Monday, June 28, 2010

Practicum Reflection

I found my Practicum Reflection when rummaging through my undergraduate assignment papers.

The assignment asked us to: "Write a reflective report based on an issue/experience that [we] have encountered during practicum".

We were told to be honest in our report. There's no need write "academically" (i.e. an essay littered with citations). We were just expected to share our most meaningful experience.

I chose to write about 2 Cekal.

Reading the report reminded me of all the trials and tribulations of a practicum teacher.

It also reminded me of why I want to be a teacher in the first place.


Teaching was not a last-resort choice for me. I really thought that I would make a good teacher; I love working with children/adolescents, and I love the idea of making a positive impact on someone else's life. I was inspired to be a teacher by my former English Language teacher: Ms. Suhaila Hani. She made English lessons so interesting and enjoyable. Further, she was also approachable and likable. I guess my teaching style is greatly influenced by her.

Having had this natural enthusiasm for teaching, I thought practicum would be a breeze. There were reports that the school we were going to is "tough". Pn. N, a teacher from the school, even told us to "prepare for the worst". I was a bit alarmed by the news but my optimism was still undiminished. Surely, I would be able to win the students over.

On my first day, I only met 2 Amal. They were not a difficult crowd to handle. They were willing participants and made me feel welcome. My fears were assuaged. But my first meeting with 2 Cekal was another story altogether. The class was extremely chaotic. I failed to control the class; the students would not keep still in their seat and were extremely noisy. I had trouble making myself heard and the lesson was basically a disaster. Further, the students could not understand what I was saying. One student remarked after some time had passed: "Cikgu cakap apa? Kami tak faham la". So, besides disciplinary problems, I also had to contend with teaching low-proficiency students.

Pn. M, my cooperating teacher, told me to be very strict with 2 Cekal ("jangan bagi muka pun"). She said that I had to look fierce when entering the class. I wanted to heed Pn. M's advice but it was hard to change one's personality completely. I am not naturally a terrifying person and to have to project that image was quite impossible.

Not everyone in the class was problematic. The majority were rather cooperative. But due to the misbehaviours of a few, the whole learning process was disrupted. The troublemakers were the boys sitting at the back. These boys often exhibited disruptive and off-task behaviours in class. They talked loudly, tossed objects, exchanged verbal insults, dawdled, walked around the classroom, defaced the school's desks, were tardy to class, displayed overt disinterest in learning, and demonstrated chronic avoidance of work. Each lesson was like a battlefield that left me feeling spent by the end of the lesson.

My failure to control the class made me feel that I am not cut out to be a teacher. My supervisor told me that I was patient and that this was a good quality for a beginning teacher. However, I feel that my temperament is not suited for this profession. Since I could not control the class, little learning could take place. I feel that I have let my students down. I read a journal where researchers interviewed several teachers to find out what they think about their role in inculcating values. One teacher said that he did not think himself as a "proper" teacher. When asked why he thought so, he replied, "I don't know, but I can remember when I first started teaching at school, there were solemn rebukes that did the job. Nobody is frightened of me. I feel that you have got to have a few missiles to carry around to be a proper teacher and I haven't got any". That reply pretty much sums up what I am feeling myself.

Besides feelings of inadequacies, I also suffered from stress and demotivation. Preparing good lesson plans and their worksheets on a daily basis was extremely stressful. There were so many factors to consider: whether the topic is interesting, the level is right, and whether or not it is achievable in the given time. When you put in so much effort, you could not help but feel demotivated when students did not reciprocate. Their indifference/resistance to learning made me just want to throw in the towel. I caught myself thinking "why bother?" a few times when I was in the midst of preparing lessons. I knew that they would not appreciate it - that a few students would not even care to attempt the exercises that I had prepared.

Talking to my fellow practicum-mates really helped me persevere. We often shared our problems and helped each other with suggestions and encouragements. Since I could not be severe and as authoritative as the situation demanded, I had implemented other strategies to tackle the problems with 2 Cekal.

I tried not to be judgemental. Being judgemental only propagates the vicious cycle: When teachers EXPECT difficult behaviour from problematic students, the students will likely to respond as such.

My strategies worked to a certain extent. I managed to reach out to some students. One student in particular, used to do other homework during my lesson. She would quickly hide her books when I came to check on her. But she later, she turned into one of my most hardworking students. She would complete all the exercises I gave and often asked for clarifications. Most of the girls showed similar improvement.

The boys' improvement was not so significant. Those seated in front were quite conscientious in doing their work. Not so for the boys seated at the back. They still created disruptions though they grew more respectful of me. They became more compliant when I asked them to keep quiet. When my supervisor observed me with 2 Cekal for the first time, they were relatively quiet. They sat still in their seat and did their work. But when I checked each group, turned out most of them did not understand my instructions. They were just pretending to do the work! I was touched by their actions. They were giving me their "cooperation" without me asking.

Towards the end of practicum, I still struggled to teach 2 Cekal. Some students still caused me a lot of grief. Hz, in particular, liked to talk back to me. But I could now handle such misbehaviours better. The other boys were still as playful as ever. They still dawdled and tried to avoid doing any work, but they were not disrespectful to me. The students' behaviour could be best described as being inconsistent. Just when I thought I had gotten through to them, they relapsed to their former selves. Aq, for example, began to show improvement by doing and submitting his work. But that did not last long. He was too easily influenced and distracted by his immediate friends. The class was relatively quiet during my supervisor's first visit. But during the second time round, the students showed their true colours and this shocked my supervisor. My supervisor told me afterwards that she had to restraint herself from coming to the front and give the class a proper "shelling". Then, during my final observation, they gave their cooperation by being relatively quiet once again. Their inconsistencies mystified me but some improvements (albeit temporary) are better than none I suppose.

2 Cekal has taught me a lot about teaching. I no longer have the romantic notion of the profession. That does not mean that I no longer love teaching - I do - but I am no longer naive about it. The five years of academic training have not prepared me for the realities of teaching. I realise that I have to be firmer and more authoritative (something that I am still working on). I also realise that I need to possess a certain degree of emotional detachment. I should not let students' rudeness or misbehaviours affect me greatly - I need to show more composure. I also think that the teacher training programme should do more to prepare students to deal with problematic students. I feel that the bulk of my training has been geared towards teaching the highly-motivated, intelligent, "ideal" students and not the "real" students one finds in actual classrooms.


All the best to my cohort 4 juniors who are undergoing their practicum now. The next 12 weeks are going to be very very emotionally & physically draining. But it will all be worth it in the end.


Monday, June 07, 2010

Universal Plan of Allah

Ever been in a difficult situation? a confused state? Ever been anxious about something and suddenly when you read the Quran- bang! The answer hit you right in the eye?

I'm sure many of you have experienced it. My latest of such moments came a few days ago. I read Surah Al-Qasas the night of the Mavi Marmara attack. Feeling utterly incensed about the whole thing, I read the Quran to calm myself down. The Surah tells of how Musa's mother was inspired to cast him into the river and how he came to be adopted by Pharaoh.

[Verse 9] The wife of Pharaoh said: "(Here is) a joy of the eye, for me and for thee. Slay him not. It may be that he will be of use to us, or we may adopt him as a son." And they perceived not (what they were doing)!

The footnote (Abdullah Yusuf Ali translation) which accompanied this verse explains: In all life Providence so orders things that Evil is defeated by its own weapon. Not only is it defeated, but it actually, though unwittingly, advances the cause of Good! In non-religious language this is called the work of Ironic Fates... or as we should prefer to call it, the working Universal Plan of Allah.

I doubt then that any good could come out of this tragic event. But the verse gave me hope nonetheless.

Then, tonight, I read a recount of the Malaysian LL4G activists' experience. Certain excerpts from the recount reminded me of the verse above and strengthen my faith in Allah's Universal Plan:

1) [During Q&A session] Soalan 3: Setelah gagalnya misi kita kali ini, apakah ada misi akan datang akan berjaya? Atau hanya akan menerima nasib yang sebegini? Atau mungkin akan ubah taktik penghantaran?

Pada Encik Muhammad Nizam, misi LL4G tidak pernah gagal. Mungkin dari segi misi hendak memberikan bantuan barangan mungkin belum tercapai. Tetapi bantuan ke Gaza akan sampai juga dalam bentuk-bentuk yang lain. Hakikatnya, mereka telah mendapat kejayaan yang besar, kerana daripada persitiwa inilah dunia telah tersentak dengan hebatnya. Hakikatnya, kesyahidan itu adalah bayaran untuk kesedaran dunia.

Berkenaan soalan jika perkara ini berlaku di perairan Gaza pula, Ustaz Jamaluddin menyatakan bahawa, rancangan asal mereka adalah mereka akan berhenti di sempadan. Kalau tak dibenarkan, mereka akan duduk di sempadan perairan Gaza selama mana bekalan makanan bertahan. Sekiranya habis makanan, bantuan makanan akan diatur untuk datang agar mereka boleh terus menunjukkan protes. Mereka hakikatnya tidak tahu berapa bulan hendak berada di atas laut. Tetapi penyusunan Allah itu sangat baik dan cantik. Allah susun mereka diserang, dan ia nampaknya lebih membuka mata dunia dari rancangan asal. Hakikatnya, mereka tidak akan merentasi sempadan Gaza tanpa kebenaran agar tidak ada konsikuensi yang buruk.

Sempat Dr Syed Muhammad Halim menceritakan keadaan apabila konvoi diserang oleh tentera Israel. Hakikatnya, Mavi Marmara adalah yang terakhir ditawan. Jika benar Israel hendak bertindak, maka sepatutnya amaran diberikan terlebih dahulu. Atau sekadar menarik Kapal Mavi Marmara untuk diberikan hukuman. Tetapi mereka nampaknya telah tergesa-gesa dengan melakukan tindakan menyerang. Itulah susunan Allah yang cantik. Akhirnya kecaman diberikan oleh seluruh dunia. Syahid, dibayar oleh Allah dalam keadaan yang cantik sekali.


Cantik sungguh percaturan Allah...

Do read the the full account and pay extra attention to the Conclusion!

Tuesday, June 01, 2010


Can't sleep after following the news about the flotilla.

Feeling outrage about the whole thing. Thing is, though the whole world is condemning the attack, I have a sickening feeling that Israel will get away with it. They managed to do so with the 08/09 war on Gaza (and other atrocities), didn't they?

As put forward by an Al-Jazeera blogger, will the international community actually do something now instead of the usual "empty indignation and paralysed condemnations"?

The following responses are compiled from Twitter. They mirrored what I feel but couldn't quite express:
-Its not about being Jewish, Christian or Muslim! It's about humanity! Protest Israel!

-Why is the United States so quiet today? Where is Mr. Nobel peace prize winner?

-I'm sorry, but if you rappel onto someone's ship from a helicopter, nothing you subsequently do can be called "self defense"

-Killing aid workers in 'self defense'? Really Israel? Today the world sees you for what you really are.

-"your blood reached the shores of Gaza before your aid"

-If this is what Israel does while the world is watching, what have they done while our backs were turned?

-The world awaits Obama's response to Israel's provocation. Hello?

If you let someone get away with murder every time, you can't act surprised when it kills again.

-What Would Happen If Iran Attacked an Aid Flotilla, Like Israel?

The last tweet was spot on. This was what came out from the White House and the EU:
"The President expressed deep regret at the loss of life in today's incident, and concern for the wounded, many of whom are being treated in Israeli hospitals. The President also expressed the importance of learning all the facts and circumstances around this morning's tragic events as soon as possible."

"The EU strongly condemns any acts of violence and deplores any excessive use of force. In this regard, on behalf of the EU, the High Representative is requesting a full immediate enquiry by the Israeli authorities."

Such hypocrisy!

After reading all the outpourings of rage, I was soothed by these words by Ismail Haniyya: "We say to those heroes that the essence of your honourable blood has reached us before the aids you are carrying to us. We salute everyone on board the Freedom ships."

Let us pray for the safety of all the flotilla activists...