Saturday, November 28, 2009

Tips for beginning teachers

I'm hardly the most competent of new teachers but I would like to share what I've learned throughout my first-year of teaching with my cohort 3 juniors.

1) Teaching is not at all like practicum

We all loved our practicum days. Sure, we were sleep-deprived and we tortured our brains to come up with interesting lesson plans+teaching aids.

But in the end, we loved the experience. We were loved by the students and we made learning FUN! What an achievement that is.

It would be great if you could maintain that standard but truth be told, you won't have the luxury to do so.

Instead of teaching only 2 classes, you will now teach 5.
Instead of 10 periods a week, you will now handle 25 (or more).
To top it all off, you will be assigned various duties that require mountains of paperwork.

The teaching & learning process will sadly be relegated to the near-bottom of your priorities :-(

But, try to maintain that standard nonetheless. Keep all your lesson plans and teaching aids from your practicum days. They will be extremely useful!

Maybe you won't be able to conduct fun lessons every day, but try to do so once a week or once a fortnightly.

2) Brush up on your classroom management

This has been my Achilles heel. Your personality will dictate your teaching style. And try as I might, I cannot seem to be garang or make my voice louder. These shortcomings proved to be disastrous. I cannot seem to get the class under control and hence not much learning can take place, regardless of how well the lesson is planned.

So, moral of the story: toughen yourself up to face these teenagers. They have claws.

3) Get organised

In Selangor, you are supposed to go through an orientation period. For 2 to 3 weeks, your school is supposed to acclimatise you to the school's culture, acquaint you with the "important" people in the organisation, and detail your job specifications, etc.

But rarely do schools have time to do this. So you need to do all these things on your own. Seek out a friendly face and ask that person for any assistance/guidance.

You need to know what you are expected to do:

-Besides teaching, you need to administer oral tests twice a year and fill in the related forms.

-You have to set exam questions. Find out when's your turn to do this.

-For extra-curricular activities, your have to clock-in the required contact hours before the students are busy with their academic pursuit in the second half of the year.

-You have to hand in the students' books for inspection periodically. So identify students who actually do their work because chances are there are not many of them!

-Keep track of all the work that your students have submitted. Usually, for the mid-year and the end-of-year exam, there is a 10% allocation for homework.

-And do work out the logistics early on. You will need to finish the syllabus by October. So distribute the contents of the syllabus evenly throughout the academic calender.

4) You will hear this often: "New broom sweeps clean"

Some will use that as an excuse to pile more work on your plate. Most of the times, you will feel victimised by the unfairness of it all.

But take heart. Do the work to the best of your abilities. Persevere, though you feel as if you might just buckle under the pressure or be buried under all those paperwork. Look up to those teachers who do more work than you, not less. Emulate the dedicated ones.

And it's absolutely essential to learn to say 'No' (something that I, myself, am still learning to do)

5) Stop complaining

It's so easy and tempting to complain incessantly about how you are overwork and underpaid but complaining never made anyone attractive.

Remember that the grass is NOT greener on the other side.

You may have problematic students but you have great colleagues (or the other way around).
Your school may have excellent infrastructure and facilities but the canteen food is horrible.
The location may be convenient but you don't really like the administrators.

So, just be thankful with what you have.

" may be that you dislike a thing and Allah brings through it a great deal of good" (4:19)

6) Have a support system

Keep in touch with your IPBA buddies. They will be there for you when you are feeling down. They can empathise with the problems that your are facing and will offer you invaluable words of support. It's amazing how simple words like "hang in there k" or a virtual hug can brighten up your day :-)

Blog about your experience, share your joys and challenges of teaching. Know that you are not alone.

7) Have a distraction

Teaching can be an all-consuming job. You will realise that you talk very little else outside the realm of school.

So, take up a hobby if you haven't already got one. You NEED the distractions!

8) Play all your roles effectively

Remember that a teacher's job is not just to teach. To quote Frank McCourt in Teacher Man:

"I was more than a teacher. And less. In the high school classroom you are the drill sergeant, a rabbi [an ustazah in this case... haha], a shoulder to cry on, a disciplinarian, a singer, a low-level scholar, a clerk, a referee, a clown, a counselor, a dress-code enforcer, a conductor, an apologist, a philosopher, a collaborator, a tap dancer, a politician, a therapist, a fool, a traffic cop, a priest, a mother-father-brother-sister-uncle-aunt, a bookkeeper, a critic, a psychologist..."

Oh, he forgot the janitor!

The tap dancing role may be called upon once in a lifetime but the 3 roles (besides teaching) that you have to take seriously are: enforcing discipline, building rapport with the students and inculcating good moral values in them.

9) Create a positive workplace culture

Respect your colleagues, the administrators, the clerks, the bookshop attendant, the guards, the lab assistants, the cleaners, the gardeners, etc.

Treat them well. A good turn deserves another.

10) Manage your finances well

Receiving your very first payslip is a wonderful feeling. The thin piece of paper symbolises financial independence and adulthood. It also gives you an immense sense of achievement.

But after setting aside money for your parents, the car, charity, savings and other obligations, your disposable income does not amount to much. So do not splurge as soon as you get your wage. Fulfill your obligations first and if you happen to have some thing extra at the end of the month, spend it (guilt-free) then.

11) Fly under the radar

It's tough to dodge/refuse the many sales in the staff room (Kuih Raya, tupperware, kain baju kurung, insurance policy, etc). So the best strategy is to avoid sales pitches altogether.

Also beware of (well-meaning) insistent match makers. If you don't have "someone" already, invent one!

12) Maintain your idealism

I don't mean to point out all the bad things about being a teacher. This is just meant to prepare you for the realities of teaching. Yes, it is easy to get disillusioned, frustrated, and burn-out from your job, but remind yourself daily why you are a teacher. Constantly review your niat (intentions).

13) "Verily, with every difficulty, there is relief"

It is inevitable that you struggle+sink+lose weight & voice at first.

But it'll get better in time.

To quote the article from The Star by P.K. Toh:

"The student-teacher bond can be fraught with heartache, but for those who persevere to the end, the rewards far outweigh the sacrifices"

Just remember: At the end of these crazy/gruelling academic sessions is a 5-week holiday that few jobs could rival :-)


Cohort 2 friends, do add in your own advice based on your experience...

Aini has written hers.

I hope that our experience will be of use to others.

Sunday, November 22, 2009

off with a bang

that was it!
Last Friday (20th Nov) was the last school day of 2009.

It was a bit chaotic with teachers running around, rushing to complete the many, many things that had to be handed in:
-Rekod Kerja
-Pelan Taktikal 2010
-Library books
-Fail Meja

Some teachers managed to clean a year's worth of clutter (handouts, exam questions, students' workbooks, and what-not) on their desk, while others decided to let the clutter accumulate for yet another year.

There were not many students that day; only a handful of Fourth-Formers and those who take the EST (English for Science and Technology) paper for SPM. The Form Three students were already off on their end-of-year break, which started a week earlier.

My last day was special because a teacher at my school was retiring. Knowing that that day's attendance would be dismal, his retirement ceremony was held last week. But his sending-off was held that day.

And what a sending-off it was!

Originally, the plan was that he'd be sent-off on a big motorcycle.

But that morning, rumours had it that he'd be off on a helicopter!

It was supposed to be a surprise but by mid-morning, the staff room was already abuzz with the news. Teachers never can keep secrets... haha

At around 12pm, everyone gathered at the field for the helicopter landing. Dr. John signed-out at the office for the last time and proceeded to walk to the helicopter.

Students lined-up from the office to the field to shake his hands and say good-bye.

He was stopped for a while by the boys from 4S who serenaded him with their cover version of 'Don't worry, Be Happy', accompanied by a ukulele. It was a very nice gesture/performance.

Finally, it was time for Dr. John to board the helicopter and fly off.

The helicopter circled the school a few times before finally heading to Subang.

Then, the clock struck 12.30pm.

School's over for the year.

I survived my first year of teaching!!!

And what an event to end it with :-)


This note below was pasted on the teachers' bulletin board the day before SPM. Coming from a reputably "difficult" class, it was rather sweet :-)

Another sweet thing that a student did was give me a wrapped chocolate for my birthday. Thing is, she forgot to take off the price tag!


Fellow teachers, have a great break. For those invigilating SPM, hang in there. It'll be over soon enough!

Saturday, November 14, 2009

A Better Muslim

I'm currently reading 'Three Cups of Tea' by Greg Mortenson and David Oliver Relin.

The book chronicles the challenges that Greg Mortensen faced when he tried to build a school in Korphe, an isolated and impoverished village in Pakistan. Below is the blurb on the back of the book:

"In 1933 a mountaineer named Greg Mortenson drifted into an impoverished Pakistan village in the Karakoram mountains after a failed attempt to climb K2. Moved by the inhabitants' kindness, he promised to return and build a school. Tree Cups of Tea is the story of that promise and its extraordinary outcome. Over the next decade Mortenson build not just one but fifty-five schools - especially for girls - in the forbidding terrain that gave birth to the Taliban. His story is at once a riveting adventure and a testament to the power of the humanitarian spirit."

At first, I nearly put the book aside after plowing through the first chapter. The prose just didn't manage to engage my interest. But I'm glad I persevered because the book does get better.

I just read a particularly touching chapter which I felt compelled to share.

While building the school one day, the villagers were startled by the intrusion of Haji Mehdi and his henchmen. Haji Mehdi is the nurmadhar (village head) of Askole (a bigger, neighbouring village).

[Excerpts from the book are in italics]

"I have heard that an infidel has come to poison Muslim children, boys as well as girls, with his teachings," Haji Mehdi barked. "Allah forbids the education of girls. And I forbid the construction of this school."

"We will finish our school," Haji Ali [Korphe's nurmadhar] said evenly. "Whether you forbid it or not."

Enraged by this answer, Haji Mehdi replied:

"Do you worship Allah? Or this kafir?"

To this, Haji Ali remarked:

"No one else has ever come here to help my people. I've paid you money every year but you have done nothing for my village. This man is a better Muslim than you. He deserves my devotion more than you do."

Haji Mehdi then gave an ultimatum: if they insisted on having the school, they would need to pay him 12 of their largest rams.

Haji Ali complied with this outrageous demand.

Mortenson who witnessed the whole proceeding noted:

"Haji Ali had just handed over half of the wealth of the village to that crook, but he was smiling like he'd just won a lottery."

He later addressed his people:

"Don't be sad. Long after all those rams are dead and eaten this school will still stand. Haji Mehdi has food today. Now our children have education forever."

That night, Haji Ali confided in Mortenson:

"Do you see how beautiful this Koran is?" Haji Ali asked.


"I can't read it," he said. "I can't read anything. This is the greatest sadness in my life. I'll do anything so the children of my village never have to know this feeling. I'll pay any price so they have the education that they deserve."


This story reminds me of Laskar Pelangi. How we take literacy and education for granted.

I wish I could drum this very important lesson to each and every one of my reluctant student.

And it's good to ponder on Haji Ali's remark: "This man is a better Muslim than you."

What makes one a good Muslim? This question reminded me of what Sayyid Abul A'la Mawdudi wrote in his book: Let Us Be Muslims:

"Can a person be a Muslim by virtue of his birth? Is a person a Muslim simply because he is the son or grandson of a Muslim?

Your answer to these questions will surely be: No. A Muslim does not become truly a Muslim simply because he is born a Muslim. A Muslim is not a Muslim because he belongs to any particular race; he is a Muslim because he follows Islam. If he renounces Islam, he ceases to be a Muslim."

Being a Muslim is not by mere verbal profession; you need to acquire knowledge and display it through your actions.

Wednesday, November 11, 2009

cutest response

Form 1 English Paper 2
Section C

Q:The following are the short stories studied in the literature component in English Language:

1. Of Bunga Telur and Bally Shoes by Che Husna Azhari
2. The Pencil by Ali Majod
3. How Dalat Got Its Name by Heidi Munan

Choose any one of the short stories that you have enjoyed reading. Write why you would recommend this short story to a friend.

A: I would recommend Of Bunga Telur and Bally Shoes from Che Husna Azhari to my friend because he loves love story to read. he loves love story because when he grow up he want to love someone. He also loves love stories because he likes happy people and he loves love stories sure he will love this book because it is about a love story.


Isn't that the cutest response you've ever read? :-)

Wednesday, November 04, 2009

No Way Through

I was deeply affected by the following video.

It tells of the severe mobility restrictions in the West Bank.


Around Jerusalem the average ambulance journey time for a Palestinian is now almost 2 hours, compared to 10 minutes in 2001.

In the West Bank alone there are more than 600 internal military checkpoints and road blocks.

At these checkpoints, Palestinians in need of immediate medical attention are:
-routinely refused passage
-denied medical help
-forced to give birth
-injured and even shot dead