Saturday, October 20, 2012

5 Nekad

Today I had a workshop with 5 Nekad & 5 Waja. What was supposed to be simple exam practice, turned out to be something quite different.

Teaching the front classes is akin to facing a firing squad. While they were working on the SBP Trial papers, they shot me questions relentlessly.

"Teacher, what does 'interval' mean?"

Other words that they asked me to define were:

kept vigil
sodomy (!)
prosthesis vs. prosthetic
riddle with shrapnel

Half of the words were from the text they were working on. The other half? God knows where they came from.

It felt like being in a bad reality show (So you think can teach English?), where failing to answer the questions would result in being named and shamed as an incompetent English Teacher.

You know, it's one thing to know a word, it's quite another to try to EXPLAIN it to others. And contrary to popular belief, English teachers are not walking dictionaries (or at least not me).

But to refer to an actual dictionary to answer their queries would have been to lose face. So I employed one of the 3 strategies below:

  1. Find a synonym (e.g. interval = intermission)
  2. Find a Malay equivalent
  3. Use the word in a sentence

Only after I had given it my best shot, would I surreptitiously refer to the Merriam-Webster app on my phone to check the accuracy of my answers.

But there came a time where I had to surrender and admit: "I have no idea".

At the end of the workshop, Yan Jhong asked me what the phrase "Caesar's wife must be above suspicion" meant.

I'd never heard of the idiom before so there's only 1 thing I could do then: I googled it.


The above narrative was just one of the many memorable moments I shared with 5 Nekad.

I took over the class at the end of March this year when Pn. Mohana was transferred to another school. I wasn't too thrilled about it at first. My plate was already full, yet I have to be a class teacher too??

Plus, I had taught some of them before. I was a hapless newbie then. I made a lot of mistakes. That's why I prefer to have new students every year so that I can start off on a clean slate.

But teaching 5 Nekad was the opposite of having a brand new slate. This slate was not only old, it's also cracked and worn.

But Allah is the Best of Planners. After spending so much time and effort in keeping their affairs in order (taking their daily attendance, writing them testimonials, meeting their parents, tracking their academic performance, etc), I cannot help but be emotionally-invested in them.

I guess I've grown very fond of them. They are funny and they make me laugh all the time. They make absurd remarks. They have curious minds. They question and challenge new information which lead us to have stimulating discussions.

I know that I'll miss them dearly. I'm never sentimental when I'm in front of them but if they happen to read this, I want them to know that being their class teacher has been one of my main highlights of the year.

They also taught me that having a used and cracked slate isn't so bad after all, provided that you work hard at mending it.

Wednesday, October 17, 2012


The end of the 2012 school term is drawing nearer, which makes me feel more introspective than usual. I plan to write about the classes that I teach and some of my best memories of the year.

I'm going to start with hockey. I've written about it previously but this entry has to do with a special training session that we had with a national player; Izzat Rahim.

Izzat Rahim was not only part of the Malaysian contingent to the Road-to-London tournament, he also happens to be Cikgu Safrina's kid brother.

My students were so excited when he came on Apr 21. I was excited too because we would finally have a proper session after weeks of aimless and structure-less training.

After the session, the boys took pictures with him and asked him to autograph their shirts/shoes/hockey sticks. It made me happy to see my students happy :)

The next day, a student (who was more into football than hockey) asked me; "Teacher ajakla pemain bola Malaysia datang" (!)

I was flattered that he thought my social network was so far-reaching (it was a gross overestimation). But no, sadly, I don't have K. Rajagopal nor Ong Kim Swee on my speed dials.


It's tough to be in charge of something that you haven't a clue of. But teachers are asked to do so all the time. So if you happen to be good at something; be it hockey, debate, choir, choral speaking, drama, chess, zapin, photography, painting, whatever, do consider coaching students in a school nearby.

You'll discover that mentoring young minds is immensely satisfying. As William Butler Yeats said; "Education is not the filling of a pail, but the lighting of a fire". You just need to light that fire in them, nudge them into a certain direction, and watch them do wonders.

Saturday, October 06, 2012

Of Backbiting

We've all come across people whom we just cannot get along with; People who are too domineering to the point that they act like bullies; People whose aura is thick with negativity; People who do not play nice with others; whose harsh words wound us and may even have made us cry.

What do we do when we come across such people? We can try distancing ourselves but what if we have to work in close proximity to them? How should we react when we become victims to their tirades or tyrannical acts?


It happened to me and I did something that I was not proud of: I backbit.

At first, it was just to mengadu to a trusted friend ("I had a horrible day. You know what happened to me?...") but the conversation naturally evolved into a full-fledged backbiting session.

All that person's past mistakes were excavated, dusted off and put under the microscope so that after thorough analyses, it could be proven, beyond reasonable doubt that: "Yes, that person is horrible. Everyone knows it".


The thing is this method of coping provides only temporary "relief". It's not even real relief because we feel lousy about ourselves for stooping to their level.

Plus, we can never justify our backbiting by saying we are merely stating facts because the Prophet (pbuh) taught us that: "If what you say about your brother is true, you are guilty of backbiting, but if what you say concerning him is not true, you are guilty of slandering him." [Reported by Muslim]

Further, we can never be fair when we backbite. We either:
1) exaggerate our injuries to gain more sympathy and to vilify our aggressors. OR
2) we understate our injuries in order to appear martyr-like. However if our listeners fail to comprehend the gravity of the situation, we change tack and resort to tactic#1.

We just can't win. We just damage our characters instead.


So how do we vent our frustrations then?

We complain to Allah.
It sounds so cliche but it's true. Allah alone knows our troubles. He's closer to us than our jugular veins. We need not exaggerate nor understate our cases before Him because He knows our predicaments EXACTLY. Thus, complaining to Him will give us the greatest solace.

It's hard to be patient when we were hard done-by. But resist the temptations to backbite "for Allah is with those who patiently persevere"