Friday, December 13, 2013

The Holy Land

Have you watched the movie 'Kingdom of Heaven'?

Despite Orlando Bloom being horribly miscast as Balian, it was still a good movie (one of my favourites) due to its great story line and brilliant script.

There's this scene where Balian asked Salahuddin Al-Ayubi, "What is Jerusalem worth?"

He shrugged in response, "Nothing".

But after walking a few steps away, he turned back and replied, "EVERYTHING".

That exchange encapsulates how many feel about the Holy Land of Jerusalem. All have claim to it. Another memorable scene from the movie was when Balian was trying to rouse the citizens to defend the city:

"What is Jerusalem? Your [The Christian] holy places lie over the Jewish temple that the Romans pulled down. The Muslim places of worship lie over yours. Which is more holy? The Wall? The Mosque? The Sepulchre? Who has claim? No one has claim. ALL have claim!"

Alhamdulillah, I just got back from visiting the Holy Land, or Al-Quds, as the Muslims call it. I entered the city via the King Hussein Bridge border and stayed there for 3 days and 2 nights. Another 4 days and 4 nights were spent in Jordan, visiting Petra & Amman.

But though Petra was amazing, Jerusalem was the highlight of the trip. I sincerely wished that the itinerary was inverted; that we had spent more time in Jerusalem than in Jordan.

It's hard to describe what makes Jerusalem so special. Maybe it has to do with the city's stunning topography. The plains rise and fall majestically, with old buildings spreading over the peaks, valleys and slopes. Maybe it's the historical and religious significance of the place.

Whatever it is, being there, you could almost understand why people have fought over it for more than 1000 years.

My most cherished memory of my stay was performing the Subuh prayer in the main mosque of Al-Aqsa. We left the hotel at 4.30 a.m. and walked for 20 minutes to reach the mosque. It was winter time and the temperature was around 10 degree Celsius. With hands in my coat pockets (I forgot to bring gloves), we navigated the labyrinthine lanes of the Old City  to reach Al-Aqsa. The cold wind was refreshing and the sight of the Dome of the Rock took my breath away. After Subuh, as we were walking back to the hotel, we could hear church bells ringing nearby. The whole experience was indescribably special.

Later that same morning, around 9 a.m., we returned to Al-Aqsa after visiting the Western Wall (The Wailing Wall). By that time, the compound was teeming with people. Besides tourists, Muslim men and women (I was not sure whether they were all Palestinians or of various nationalities) sat in small circles (halaqahs) reciting and learning the Quran. It was such a peaceful scene.

I left Jerusalem with a heavy heart. I wished I could have stayed longer to pray more rakaats in Al-Aqsa and to explore all the places of historical significance.

I recently bought this book entitled 'Nothing To Lose But Your Life' by Suad Amiry. I haven't started reading it but the book is prefaced by this quotation:

"As I see it, it is wrong to write about people without living through at least a little of what they are living through." (Ryszard Kapuscinski, Another Day of Life)

It's presumptuous to claim to have lived what the Palestinians are going through. But just witnessing some of the hardships (poverty, the denial of their rights to freedom of movement and self-determination, the illegal settlements encroaching further into their lands, the oppressive Separation Wall, etc) that the Palestinians face daily made me sleep less soundly at night. Thus I urge everyone to go and see for themselves what we only hear and read about so far. They are things that news cannot convey.

My tour guide said that it's easier to enter Israel now because the visa application can be done a month earlier. He said that prior to the new system, getting stuck at the immigration for 9 hours was not uncommon. Now, on average, you can get through immigration in 3 hours or so (one Malaysian group managed to do it in 45 minutes!).

My group wasn't so lucky. We were told to expect delay so I didn't bother to look at my watch. I thought we had taken 3 hours or so to pass immigration but after checking with my guide (who had actually timed the whole process), it was closer to 5 hours!

The whole process was maddening. There were 7 separate counters to do things that could have been lumped together. Thus, people had to queue multiple times and wait for interminable hours.

One person from my group was held up for arbitrary reasons. He wasn't interrogated or anything; He was just made to wait for 2 whole hours.

Despite the inefficient process designed to frustrate people, hundreds still flock to the border crossing in order to visit the Holy Land.

Do go and visit it yourselves because there are so many things to see, witness and learn from the experience.

Wednesday, December 04, 2013

Turkiye Trip

Six months ago (May 29 - June 5, 2013), I went to Turkey for a holiday to realise one of my long-held dreams: To see the Blue Mosque, Hagia Sophia & The Bosphorus.

Everyone has a list of places he/she would love to visit and Turkey was pretty high up on my list. Egypt & Iran are somewhere at the top of the list too.

I've been meaning to write about the trip but it was hard to distill the experience into paragraphs. In a few hours' time, I'm leaving for another trip. This time to Jordan & Jerusalem. So I'm attempting to write about the Turkey trip now in order to preserve the memories and to reevaluate why I travel in the first place.

I'm going to cheat here, by embedding the video below instead of recounting in detail the places that I've been. [The lucky winner's itinerary mirrored mine exactly, since we shared the same travel agency, POTO Travel & Tours.]

Oh, how I looked forward to the trip! After 5 months of work (Jan - May), I needed a break from my routine. I wanted to be immersed in a completely different environment, as the one I was in had me feeling constricted. So I was looking forward to experience and marvel at fresh/novel/foreign scenery, architecture, food, language & culture.

The trip fulfilled my expectations and more. I loved exploring the various UNESCO World Heritage Sites and experiencing new sights and sounds, so completely different from what I'm used to.

Thus, I completely agree with Pico Iyer when he said, "And if travel is like love, it is, in the end, mostly because it’s a heightened state of awareness, in which we are mindful, receptive, undimmed by familiarity and ready to be transformed."

So after 6 months, I'm ready to fall in love and be transformed again, this time by Petra, Masjid Al-Aqsa, Dome of the Rock, the Dead Sea and other places I have yet to see...

P.S. Please pray for our safe journey!

Thursday, November 28, 2013

3 Harmoni 2013

You know that a particular class is Trouble when the teachers cannot stop talking complaining about its students.

Yes, this post is dedicated to the incomparable 3H!

My first few months with the class were Torture. They were noisy, they were disrespectful, they didn't want to learn, the boys were rowdy, I felt like I was talking to myself in class, etc etc etc.

I've had challenging classes in the past but 3H just takes the cake.

One of my ways of coping was to vent. And the only ones who truly "get it" were the other teachers who had the misfortune of teaching 3H as well. So we became each other's support system (because it felt so much better to know that the students misbehaved all the time and not just during your lessons). We stayed sane by exchanging stories and laughing at our outbursts and overreactions.

My favourite has got to be when the boys hid some tools in the workshop. The Living Skills teacher threatened them with, "Nanti Cikgu tuntut kat Padang Mahsyar!"

So you see, I have this love-hate relationship with the class. On one hand, each time I entered the class, I was convinced that the kids would be the death of me. On the other hand, their behaviour was so outrageous that they make the best and funniest stories.

There were 35 students in 3H, 19 boys and 16 girls. Out of the 19 boys, six stood out for all the wrong reasons. They formed this posse that seemed bent on creating anarchy in the classroom.

Let me introduce you to all six (anti-)heroes.

1) The Ringleader: C

I've written about C earlier so you've been acquainted. C started to miss a lot of school in Semester 2. At first, I was thankful for the relative peace this afforded me but after a prolonged absence, I grew worried. His friends didn't seem to know where he went. After a few weeks he reappeared.

A classmate announced, "Teacher, budak juvi dah balik". C, in his trademark apathy, ignored the jab. He just smiled a hello for me and I smiled back. It's weird but I was glad to have him back.

2) The Prankster: Basher

When C wasn't around, Basher took his mantle. I had a harder time controlling him than C. He once pulled off someone else's pants during a test, revealing that poor boy's boxers. The whole class howled with laughter. Then Basher was chased by the boy all over Block C & D.

Did I mention this was during a test?

3) The Alpha-Male: Danny

Danny was the one whose pants were pulled. Any other person would be so incredibly embarrassed and not come to school for a week or so. After chasing Basher, Danny just shrugged it off and laughed at himself. He proceeded to tie his tracksuit bottoms more securely and joked that, "Aku dah ikat mati dah ni, balik rumah nanti pun aku tak boleh bukak".

This elicited fresh rounds of laughter and at that point I gave up trying to get the students to concentrate on their test as I was laughing so hard myself.

4) The Contraband Dealer: Bloom

During Ramadan, the explosive sound of firecrackers filled the air. It got so bad that the teachers did spot checks to catch the culprits and immediate suspension was meted out to those caught red-handed with the contraband items.

One day, while in 3H, a particularly loud explosion was heard. I remarked casually, "Mercun apa yang diaorang guna? Kuat betul."

Bloom happened to be seated in front of me so he started talking about the different types of firecrackers on sale. The best-selling ones were DBomb1 and Mercun Botol. The most expensive and the loudest one is, of course, DBomb1 (who came up with the catchy name, I wonder?). Bloom was very knowledgeable about the subject; he knew all about the prices, the sizes and the "power" of the different types of firecrackers.

In the middle of his Mercun 101 tutorial, he realised (rather belatedly) that he's incriminating himself. He anxiously added, "Saya tak jual Teacher. Tapi kalau Teacher nak beli, saya tahu nak beli dengan siapa".

5) The Good-Looking One: Ryan

Ryan's good looks and his indiscipline prompted a teacher to rebuke him, "Awak ni Ryan, muka je handsome! Perangai....".

Ryan is a big football fan and since he discovered that I'm an Arsenal fan, he would always greet me with the latest score instead of hello. For instance, he would wave and say "Dua - Kosong Teacher" when Arsenal beat Napoli at home.

Thank God Arsenal has been doing very well this season. Otherwise, the constant updates/reminders would have unbearable.

6) The Cheery One: Frank

Frank rounded off the gang. He's always so cheerful even when he's misbehaving. He liked to shout at his classmates, "Wei korang, senyapla. Tak nampak ke Teacher tengah mengajar".

Though I appreciated him looking out for me, his outbursts never helped calm the class because just seconds before he yelled at the others, he was the one in the thick of the disruptive action. It was a classic case of the pot calling the kettle black.

The above anecdotes are what a real classroom looks like. That's why I detest people who have no teaching experience whatsoever saying things like, "Oh, you should do this and this and this...". I know that they mean well but students nowadays are different from students from yesteryear. You're lucky if you can get all 35 students seated and looking directly at you.

After 9 months of (trying to) teaching them, 3H and I have come to an understanding: They still drive me to the edge but they don't push me off the cliff. And surprise, surprise, I've come to love them.

I find that the most challenging students are pretty unforgettable. They reside in your heart despite the pain & heartache they've caused.

The following pictures were taken a few days before PMR.

Saturday, November 23, 2013

3 Nekad 2013

I think I'm fated to be affiliated with Nekad classes. Last year I was the class teacher for 5N, this year, it was 3N.

We just had our class party this afternoon and since I left, I've been thinking of all the things we've gone through this year. Finally my writer's block is lifted and I'm raring to write and recall all the wonderful memories I've shared with my kids.

1) The first day

After the usual routine (introducing myself, briefing the students on what to expect in the year ahead, choosing the class monitor, etc), I asked the students to write a short journal entry. They could write about anything but if they were stuck for ideas, they could write about their first day of school so far.

This was what Aiman wrote:

That's right Aiman. NOT YET. All in good time ;)

2) Class pictures

Our first class picture was taken early on in the year for PERSADA (our school magazine). I guess the ice hadn't completely thawed yet since everyone looked so skema (i.e. prim & proper).

We've come a long way since then. After 9 months of getting to know one another, we looked far more relaxed and cheerful in our last picture together, which was taken a few days before PMR.

3) Whiteboard Art

One of the reasons my markers always run out of ink is because my students like to use them to write/draw on the board. I have to hoard them zealously so that they last longer. But occasionally, I let the students have a free reign and write/draw whatever that they would like to express. Who knows? Maybe one of them will become the next Ernest Zacharevic ;)

One of those times was when we had our second Hari Interaksi (report card day). Not many parents came so while waiting, the students came up with this:

Below is another example. They did this one during Art Class, in conjunction with Merdeka Day.

4) Pick-up Lines

I don't know how it started but the students like to share the latest pick-up lines they've heard with me. I would be walking to the office/class/canteen, when Efa or Aida would stop me excitedly and say, "Teacher, I've got another one!" and they would rattle off the newest cheesy line that I would groan at.

The tradition continued right up to my birthday when Efa gave me this card and Aida sent me this message:

5) Class Party

Everyone had to say a few words before we parted and I was the last one to speak up. I'm terrible at speaking in public, and I tend to do even worse if I have to speak off-the-cuff. Thus, I quickly typed a few things that I wanted to convey to my students. While writing the prompts, I realised that what I was going to say to them was applicable to ALL my students, past or present. Below is the speech which I rewrote from the notes I had typed:

Thank you for being wonderful students with, ahem, colourful personalities. It has been a privilege being your class teacher. Thank you for keeping me amused and making me laugh throughout the year.
I apologise for any shortcomings on my part. I know that I always fall behind in marking your books and test paper. Sorry if my teaching was ineffective/incomprehensible. In short, sorry for any inefficiency on my part.
I hope that all of you continue to be good students. Or if you know that you haven't been one, do try to become better. Being smart isn't enough; You need to work hard to achieve success.
Besides being good students, I hope all of you become good sons and daughters to your parents. And I sincerely hope that, in the future, you become successful and kind individuals.

After all that sentimental stuff, we took a group photo and dispersed.

P.S. Thank you Amira, Zuhayra, Aida & Efa for organising the party!

Friday, August 23, 2013


I spent the last 5 days marking my students' PMR Trial papers and have just keyed-in their marks.

Marking essays has always been a tedious affair but this time round, it wasn't too bad. In all three classes that I teach, there was a marked improvement in the quality of writing compared to the students' Mid-Year Exam performance.

I was glad to see that the majority of my students were able to structure their essays in an organised manner and use appropriate connectors (e.g. furthermore, moreover, in addition, etc). They also managed to elaborate on the given points creatively.

The above may seem like trivial things but I was very pleased because they prove that (some of) my students were listening to my input after all!

However, some of the students' grammar made me cringe. Or laugh out loud. Or both. For example:
Secondly, prepare a timetable for you to study. It must be every day except Sunday, a recess time and family time. You cannot study everyday because here an idioms for you "Jack is a boring boy without play time". I don't know whether the idioms is right if it wrong just let it be.

Marking Section B was particularly excruciating as quite a number of students could barely string two grammatically-correct sentences together.

And it's not just their writing skills that are wanting, it's their critical thinking skills as well. The students struggled to form their own opinions and express their ideas convincingly because they're so used to regurgitating sample essays.

This handicap reminded me of a chapter in Dangerous Minds (a book I'll write more about in another entry). Ms. Johnson had the same problem with her students so she tried the 'timed response' method. Basically, the students were asked to respond to a controversial statement in 5 to 10 minutes. In that space of time, they had to decide whether to agree or disagree with the statement and explain their thinking in writing.

The statement that she used was: "It's okay to steal, as long as nobody gets hurt."

At first, Ms. Johnson graded her students' responses based solely on the content (and disregarded the spelling and grammatical errors) because critical thinking skills were the focus of the exercise. The students' language could be worked on later.

Sounds like a good plan, huh? I plan to carry it out with my students and have started to look around for suitable controversial statements.

Here's my list so far:
When a couple gets married they shouldn’t be allowed to divorce.
Women make better teachers than men.
There are no bad children, only bad parents.
Watching too much television reduces your intelligence.
Money is more important than love.
We are all basically selfish.
Committing suicide should be made legal.
Homework is harmful

Any suggestions to add to the list?

Sunday, June 23, 2013

Tough Week

Last week was probably the toughest week of 2013 so far.

On Wednesday (June 19), a teacher from another school came to check on our school's PLBS files and conduct the coordination exercise. After my first period with 5T (7.30 a.m. to 8.10 a.m.), I went to help my school's PLBS coordinator to get the files ready.

I ended up staying until 1.00 p.m.. There were so many things to do that I didn't have the heart to just get up and leave.

I didn't enter 3N, 3T & 3H. For the ULBS coordination exercise the day before (June 18), I was relieved from 10.30 a.m. onwards. So I fooled myself into thinking that that day was no different. I couldn't be in two places at the same time, so I was fervently wishing that my 3 classes were taken care of.

But if I were to be honest with myself, I had a feeling that the classes were left to their own devices. The were 2 other assessors present that day to check the Science & Geography files respectively; It was impossible to relieve all the teachers who were involved. I could only hope that nothing untoward would happen while I was away.

I was thinking, "What could possibly happen?" The classes would undoubtedly be noisy but what's the worst thing that could happen if the students were left unsupervised for 80 minutes?

Well at 1.00 p.m. I found out exactly what could happen.

I came out of the room where the coordination exercise was taking place and came across Syf, a student of mine from 3H. She looked absolutely miserable. I asked her what's the matter and she told me that her classmate, Aq, fell while chasing her and she was now immobile.

My blood turned cold. I pried more information out of Syf:
-No, there wasn't any teacher in the class when it happened.
-Aq fell and hit her forehead and pelvic bone.
-She was taken to the Counselling Room and the injury seemed really bad.

I tried to comfort Syf but she wouldn't have it:
"Kenapa Cikgu tak marah saya? Marahla saya. Memang salah saya"

I told her that it was my fault because I wasn't in class. We both tugged at the blame, each feeling more responsible than the other, each wanting a bigger share.

I took leave from the coordination exercise and went to see Aq. She was writhing and crying in pain; the sight broke my heart.

Her mother had been called and she was on her way to school. The ambulance was also called because Aq had to be transported on a stretcher to the hospital (she couldn't sit nor walk). Syf and I looked progressively worse with each passing minute.

My main concern was Aq could end up paralysed. If that were to happen, I could never forgive myself. Guilt is a powerful, all-consuming emotion. Now I knew how people could self-destruct when they're consumed with guilt: You wished for bad things to happen to you as penance for the misery you had caused your victim(s).

That night, I received a text message from Aq's sister that greatly relieved me. Aq is fine. No broken bones nor fractures; just bruises. I let out a huge sigh of relief and promised myself to never leave my classes unsupervised again.


On Friday (June 21), on my way to 3T, I came across Aq. I had never felt so happy to see her! She was limping a bit but she said that she felt much better.

I was uplifted by the news but I wasn't happy for long. Something unpleasant was waiting for me in 3T.

The students and I were reviewing the Mid-Year Exam English Paper. The students had to detect and correct grammatical errors in sentences that were taken from their own answer scripts. They had to do so in their composition books.

CZ started making a fuss (the student I had written about in a previous entry. I wrote that he reminded me of the protagonist in the book 'The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time').

CZ asked for his composition book. I said that I didn't have it. I had checked and I only had his E1 & E2 books.

He grew cross. He alleged that I had lost his book. Then he started throwing a tantrum.

"She lost my book. I'm going to kill her," he said repeatedly.

I tried to ignore his outbursts. His classmates defended me by suggesting that he never submitted his book in the first place/his book was probably at home/etc but CZ was adamant: I was at fault.

"She lost my book. I'm going to kill her"

Up until that day, I was able to keep calm when dealing with him but I guess the death threat was the last straw. I turned to face him and snapped, "CZ, either you do the exercise in a piece of paper or you don't do it at all - I don't care!"

His classmates were taken aback as I rarely lost my cool but CZ didn't back down. In contrast, he grew more cross and his threats took on a more sinister tone.

"I'm going to murder her!"

This time, I kept mum and did not respond. Somehow it worked. After some time he calmed down and he even did his work.


I was surprised and grateful that I'd survived the week. Despite these bad-days-at-the-office instances, I do love my job. Sounds crazy but I do. I cannot imagine not being a teacher.

Later that same Friday, I came across a quote that summed up my feelings on the matter:

My job matters; that's what makes it fulfilling.
It matters every day (there's no letting up); that's what makes it exhausting!

Thank Allah for weekends!

Thursday, May 16, 2013

Teachers' Day 2013

This year's celebration will be somewhat muted. The students are in the midst of their mid-year exam and for the first time ever, the morning-session and the afternoon-session teachers in my school will celebrate Teachers' Day separately :(

So, anticipating a rather sombre day tomorrow, I tried to cheer myself up by remembering the funny things that have happened, so far, this year. Below are some of the things I could recall:


R gave me a riddle, "Teacher, api apa yang takkan padam?"
I thought for awhile before giving up, "Api apa?"
Looking directly at me while trying his hardest to keep a straight face, he revealed the punch line, "Api cinta kita"


I was teaching 3 Tekun Plural Nouns and was telling them that the plural form for 'synopsis' is 'synopses'.
Me: "Other words that follow the same pattern include: analysis, basis, crisis, axis..."
Iznul: "Maxis?"
Then others started to chimed in, "DiGi Teacher? Celcom? U Mobile?


A student was about to go for Umrah. He bade farewell to his classmates and me. We all wished him well. Before he went off, he whispered conspiratorially to me, " Teacher, nanti saya doakan Teacher kat Jabal Ar-Rahmah (!)"


What I came across when marking exam papers:


I was pasting the students' work on the bulletin board when a student raised her concern, "Teacher, boleh ke tampal poster ni?"

 "Why not?", I asked, a little bit perplexed.
"Macam simbol Illuminati je"


Students do say the darndest things, don't they?

Maybe the above stories aren't really that funny; perhaps they got lost in translation; or perhaps you have to be there to get the joke.

If the above anecdotes failed to cheer you up, I know of a fool-proof way to do so. Behold, the perfect pick-me-up:

Ryan Gosling can do no wrong ;)

Happy Teachers' Day to all fellow teachers!!!

Monday, May 06, 2013


GE13 has come and gone.
I'm very sure that I'm not the only one who's rejoicing over the end of the election period.

I'm not apolitical. I registered to become a voter as soon as I was eligible and I've voted in two General Elections already.
But I'm sick of all the nasty political postings on social and mass media. Yes, people have the right to freedom of speech but why be so nasty?

The thing is, humans have been proven to be predictably irrational. Every one of us has his/her own biases and prejudices. Some choose to make them public while others prefer to keep them under wraps.

But these public/private biases profoundly affect how we process things. We think we are rational, but we are not. In football, managers are often accused of having "selective sight". They will kick up a storm when their players are fouled or when decisions are made against them. But remarkably, they often don't see when their players foul others and will try to justify wrong decisions that are made in their favour.

All of us are irrational in that way; We all have selective hearing and sight. We consciously choose to hear and read more of the things that reinforce our beliefs and disregard other viewpoints.

So in all likelihood,  our staunch support for Party X is not based on a rational decision. 
Maybe it is, maybe it isn't but we cannot deny that sentiments and emotions cloud our judgments at times.
Thus, why the need to assert our views so forcefully unto others? Why treat those who don't share our views as if they are "unenlightened"?

Sensible, well-thought-out and nicely-worded posts are fine. What I'm allergic to is, fanaticism.
Nikola Tesla said something so profound: 

“If your hate could be turned into electricity, it would light up the whole world.”

Reading spiteful comments made me realise just how true his words were. The hate was so real and forceful, it was almost tangible. Another quote that struck me was:

When we have very strong opinions about something, remember this beautiful advice by Imam Ash-Shafi'i (r): "I believe my opinion is right with the possibility that it is wrong and I believe the opinion of those who disagree with me is wrong with the possibility that it is right."

Besides having civility when we disagree, I also wish that we don't share unfounded rumours so freely and unthinkingly. Rumours that are not credible/accurate/reasonable flood our news feed and inboxes unrelentingly. Just run the latest rumour by the CARS checklist before hitting 'share' and we'll all be better off because of it.


I don't claim that I'm rational as I readily admit my own selective sight and hearing.

I don't claim that I've never offended anyone by what I say/type as I probably have.

I also don't claim that I'm right...

This post is just to vent my frustration that's been building up for some time now.
It's also a plea for us to be nicer to one another even when we differ; for us to #SaySomethingNice.

Let's leave all the negativity and toxicity of the past month and get on with our lives.
But before that, one last political joke:

Monday, February 18, 2013

2013 so far

Where did the time go?

2013 is my fifth year of teaching! FIFTH!!

This year, I'm teaching three Form 3 classes and two Form 5 classes; students who will be sitting for the public examinations at the end of the year.

In the Form 5 classes, I was reunited with several students whom I had taught when they were in Form 1, five years ago.

Those small, innocent-looking kids have morphed (seemingly-overnight) into young men and women. The boys - I still call them boys - have all outgrown me. All of them are at least a foot taller than me. Where did the time go?

What did I do wrong?

The year didn't start off particularly well. Our school's PMR results were a bit disappointing. By that I mean the number of straight-A students decreased. Now, I'm not the kind of person who bothers about straight As and stuff. But the analyses showed that English was the main culprit for our school's drop in the percentage, grade point average and what-not.

There were 62 failures for English compared to a dozen or so failures in other subjects. All the English teachers were dumbfounded. What did we do wrong last year??

And when we did the postmortem, I discovered that my classes did slightly worse compared to other classes of similar abilities.

I was gutted. Now the question wasn't 'what did we English teachers do wrong?' but 'what did I do wrong?'

Making sense & shifting blame

I never believed in teaching to the test. I couldn't bring myself to ask students to memorise sample essays or teach them techniques that would enable them to get some marks, sans comprehension.

I just couldn't bring myself to do it even though it could potentially reduce the number of failures. Years from now I don't want them to remember me as the teacher who asked them to memorise meaningless texts; I hope I had taught my students something of value.

Having said that, whatever it is that I believed in, whatever teaching methods I may have employed (that reinforced that belief), why did my students do so badly? Shouldn't doing well in exams be a by-product of comprehension and overall language abilities??

Having no answers to the above questions, I did the most predictable thing next: I shifted the blame around (!).

I reasoned that I wasn't able to give my best to the students because I was too bogged down by various posts. That darn SPSK was the root cause of all this mess!

Maybe there are some truths to the claims above but in the end, I have to admit culpability. In order to not let 'pisang berbuah dua kali', I needed to do something about the way I teach this year. I need to become a more effective teacher despite the energy- and motivation-sapping SPSK.

Talking strategies

Now that I have made my dislike for SPSK clear, let's talk about strategies. Language learning is dissimilar to the way you learn other subjects. You can't rely on the 5 periods (3.5 hours) of English lessons per week  nor can you pull an all-nighter just before an English test, as you probably can with other subjects. Instead, you have to be committed to learn and apply the language consistently.

Thus, a teacher can only do so much. It's hard to drive home the point that students are the ones ultimately responsible for their own learning. They need to occupy the driver's seat and helm the steering wheel. But the majority of students are happy to be mere passengers - very lackadaisical ones too!

It's incredibly frustrating but I need only to remind myself that I was just like them when I was their age. I knew that I must have frustrated my BM, Physics and Maths teachers with my lack of effort.

The young are just resistant to well-meaning advice, I guess. In Malay, we say 'sudah terhantuk, baru terngadah'. It's only after personally experiencing something unpleasant do we recognise something to be true.

So while waiting for the bang-to-the-head moment, teachers just have to plod on and pray for the best.

I'm sure that was what my teachers did for me and in the end, I guess I turned out all right ;)


My attempt to get my students to take charge of their learning is to set them targets. The students have to:
1) Read at least one English book per month
2) Read the news everyday
3) Write 2 journal entries per week, and
4) Speak in English as much as possible

All these are very hard to monitor but I do make the effort to check on the books they are purportedly reading and quiz them on current events.

The journal project is a lot harder to get off the ground because a) most lessons leave little or no time for the students to write a one-page entry, and b) I prefer to do other filler activities when we do have extra time because the class is easier to control that way.

I feel that if I gave them 15-20 minutes to work on their journal, they would end up doing something else and make a lot of noise in the process. My taking the easy way out shows that I still lack conviction in my classroom management skills (my perennial Achilles' heel) and in the long-term benefits of the targets that I have set.

Different year, new challenges

Despite these niggling self-doubts, I do think that I'm improving as a teacher. I'm a lot more organised and confident now. The wonderful thing about teaching is that you never stop learning. No two academic years are the same, no two classes are the same, and no two students are the same.

This year, I have a special-needs student in one of my classes. I used to dread entering that class; fearing that I would say the wrong things or react in the wrong way, thus provoking the student into a violent tantrum (which had happened before).

He reminds me of the protagonist in the book 'The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time'. His manners are abrupt and might seem downright rude to the uninitiated. So handling him plus another 40 students in the class is no mean feat.

One of the blessings of being a teacher is, it can mould you into a better person. That may sound like a grandiose claim but it's true. You teach around 200 students every year and this trains you to get along with, or at least be accepting of people of various backgrounds, personalities and temperaments. Further, to survive in this profession, you have to have a high threshold of patience.

How do you solve a problem like Calvin?

Before I round off this unreasonably-long entry, I must talk a little bit about 3H, my 'kelas yang menguji kesabaran' this year.

Usually, students are on their best behaviour in the first week of school. With their bright new uniforms, pristine white shoes and school-compliant hair, they look like they had turned over a new leaf and are now ready to become serious students of knowledge. So typically, teachers live a blissful existence under this illusion for one whole week (for a month, if they're lucky) before all the drama and crises unravel.

But 3H is something else. They showed their true colours, along with their sharp claws and fangs on the first day of school itself. They did away with the customary pretensions altogether. I remembered bumping into my colleague after that first class and blurted out; "I just got out from the class from hell". Haha.

Things have vastly improved since then. I learned that the 6 troublemakers in that class reacted strongly against harsh rebukes but would comply when cajoled gently.

Thrice now, the ringleader, this incorrigible boy we shall call C, had been hauled up by the counselor for disciplinary actions in the middle of my lesson.

A sudden hush would always befall the class when C and his accomplice for the day were called out by the counselor, a person not to be trifled with. When all this was unfolding, I had to hide my glee that C finally got his comeuppance.

I dare not admit this but I'm actually intrigued by C. He's been publicly reprimanded in front of the assembly, by the principal no less!, he has been caned, he has been scolded at, he has been hauled up by the counselor, he has been subjected to all possible disciplinary actions, yet he still comes back to class with that smirk on his face. It's bewildering. Any other student would have looked enraged or depressed, or at least subdued after being punished. But C, he sauntered into class while smiling, like nothing had ever happened.

"Kebal betul budak ni", another teacher remarked. This quality of his - I don't even know what to name it exactly - intrigues me. It is as if he has this iron will to not let people pull him down. If only we teachers can harness this stubbornness towards worthwhile pursuits.

Come to think of it, he's like a hard-core version of Calvin (of Calvin and Hobbes). He hates authority, he's a rebel-without-a-cause, he's bent on causing trouble and it's impossible to fathom what's he's thinking.

Any child psychologists out there that can shed light on the matter?

Tuesday, January 01, 2013

For the Love of God

Exactly one year ago, I attended the Twins of Faith with my single friends. This time round, none of them could come for various reasons. The past year went by in a blur and brought significant changes. Who would have thought that, in the space between ToF2011 and ToF2012, one of those said single friends is now blissfully married and is recently a mother to an adorable baby girl?

This year's theme was 'For the Love of God' and thus the first talk (given by Sheikh Daood Butt) attempted to tackle the pertinent question, 'What is Love?'

Sheikh Omar Suleiman came up next to talk about 'Exemplary Love'. Below is what I synthesised from the two talks (any mistake is due to my own faulty understanding):

It's interesting to learn that LOVE is one of the most searched words in the Merriam-Webster dictionary. We typically look up words that we do not understand/are unfamiliar with. So, if you think about it, the list seems to suggest that we don't know much about love and the many forms it assumes.

Human beings are programmed to love. We are hardwired that way. Jane Austen wrote that "to love is to burn, to be on fire". This intense desire is not exclusively directed to people as there are those who covet wealth, status or material things just as violently.

There are certain universal truths about being in love:

1) It's easy to serve the one that you love.

2) If you love someone, you want to know everything about him/her.

3) You're oblivious to other things. In fact, the Arabic words 'mahabbah' comes from the word 'to erase'; which gives the connotation of erasing everything other than your beloved.

4) You yearn to be with your beloved.

5) Your entire existence is adjusted to accommodate your beloved. He/she presides at the very centre of your universe as illustrated by the lines below:

"The lover loves that which his beloved loves
and hates what is hated by the beloved.
He supports whomever is supported by his beloved
and the enemy of the beloved is his enemy.
The pleasure of the beloved is also his pleasure
and so too is their anger shared.
What his beloved requires he also requires,
he forbids what his beloved forbids,
for they are, in all things, agreed."
Set against the points listed above, how true is your claim that you love your Lord?


Often times we only call upon Allah when we're in trouble or when we need something.

But while we should turn to Allah when we're in despair and in need of assistance, the real test of our faith is when everything is hunky dory.

When we have everything that we need, when we're worry-free, will we invoke Allah with the same level of sincerity?

Or will we be like those whom Allah describes in Surah Ar-Rum, Ayah 33 & 34;

"And when harm touches men, they cry sincerely only to their Lord (Allah), turning to Him in repentance, but when He gives them a taste of His Mercy, behold! a party of them associate partners in worship with their Lord. So as to be ungrateful for the graces which We have bestowed on them. Then enjoy (your short life); but you will come to know."

Plato described love as a serious mental disease as one who is "infected" becomes extremely vulnerable and is unable to function normally.

So, from Austen's and Plato's perspectives, love is not only an inconvenience, it's also potentially destructive.

But loving Allah is a different matter.
Loving Allah gives us strength like no other.

If we truly believes the Ayah, "on no soul doth Allah place a burden greater than it can bear", then we will no longer be incapacitated by fear, doubts and worry.

Allah will surely tests us and though we'll bend, He will never break us.


There were so many things to take in and really, one blog post, could never encapsulate all that took place.

May the knowledge gained be well-digested, internalised, and implemented...