Tuesday, 22 October 2013

The Teacher

I am many things, but one of the coolest identity I have is - I am a teacher.

Growing up in a family of teachers, I always knew the real deal behind the myth of 'Its a Half-Day Job.'
Growing up in a family of teachers, I was well-taught since a young age and understood the importance of education.
Growing up in a family of teachers, I had many opportunities to teach, to play 'the teacher' role, since my teenage days.

I've taught over-enthusiastic pre-schoolers, boisterous primary school kids, teenagers facing puberty and identity crisis, hipsters / tertiary students, those old enough to be my grandparents, foreigners-who-thought-Malaysia-is-part-of-Singapore etc.

Let's just say I did manage to dip my feet into quite a wide-range of learning groups. YET, it never ceases to amaze me at how little I know of teaching and how much more I learn from every teaching experience.

Being a teacher is really not all about being in control of the class and the lesson, but also to be humbled enough to be taught.

Here, I just want to share a few examples of how I was 'slapped right in the face' or how I was shaken up, being a teacher here in Gua Musang.

Today while handling my class's return of textbooks, I realised this girl of mine (let's call her A) who has been absent for a long time didn't even turn up to return her books. She was branded as a problematic girl, been failing in nearly all of her subjects and does not have many friends. I called this other girl (Z) whom I used to see hanging out with A about her. To be honest, I was quite annoyed to see A absent as I could not get hold of her for so long and really wanted to talk to her personally; so I wasn't proud of my sarcastic tone when I inquire Z about A.

Z just looked at me and said, "Teacher, I don't know why is A absent, but I know that she has no family to turn to."

So with a little more digging, I found out that A has lost both parents, and none of her extended family wants to care for her and her siblings hence they were sent to schools with hostels. But because she has been failing in nearly all of her subjects, they felt that it's a waste for her to remain in school so they asked her to return to the village to work, and make herself 'useful'....

That was a real stab into my heart. It is so easy to label a student as lazy, get frustrated by their occasional horrible attitude and overlook what they have been going through.

If only, I could take back my sarcasm...

Then there's this boy, S...

He gets into the nerves of every teacher in school. He was even caught in the act of performing 'coitus' in the school grounds and nearly got expelled. When I knew I had to teach his class, I really dreaded it, after hearing so many stories about his misbehaviour.

True enough, he doesn't disappoint. He is loud, attention-seeking, and really tests my patience.

When I got that class to do an 'honest hand' activity (something I came out with spontaneously on that day), I was nearly brought to tears. Basically I got all the students to close their eyes and only raise their right hand if they could identify with my statement. I started with easier questions for example, "I am a girl", I love football" to "I am good-looking." The students were following the activity really well with some chuckles here and there... Slowly, I went on with harder questions that require a lot of honesty and bravery to own up to, such as "I feel that I am useless", "My parents hate me", "I don't like coming to school", "I get bullied", "I don't like going home", "I am worried about my future." 

To my surprise, not only hands were raised up in rather big numbers at each of those questions, I could see some of them shaking. When I finally asked them to open their eyes, I could see eyes getting watery, while some looked rather defeated. There was no bickering, just silence and solemnity.

I told them that I was going to change up my lesson. I was no longer their English teacher for that period, but just a concerned teacher. I explained how it is alright to feel vulnerable and to admit your weakness; but more importantly is how we respond instead of react in those situations. I then got them to take out their writing pads and told them that they are allowed to use any language that they are more comfortable in to express their answers to the questions that I was going to throw at them. I reassured them that I was in no means to embarrass them, but to know them, beyond these four walls and my assumptions of them.

They understood and wrote quite a bit. So as I reviewed their answers, my heart sank deeper and deeper.

Some of them lived in families as big as 14 siblings and 2 stepmothers.
One girl's biggest desire is to have a meal with her complete family.
One boy's parents separated and as no one wanted to take care of him, he lives with his step-sister.
One said that she had to often go to bed without dinner because there was just not enough rice for 10 siblings.

and then I read the writings of S..
He knew that he hurt his parents. He knew that he embarrassed his family with his past scandals. He felt really apologetic to his mum who fought real hard for him to remain in school. He even wrote that he does break down in tears when people talk behind his back but he could only hide all those feelings by being a class clown. He also mentioned how his father is only a labourer and he has 11 siblings. So he has to help his father to collect scrap metal after school and wash cars to help support the family's expenses....

My mind shut down for a little while, overwhelmed by the information I just came across.

It just shows that, behind every mischievous smile, every nasty reply, every disrespectful attitude probably hides a whole lot of stories and pain.

I have been trying so hard to get my kids out of their shells, not realising how deeply rooted their problems are.

Will I be able to achieve my current success if I had to go through what they did?
I don't even think so.

I realised that I am so BLESSED. Compared to them, I do have this life a whole lot easier. Supportive parents, God-fearing upbringing, comfortable living, education emphasis, healthy social circles just to name the least.

I started to see how wrong I was to judge them from my standards.
I learn empathy, I learn to listen, I learn to understand before I judge.

Just as how I was taught to go church with expectancy of God's word on that day instead of treating it as a weekly routine; I have since been very blessed and recharged. Now, I apply this heart of expectancy as I go to school each day.

It is easy to see teachers and fellow colleagues around me getting complacent, complaining about every possible thing and join the bandwagon of self-pity / self-interest. But do we really want to end up like them and burn out so soon?

Just try this with me. If it works for me, it will definitely work for you.
Everyday, at the moment you wake up, don't just reach for your phone, but say a prayer to thank God for a great day ahead. Ask for His strength, wisdom and guidance in this new day, then prepare yourself to expect a lesson or two in this day.
Don't let a day pass by meaninglessly. If nothing significant happens on that day, you make something happen, make that day count.

So, to all my teacher friends who are still fighting strong in this crazy battlefield we have, DO NOT BE DISCOURAGED. At the end of the day, we are still human, and it is ok to admit that we don't know everything, and that teachers are just not all-knowing. Make a few mistakes, experiment, cry, curse, take a break, and let us never stop learning.

Keep up the good fight! Do know that a lot of you are my encouragement and inspiration :)

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