for these kids.

Never thought the paddy field, the goats, the smiles of the farmers and the laughter of kids running barefoot would give me such a humbling experience.

I came here to teach, and I’m taught so much more in return 🙂

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