School of Tomorrow: Empowering Lifelong Learners

First of all, thank you all readers who approached me at the TEDx talk and for taking the time to attend! I had a lot of fun that day and I also met so many other inspiring people! It was definitely very nerve-wrecking to be on stage speaking to hundreds of people and although I’d practiced a million times, it was still a realllly huge challenge for me. I was actually going to reject the invitation to speak cos of my fear of public speaking but I’m glad I went for it!

If you couldn’t make it, you can watch the video later (will let you know when it’s up!). I spoke on my experience as a teacher and spent most of my talk focusing on the literacy issues in my school/community. I think (and hope) it was quite shocking but enlightening for most people since a lot of us hardly recognize the problem brewing in our own country.

I think it’s quite clear by now that education is an issue that is very very close to my heart (since I talk about it in every blog post haha). People often ask me what I plan to do after my two years with Teach For Malaysia, and though it’s a hard question to answer mainly because it’s so loaded, I’m extremely certain that I will stay in the education line. The short answer is: I’m going to teach in a primary school after this.

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TEDxYouth @KL

Hey guys!

As you know, I was invited to speak at TEDxYouth and it’s such an honour to be able to speak to such a large crowd! I’m really excited to share my teacher life with everyone but also crazyyyy nervous. I mean..I speak in front of so many very unforgivingly, ruthlessly critical kids everyday but it feels strange to speak to people who are older now haha.

Anyways, if you’d like to catch me and the other inspiring speakers, do come to the event!


TEDxYouth@KL 2012: Mountains Are Doable

November 17, SSM @ KL Sentral

Get your tickets here:

You can read more about the event or about the other speakers on the website!


You can also read this writeup by The Star on the event.

p.s: Don’t judge, it was the only teacher-like picture I have so I had to give them that picture.

p.p.s: Hope to see lots of you there! Please clap extra loud for me so when I come out it doesn’t feel awkward wtf *cricket sound

Blurred reality

I was washing the dishes when this scene conquered the previous random thoughts in my head. I can’t accurately put a name to the place I was at, nor do I even know where I was. All I know is I was at a cafe somewhere and I was sitting outside on a cobbled road. So I’m assuming I was in Europe, possibly Germany. I had a hot mug of mocha in my hand, it was steaming hot and had a generous serving of whipped cream on it. I was holding a book, it was a Murakami book as usual. I don’t remember who I was with but it didn’t matter.

In that particular scene, I was people-watching during the brief 10-second interlude in that awkward moment of flipping into another chapter of the book. I call it the awkward moment because that is when I usually have to shake myself off the story and bring myself to face reality, and sometimes I’m so immersed in the book that I can’t even discern which is the reality anymore. If I take too long of an interlude between chapters, I lose the connection with the fictional world I was in and succumb to my reality. that’s when I lose interest in the book so I always make a conscious effort to minimize the interlude time.

so back to the scene in my head while I was washing dishes (now I’m confused which is the reality – pretty sure the reality is me washing dishes). It was a very very brief scene in my head, probably not lasting more than 2 seconds in total. But why I even bothered thinking about this incident again the next day, and taking the time to actually type this down, was because of the feelings that overpowered me the moment that scene overtook my thoughts.

It was a feeling of absolute happiness, of utter calmness. Though brief, I felt like that was what I am destined to do, what the purpose of my existence is in this confounding world, what my calling is – to find that moment of happiness.

After the scene had played in my head and I had come back to my reality, I spent the next few minutes wondering why that scene had so much weight and stirred such mixed feelings. This is not the first time it had happen and every time it happens, it was always when I’m doing something completely mundane. When I was showering, when I was putting moisturizer on my face, when I was starting my car, etc.

the worst part is, I’m always left feeling very confused if that scene was a scene from a dream I once had, or a reality I had once lived in, or an alternate reality my alternate self is currently living in. I know this is all quite bullshitty but ever since that first lapse of that scene, I’ve always wanted to re-live it. Maybe that is my ultimate nirvana? Maybe when I reenact that scene in reality, I will achieve the enlightening state that everyone has been yearning for? Funny how my nirvana is when I’m reading a book and people watching somewhere in Europe.

but sometimes i wonder what is reality anymore. The lines between dreams, reality and alternate reality all seem so blurred to me now. All I know is I need to get myself to that cafe, somehow, someday.

A teacher’s worst nightmare

These are some of the updates I posted on Facebook recently so thought I’d just put them here too.

Last week, something horrifying and traumatizing happened, and it’s especially scarier now that i’m a teacher so i feel like a parent to all my kids.

After choral speaking practice, the kids left and went back home. I drove out to get lunch and I saw a crowd a little further down the road from school. I rolled my window down to ask if anyone needs a ride, and the sight that greeted me back shocked me so much my heart stopped.

Lying on the road, was my student. There was blood all over his face and arms and legs. Someone carried him into my car and we immediately rushed him to the clinic. When we were there, I held on to his hand while we waited for the doctor. His face was in an UTTER mess. His lips were split, there was thick red blood all over. On his eyelids, on his nose, on my hands, on my baju kurung. He was semi conscious and was slipping into unconsciousness, so I had to keep telling him to WAKE UP! Don’t sleep, please hold on! I’m here look at me! while maintaining eye contact. It was hard because I’m really not a fan of gory films but I need him to know that I’m there.The doctor took over after that and his friends (all kids from my class) helped me clean the blood off my car. There were stains all over. Splotches on my seat, on my badminton racket, on my shoes, on my books, on my dumbbells. But we cleaned and cleaned in silence.

He was then rushed to the hospital in a further town because he suffered memory loss as well. He was riding his bike when he lost control, and he was flung out of it and hit his head on the lamp post.

I will never forget the look of fear and pain in his eyes, the blood on his long eyelashes, him softly saying “tolong…tolong…tolong” despite us being in the clinic already. Just thinking about it gives me the lump in my throat. I really hope he gets well soon!

This was my initial post. Two days later, we heard that this boy had been discharged from the hospital so we went to visit after choral practice!

Before I went in the house, all my kids who were already there rushed out to warn me of how gory his face was. I cringed but rushed in to see him, and found him sitting sadly on the couch. His face was indeed a mess – he had seven stitches on his forehead, three on his lips. His lips were swollen to three times its size and he’d lost a few teeth. His whole body was covered with wounds as well, and he can’t walk nor move much. He also broke a rib.

He was clearly very very down and sad. The first thing he said to me was “Teacher, sorry saya tak dapat pergi choral speaking (sorry I couldn’t go choral speaking)”

When I heard that I was so freaking sad!!! This kid just went through a really bad time and all he thought of was upsetting me. The conversation moved on to his accident, to road safety etc but then he said again:

“Teacher how was the choral practice?”
“Teacher, I’m sure everyone will perform well”
“Teacher, I wish I could join choral”

Again and again. I was so touched I wanted to cry. Even thinking about it again makes me want to cry. I told him that the spot is still open for him but he doesn’t have to perform, I just want him to go and see his friends perform, provided of course if he’s healthy enough. His mom who was there was happy and said she gives her consent for me to bring him out. His eyes lighted up and he said he really wants to go. Everyone who was there clapped and cheered. It was such a joyous moment T__T

“Teacher, do you think people at the event will laugh at my face?”

“No way, I’ll laugh at THEIR face if they do” (I know I’m such a bad role model hahah)

Then after a while, he said: “Teacher, thank you for saving me. I heard you asking me to wake up wake up don’t sleep. I couldn’t remember whose voice was that but now I remember”

T______________T I had to tahan macho cos so many students were there but I was really touched. I kept looking at him and smiling cause he looked SOOO sad but then he started tearing so I teared too wtf *weak

Then I remembered that I’m a teacher and I should be stern and all so I gave him (and other kids) a good lecture on road safety and how he’s been given another chance at life and how he should appreciate it and how hard his mom raised him and so on. After being a teacher, I’ve learned to spin a ton of moral values out of any situation. If I take SPM Moral again, I’d have gotten A1 for sure this time!

Awesome kids are awesome

A few updates:

1. I’m making a more concerted effort to blog more again for several reasons. Firstly, it doesn’t actually take thaaat much time and I’m a lot more free these days (kids are having their exams next week!) so no excuse not to blog!

Secondly and more importantly but shamelessly, I need to start writing advertorials again to earn my side income so I have to blog more to maintain/increase my traffic. Recently, we TFM fellows got a pay cut. Seriously don’t ask why, I don’t even know why too. All I know is we had to resign a new contract, got a pay cut AND worst of all, have to pay back for the increment we got since January. It’s a heck lot of money, money I don’t have. So don’t mind me if I start putting ads again on my blog ok? A teacher’s gotta eat.. (though I’m trying to lose weight these days..)

2. I learned how to ride a motorcycle!!!!!!!

I’ve never really wanted to learn before but recently, I’ve been peer-pressured into it. Well, peer pressure is the wrong term to use because my kids are the one that influenced me, so it’ll be like…”student-pressured” into it? Haha. ALL the kids here can ride a bike, and they made fun of me for not being able to ride one!

“Hahhhh how can teacher? It’s soooo easy!”

“Teacher, you can’t be like us kampung people if you can’t ride one!”

“What?? Even a 10 year old can ride a motorbike!” (it’s true)

See, such bad influence!

Anyway, I’m actually pretty good at it now! And the worst part is, it’s super addictive! Hahaha this sounds like a vice already. But after learning how to ride one, I really get why my kids love to ride around the village “just for fun” because damn, it’s so freaking fun! The wind blowing in your hair, the adrenaline rush, the DANGER, the power in your hands…

So, I’ve been grabbing any motorbike I see and begging the owner to let me ride. They let me use it all the time cause I’m a teacher ma, and they respect me a lot here. Then, I’ll bring a random student to ride around the paddy fields and the village to sightsee, and we’ll talk about all sorts of profound and thought-provoking things like the latest gossip in school and how their lives are like.

It’s really moments like this that I will remember for the rest of my life once I leave this place.

Me, riding a motorbike around the village and in the woods, with teenagers, who would have thought?

3. Speaking of kids (am I not always talking about them anyway?), I’m really REALLY sad today. There are these two girls (who are sisters) whom I’ve been hanging out with everyday, playing badminton or basketball, or just talking about life. I know their whole family and I’m like the resident guest in their house. Their mom cooks for me and gossips with me, the baby of the house clings on to my leg when I visit, and they always fling the door open excitedly when they hear my car engine outside.

I found out today..that they are shifting away next month T____________T

I was so upset when I heard it because they’ve become my best friends here. They confide in me all the time and I would always talk about life with them. I’ve shown them my pictures overseas and shared with them all my experiences. They’re only 15 and 16, but seeing their excitement and love for me everyday makes my day.

And now they’re moving away forever T____________T

I was seriously going to cry when I heard it. I’m never supposed to invest my emotions so heavily on my kids but it’s hard when you live in a place where there’s no one you know with no family. They ARE my family.

I think I’m going to cry buckets later when I bid them goodbye. I HATE losing my kids, can’t imagine how I’d feel next year when I leave.

4. This is a bit of a good news to end the post. Recently, our school’s choral speaking team was invited to perform for the Teach For Malaysia 2013 Cohort’s opening dinner! When I told my kids, they were ecstatic!

“Teacher, we’re good enough to perform for people!”

YES you are! So proud of all of you 🙂

So we’ve been practising everyday with the script I wrote from scratch. It’s been quite tough because their exams are next week and the performance is in 3 weeks! But we still have to use a new script anyway cause half the team consists of new members who begged me to let them join in after seeing how fun it is.

The best part of my week today is when this boy (who joined the choral speaking team that won the district championship last time but didn’t want to join this time) came to me and said this: “Teacher, can I join the team? I told my dad that I didn’t join this time and he scolded me. He said I must join because I can improve my English!”

It completely makes my day because it means my effort to build relationships with the parents have been worth it! I’ve spoken to his dad before and have said many good things about his son, and how he should be proud to have a son like that and how he has done a good job raising him. So for him to actually tell his kid to join despite the exams shows that he really believes in me to help his kid’s English 😀 😀 😀 Can’t stop smiling!

The kids have also been working very hard. I’ve started putting my dictator face on again so every practice has been quite challenging for me and them. I need to be hard on them because I expect so much from everyone and I know they’ll do amazing.

Then, a girl who just joined the team told me today that choral practices are what make her days now. She’s having so much fun and although it’s tough but she loves it! These kids hardly speak a sentence of English in real life but they have to speak FIVE pages of English confidently and enthusiastically now.

Haih just talking about how awesome they are makes me want to weep like a baby now.

Sorry for this really long post but I hope you enjoyed reading about what I’ve been up to!

p.s: thanks for subscribing to my mailing list! Will definitely try to write more protected posts so you don’t sign up in vain 😛

Updated mailing list

Hi everyone!

First of all, thanks for sending me an email to be added into the mailing list. My previous mailing list is a little messy and has too many people in it. With google+, I’m going to create a new circle meant for readers so I can manage the list better. So, sorry if you’ve already sent me an email last time to be added into the previous mailing list but if you would like to read my password protected posts from now onwards, please drop me an email again!

(NOTE: People who have sent me an email since Jan this year, you don’t have to do this again)

Sorry for the inconvenience and thanks for reading 🙂 I think I’ll be posting more private posts since I like the idea of still being able to write more personal stuff despite being a teacher now.

I’m also re-doing this because the previous mailing list may have people who have stopped reading my blog and might not be interested anymore. Later scold me for spamming them with passwords wtf *sad

As usual, if you would like to be included in the mailing list, please fill up this form with your REAL name, email address and in the message, I would like you to talk about yourself in general (not your whole life story wtf) and any other information you would like me to know about you. I will then email you the passwords to this and future password protected posts.

Mailing list form here:

SORRY guys! My mailing list is now closed due to an overwhelming response from everyone and I have no time to add more people in. sorry again!

24 on 24

So it’s my birthday today! I turn 24 this year so as usual, I’m going to write a birthday post to talk about how it feels to be a year older. I’m expecting this to be a long rambly, personal, introspective post so be warned that it might get lengthy!

Let me start off with teacher-related stuff first.

When I walked into school today, I immediately got a barrage of wishes from my kids. They knew it was my birthday because I have the same birthday as one boy and I once told him that only awesome people are born on this day (also gave him a fist pump after that -I’m such a cool teacher hahaha)

So I was feeling quite happy and excited about today before my classes already!

During my first class, I wrote on the board (amidst notes on grammar and boring stuff) “Happy Birthday Syahfiq! Only awesome people are born on 24 Sept!” and everyone broke into laughter before wishing him as well.

After the class ended, the monitor went in front and cleared his throat.

“Attention class!”

Then I made fun of him cos he sounded so serious hahahaha I’m such an evil teacher! Gonna get bad karma.

Then he continued. “Today is a very special day because it’s someone’s birthday…”

“I want to thank Teacher Suet Li for being our teacher, and would like to wish her all the best. We promise to do our best in our English exam as your present! Stand up class.”

Then he got everyone to say happy birthday to me in unison T_________T What did I do to deserve this T_______T

I was soooo freaking proud of him cause he said the entire short speech in English and he was clearly very nervous to stand in front and to speak English!

Some of them gave me cards after. I am so touched but cannot cry must maintain cool macho persona wtf

Then, in my second class, they sang me a birthday song the moment I stepped into class. I stood there awkwardly (I am SUPER awkward when people sing me birthday songs, please don’t ever do that to me!) and tried to smile but was blushing intensely.

I can’t believe my kids are so sweet! They kept saying sorry for not giving me presents but I told them I really really just want them to do well, not just in exams but in life. So teacher lah me.

Anyway, now here comes the lengthy introspective serious part haha.

Come to think of it, I have so much to say that I don’t even know what to say. Birthdays are a great time to reflect on our lives so I guess I’ll attempt to do that..

The past one year since my last birthday had been a complete 180 degrees turnaround for me. During this time last year, I was going through an incredibly tough time that had caused me to doubt my sanity and integrity as a person. I was in a really bad shape then and I don’t think any of my friends could really recognize me much too.

In fact, I was really hesitant on starting my journey as a teacher because I was in such a bad emotional wreck that I thought me being a teacher would just be a hazard to my future students!

Thankfully, I went ahead with it anyway because it seemed silly to give up something I believe in because of a feeble excuse of a problem that I could easily fix (though it didn’t seem easy then). I am also just really REALLY thankful that I had a great bunch of people as my support system when things were crazy. My family, my friends, my readers even, were all there whenever I needed them. So thank you everyone for hoisting me up to where I am now! My students have you to thank too :’)

Actually, I’m trying really hard to word my “lengthy, introspective and personal” birthday post because I’m no longer at a position where I could just babble on about everything freely. I can do a password protected post, but it just takes too much effort to deal with the mailing list and sending out passwords (but thank you everyone who has been emailing me to be included in the mailing list!) so I guess this will do.

To my long time readers: I’ve really changed, haven’t I? From a super happy-go-lucky and silly, naive, immature girl, to a really dark, emotional person last year, to this person I am today.

This is actually my first birthday in 4 years that was spent very low-key-ly because the past few years had been quite crazy. In school, birthdays for me meant it was time to get allllll my friends together in my house and talk until midnight! In college, frankly, birthdays were just a time to party like crazy and to get err, intoxicated. It was great fun but I really wanted something quiet this year! I spent an awesome time with my loved ones this weekend, and today with my kids. I couldn’t have asked for a better celebration 🙂

To myself: I’m glad you’ve become a better person this year and though there are nights where life uncertainties still creep up beneath you in the dark, know that life will always get better if you want it to be. Also, please always remember to appreciate the people around you and to appreciate all the little moments in life *getting cheesy wtf

Happy birthday to myself, and to all September babies!

Everyday is an exciting day

Hello after one month of absence!

This is a glorious month because it’s my birthday month! So I vow to keep my excitement as each day comes because we all know that an unexcited, passive, boring teacher is the worst teacher to have in a classroom. It’s good that I’m an easily excitable person so everything that happens everyday always keeps me genuinely happy anyway.

I have pictures to share and an exciting news at the end of the post! I think I’m using the many derivations of the word exciting too liberally haha. Going to start off with some teaching-unrelated pictures first.

This was taken two months ago at my best friend’s wedding. Can’t believe it’s been two months since that incredibly exciting (here I go again) day!

Me with Angie who flew from Canada just for that weekend. Angie is always an amazing company because she’s as easily excitable as I am! Everytime we see each other again after a long period of time, we always get along so well as if we never parted 🙂

I’m also overly tanned here because it was the weekend after my Sports Day where I got baked like crazy.

Seeing Audrey in her wedding dress the first time made me cry T___T I think I’ll cry like a baby when I see her first baby bump too T___T Can’t believe she’s all grown up now T__T

At the wedding dinner with the super cute Up house! I’m the one in white in case you have forgotten how I look like since I don’t post that many pictures of myself anymore haha. L-R: Tze, Jiameei, Angie, me, Huiwen, Jolene.

Ok that’s it, on to teaching pictures! Keep in mind that I can’t put too many personal pictures because I have a lot of students and teachers reading my blog.

Yes, I’m now an Arts teacher too! I have no idea what to teach them so I just teach them what I know best – how to draw humans/anime-looking people haha

This was taken during extra class one day. My extra class is super muhibbah one cause I have Chinese, Indian, Malay and orang asli students. This is a proud teacher moment, my kids teaching the other kids 🙂

Another super super proud teacher moment too! I had the kids write an essay and told them to be very creative with it. This is a boy reading another boy’s essay (really funny essay) to another boy and laughing about it. LOVE it when they have fun with English!

This is so logical I absolutely cannot find a flaw in her premise hahahaha I love my kids.

Another proud teacher moment! Maybe I should just name this post “Proud teacher moments”. These are my kids editing each other’s essays before sending them in. I gave them the criteria I use to edit their essays and they switched books and marked their friend’s essay.

After 40 minutes, none of them finished marking and complained “Teacher, it’s so hard to mark!” I used that opportunity to give them a lecture on why it’s important to read through their essay first before handing it in. Imagine 40 minutes per essay x 30 essays. And I have 5 classes’ essays to read so 150 essays x 40 minutes = 6000 minutes!

“Imagine I have to spend 100 hours to mark all your essays every month! That’s if I don’t sleep, eat, go toilet or take a break at all. It’s so sad ok, when my friends ask me out I have to say no. Do you want me to have no friends, no life and to die a lonely death by the river???!”

Kids: Noooo teacher!

“Yes! So pleaseeee check your essays first and please don’t make so many mistakes. Or I’ll haunt you forever”

Dramatic betul lah teacher ni.

One cheeky kid asked: kenapa nak mati tepi river teacher?

“Sebab macam kesian sikit hehe”

Class erupted into laugher. This class really knows how to feed my ego!

This is Jaya reading Peter and Jane Book 3A !!!! PROUD MAX! It took her 9 months to get here though but we’ll still soldier on! Target is Book 5 by the end of this year. Although she can read better now (can pronounce words), it’s still hard for her to comprehend what she’s reading. Slowly..slowly.

Anyone knows the Oh My English crew? If you can get me connected to them, my kids and I will be indebted to you forever!!

This is why I need more books! I’ve been buying them for some of them (they love love love the Wimpy Kid’s Diary series). This is from the best class so they can read higher level books. Please donate more books to me if you have some that you don’t want anymore! Not too high level please, my better kids can only read books like Wimpy Kid’s Diary, not even Enid Blyton yet.

To above and beyond! Misty drive back to my kampung.

Tyre suddenly erupted when I got into the highway on the way home last weekend. Thank god the ronda guy came to my rescue!

And I’m soooo thankful it happened at the highway. To get home, I have to go through 1-hour of isolated kampung roads before reaching the highway and if my tyre burst then, I wouldn’t know what to do. There’s no phone reception most of the journey and I don’t know how to replace my tyre too. Actually, I do but I’m a chicken and am always scared to get out of my car if anything happens.

Thank you again LEKAS ronda guy! Don’t know why so bad luck tyre burst for no reason 🙁

Amazing relaxing time with my abandoned 1Q84 and a cup of sweet potato latte and great company 🙂

Can’t wait for December holidays although TFM fellows only get about 3 weeks off. Lots of work to do before then, and lots of planning to do during holidays too but I can’t wait for not waking up at 6 a.m! I hate waking up so early can I just teach somewhere where I can wake up at a decent hour!

Anyway it’s late (11.30 pm GASP) so time to sleep. Thanks for reading!

OH YEAH. Almost forgot my exciting news! I just got invited to speak at TEDx youth KL. Say whaaaaat?

p.s: sorry for the liberal use of exclamation marks and sorry if it got annoying. It’s an exciting month so must punctuate with !!! to show how exciting everything is!