Wednesday, January 27, 2010

Too much

"Prudie thought that she could just do the rest of it--watch them for signs of suicide or weapons or pregnancy or drug addiction or sexual abuse--but asking her to teach them French at the same time was really too much."

I'm nursing a cold right now and when I think of all the things that I'm supposed to do, I recalled the above excerpt from Karen Joy Fowler's The Jane Austen Book Club.

I may not deal with suicidal or pregnant students or all the other extreme cases, but I do feel overwhelmed by the various (unrelated to teaching) tasks that I'm supposed to do.

Yes, I can deal with the SMM data entry, the minutes, the documentations, the class register, the school fee collection, etc but how am I to teach English at the same time?

When would I have the time to plan lessons, to mark books, to do the oral tests, to use ICT in the classroom, etc?

I promised myself not to complain but being sick makes me susceptible to self-pity :-(

Sunday, January 24, 2010

Gombak By-Election

The given scenario was: "The parliamentary seat of Gombak is recently vacated. Your party decides to run in the by-election. Create an election poster to woo voters"

Though I was disappointed in the initial products, the subsequent presentations were much better.

The votes have been cast. But here are my chosen winners:

1) Best Name: The Redeem Party

The name has significant meaning and a cool connotation.

Other strong contenders: The Freedom Party & The Go Green Party.

Names which fell outside of the semantic field: The Halloween Party & The Birthday Party (!)

2) Best Slogan: "Gombak for Gombak People"

The memorable "Asia Untuk Orang Asia" slogan received a new twist. The Gombak version is very catchy!

Runner-up: "Justice will be served *Grr*"

The *Grr* provides a comic relief that appeals to voters.

3) Best Logo

The Cik Mun Party gave a wonderful rationale for their logo:- The figure lying comfortably inside the hibiscus symbolises the peace and security that each citizen of this country would feel under the Cik Mun's rule. This sentiment is reinforced in their slogan: Peaceful, secure & developed.

4) Best Content

Many groups chose the environment as a cause to fight for but The Freedom Party stood out because of the buzz words (hybrid cars, carbon emissions) that they mentioned. The use of these words shows that the group members are engaged with the current issues.

The other groups mostly talked about: stopping deforestation, promoting recycling & limiting the use of plastic bags.

5) Most Aesthetically-Pleasing

This was created by a group from 3B. 3B is the least-proficient class out of the five classes that I'm teaching. Though I provided most of the wording, this group certainly got A+ for their effort.

Another good effort from 3B:


What I learned from the whole exercise:
-Students should be constantly-trained to think critically and creatively. You would be surprised with the ideas they can come up with.
-Classroom activities which resemble real-life scenarios lend relevance to the lessons and motivate students.
-Students needed to be pushed to talk in English. Develop their public-speaking skills. Practice makes perfect! These skills will serve them well later in life.

Tuesday, January 19, 2010


It's funny how a so-so lesson plan could be a hit in the classroom while an elaborately-thought one could tank.

Today, I had planned a special lesson for 3Q. Yesterday, we did a reading comprehension exercise on Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. So, as an enrichment activity, I asked the students to ponder on this question: "If you were the leaders of this country, what changes would you implement to make things better?"

In groups, the students were to form their own political party. They had to:
-give their party a name
-create the party's logo
-coin a slogan, and
-state their party's manifestos

The students seemed to enjoy the group work but it was difficult to get them to talk in English. I was also disappointed by their finished products. Their manifestos lacked maturity and it made me wonder whether the task was too hard or whether my expectations were too high. Perhaps I should have structured the lesson differently; provide them with more input, examples and scaffolding...

There wasn't enough time for presentation, so the "campaigning" will commence next week followed by the casting of votes. The votes will then be tallied to ascertain the winner of the mock-election.

Though their manifestos needed more work, the names they have come up with were pretty creative.

One group named themselves The CHA Party. It is a party for chapatti enthusiasts.

The group next to them was inspired, so they named themselves MER Party, with a pigeon as their party's logo.

Yet another group named themselves SIM Party which I assumed to mean that they sympathise with the people's needs and sufferings.


The ongoing discussions made the class very noisy. We were using the Science Lab, so I looked around for a microphone. The lab assistants were out but a teacher there found a wireless mike for me to use. He tested it and it seemed to work just fine.

But when I returned to the lab, the mike would not work. I got Naim to test it out. And Naim, being Naim, tested it with: "Yo man, what's up bro?" followed by "If you can hear me, say 'yeah!'".

I had to stop him, so I grabbed the mike. It was still not working.

Suddenly, a few students (from another class) rushed into the room. They seemed taken aback when they saw me holding the mike. One of them then asked incredulously, "Kenapa Cikgu main mikrofon?"

Turned out, the wireless mike was connected to the room adjacent to ours. The mike had picked up and amplified every sound that Naim had made. The other class heard everything loud and clear.

It was rather embarrassing. Later, I apologised to the teacher next-door for unintentionally sabotaging her lesson.

Next time you want to test a mike, I suggest you stick to the "Cubaan 1, 2, 3..."

Thursday, January 14, 2010

An Imaginative Student

The given topic was: "The Person I Admire the Most". In 120 words, the students were required to describe their chosen person's appearance, personality and interests.

After some pre-writing activities that were aimed at generating vocabs for writing the description, the students had to write the essay on their own.

I was writing a sample essay on Roger Federer on the board when a student came up to me and asked:

"Saya tak tahu nak tulis pasal siapa Cikgu. Kalau saya tulis pasal Cikgu boleh?"

"Oh, ok. Boleh je."

"Apa yang saya tak tahu pasal Cikgu, saya reka je lah ye?"


At the end of the lesson, the student submitted his piece of fiction.

This is what he wrote:

"A person I admire very much is my teacher. She teach me English subject. She name is Rosyada. She live near at my school it is Taman Melawati. Miss Rosyada is twenty years old but she look young than she age. She is strong and healthy. She has a kind and has nice smile. She hobbie is reading book. She has very good personality. She always wear tudung and baju kurung. She is humble person and got many achievement like accounting and many more. She have one husband and two child. She a spend a lot of time with their husband and their children."

It was hard forcing myself not to laugh when marking his work. I didn't want him to get offended.

All I can say is that he's very imaginative!

Wednesday, January 13, 2010

'Who Am I?' Questionnaire

I often do this activity when I first enter a class:

Students copy the questionnaire and fill in the blanks (questions taken from the Cutting Edge workbook).

-I absolutely love __________
-and I really enjoy __________
-I'm quite good _________
-but not very good ________
-I'm not really interested __________
-I spend a lot of time __________
-and I know quite a lot __________
-I spend too much time __________
-and I don't have enough time _________
-I don't know anything about __________
-and I really hate __________

After everyone has written their answers, I will collect their books and begin to read randomly from the pile. The whole class will have to guess the identity of the person whose book I'm reading.

The exercise is really fun when your students give creative and unique answers that reveal their personality instead of run-of-the-mill answers like "I don't have enough time to study"

Anyway, last week, a student from 3A, gave a very good answer for "I'm quite good __________". Most students write the subject(s) they excel in or the skills they are good at in the blank (e.g. I'm quite good at basketball).

But this student wrote: "I'm quite good-looking" (!)

That gave me a good laugh.

The student scored some brownie points for his wittiness. But since he played truant today, those points are all but diminished...

Tuesday, January 12, 2010


After reading Heiran's review on The Star Weekender, I decided to watch it last Sunday (sorry, but I couldn't locate the review to link it with this post).

I have a particular penchant for Iranian films for I think that they have a great storyline which does not have to rely on fancy special effects and fight sequences to entice audiences. But I haven't really watched that many Iranian films to be able to make such generalizations...

There were only 6 people in the whole theatre. The first 10 minutes was wasted on annoying ads which reminded me why I hate going to the cinemas.

The movie's premise is simple enough: Girl meets boy from the wrong side of the tracks (in this case, an Afghan immigrant) - They fall in love despite the girl's parents' objections - They found ways to be together - Things go horribly wrong after marriage.

There must have been dozens of films with a similar storyline, right? But still, I was strongly affected by this movie... especially towards the end.

At the beginning, I was just plain exasperated. I really wished the protagonist, Mahi, had more sense in her head and would stop hurting her father's, mother's and grandfather's feelings.

I just hate it when people hurt those who love them the most - and abandon them - for someone whom they barely know.

But as Mahi's grandfather noted, "Nobody who's in love has ever had an ear for reason. Why should [Mahi]?"

But as the story progresses, we see how Mahi & Heiran both come to terms with LIFE - how harsh it could be and how naive they were.

What makes the film beautiful is how it portrays LOVE in its different forms:
-A father's love for his child
-A grandfather's love for his grandchildren
-A husband's love for his wife and vice versa

Tender moments like when Abbas (Mahi's father) fastens the blanket around a sleeping Mahi while sadly contemplating her future are heartbreaking.

And when Heiran learns of Mahi's pregnancy, he pulls her away from the bus station. "Where are we going?", Mahi asks. "Aren't we waiting for the bus?"

Heiran replies, "Today, my wife is taking a fancy cab"

Alahai, comel tak?

The ending is heart-wrenching, so make sure you have a packet of tissues ready.

Pictures from the movies (taken from:

Mahi's grandfather is forced to play chaperon
It's a bit hard saying 'No' to such an earnest suitor
Both learn that love cannot conquer all

Friday, January 08, 2010

W1, 2010

Surprisingly, going back to school has been great so far. Toward the end of my 5-week holidays, I had been dreading it. Just coming across back-to-school sales was enough to get me depressed.

But I'm enjoying myself so far. I'm teaching five Form 3 classes this year and I get to teach only English. I'm no longer teaching Moral nor on canteen duty (yeay!).

The only downside to this arrangement is the marking part. Form 3 students have the most number of tests/exams. In addition to the tests in Feb, March, July and the mid-year exam, they also have the PMR Trials and Ala PMR 1 & 2. Marking nearly 200 PMR essays for each test and exam is not going to be fun...

I was also relieved to find out that I won't be teaching my Form 3 students from last year. Though I have nothing against them, I wanted to start the year off fresh from the mistakes I had made last year as a beginning teacher.

This year, I knew that I have to set clear boundaries from the start, be stricter, more competent, and employ more tough love measures. I've learnt that some degree of arm-twisting is required when dealing with adolescent learners. Otherwise, they won't be doing their work or any learning at all. Relying on the students to develop their own intrinsic motivation is just wishful thinking.

The classes that I teach range from the "good" to the "weak". Each class has their own personality, and though I generally get on well with all of them, certain classes do provide more "chemistry" than others.

I love 3Q because I used to teach them for 1 semester last year (before I moved to the morning session) and they are just the nicest bunch of kids you could ever come across. They cheered when I entered their class and said, "Kami rindu Cikgu", which made me walked on air for kilometres.

Lessons with them are always lots of fun. Just yesterday, we acted out Chapter 1 from the novel 'Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde'. Naim's group gave a great performance which brought the class down. Fahmi, Muiz, and Fikri were excellent as Mr. Hyde, Mr. Enfield and Edie's father respectively, but Naim stole the show with his portrayal of Edie. His "screams of terror" were genuinely funny. I wished I had a video camera with me that day...

The other classes are enjoyable too. On my first day at 3A, the students got to ask me questions. I gave them 4 possible answers to each question and they had to figure out which answer was the correct one.

At first, they threw me predictable questions: "How old are you?", "Where are your from?", "Where did you study?", etc

Then came the absurd ones: "Are you married?", "Will you marry me?", "Do you have a daughter?" (apekah?) and "How old is your daughter?" (again, apekah???)

Having a laugh with the students is one of the joys of teaching, as are seeing them flash you their bright smiles, receiving their cheerful greetings, and waving them back from afar... :-)

But teaching does come with its hazards. A teacher had her car scratched (this happened last year) and when she went to get it repainted, the first question the mechanic asked her was, "Cikgu ke?"

I thought that was hilarious. He must have had a lot of teachers for customers.

His second question was equally funny: "Guru Disiplin ke?" (!)


The first few days were relatively free from classroom management problems. The majority of students seemed well-behaved and eager to learn. But it took 3B just four days to show their natural streaks.

The boys at the back chose to collectively go out to the washroom and the bookshop during my lesson. They didn't bring their textbook and when told to borrow from the other classes, they went out of the class in droves - leaving the class down to half.

This prompted my first lecture of the year. Contrary to popular belief, teachers do not like to nag. Nagging is so taxing on the emotion and vocal chords that I often avoid it. But, in keeping with my new set-the-boundaries-early strategy, I gave 3B a lecture before I let them off for the day.

When I'll see them next week, I'll tell you whether it worked or not and whether I had managed to exude the don't-mess-with-me vibes... haha

Till then,
have a great weekend people!

Thursday, January 07, 2010

A Common Faith - Steve McCurry's Travels through the Muslim World

Today, I didn't stay back at school after 1.30pm. I raced back home to change and went out again to catch Steve McCurry's Public Lecture at the Islamic Arts Museum Malaysia.

I'm not a photographer, and truthfully, I didn't even know who Steve McCurry was before the lecture. I only knew that he took the iconic "Afghan girl" picture . But I was interested to listen to his lecture because I love hearing about how people go about doing their fascinating work.

I arrived at 3.05pm. The talk started about 10 minutes later. It was very interesting. He showed us pictures that he took and briefly commented on each of them. Through his comments, I got an insight into how a photographer captures a good shot.

Below are snippets from the talk:

-Photography requires a great deal of patience. It's not advisable to be so intent and anxious to get a good shot. You need to be more laid-back and immerse yourself in your surroundings. Only then, will the good moments come/reveal themselves to you.

-An example of patience is when he stood at the same spot for two hours, taking photos of people coming in and out of an alley. He probably took hundreds of photos from that spot but he selected one of a boy from the whole pile, which later became the cover of one of his books.

-You must have an eye for interesting details and be quick enough to capture them. There's this one photo where a boy, his mother and grandmother were huddled together, each with a hand to their face, in a similar gesture. If you're not quick enough, the moment might be gone.

-You have to be a daring. Floods, dust storm and burning oil fields were a few things that he has had to brave through. Once, he even leaned out from a moving train's window to capture a shot (with his assistant holding on to his legs).

-He makes full use of the day's limited "shooting hours", when the light's perfect.

-I also love the story of how he tracked down the Afghan girl years after the original photo was taken.

The Q & A session was also interesting. While a few questions were on technical matters, the rest were more general. I like his answer to this particular question: How does his various experiences change him?

He said that he had discovered that beneath all our thick veneers, people are all the same. We all want to be loved and respected, we want the best for our family, we want good health care and education, etc. This realisation has made him more tolerant and accepting of others.

After the talk ended, we were allowed into the exhibition for free (yeay!)

I especially love his portraits; his subjects are beautiful, intense, and have arresting features.

It was nice to look at the pictures but it was nicer hearing him talk about them - you get an intimate detail of how the picture was taken, what attracted him to capture it, the whole process...

The exhibition will run until Apr 8, 2010, so do check it out.
You can also go to these sites: (the picture above was taken from this site)