Wednesday, September 30, 2009

Dwelling On What-Might-Have-Beens

Sitting at my PC, I'm reading an online message from a voice from the past.  From the tone of the message, that old and treasured friend is thinking of the past and all his 'what-might-have-beens'.  He is a bit sad and a bit wistful.  But I'm telling him not to look back...

When I look at my students, I marvel at their 'empty' Books of Life ... they are just at the beginning of a potentially wonderful life.  It is just up to them what they make of it.  As for me, my approach to life has always been 'No Regrets But Do No Harm.'  So far that approach has worked relatively well for me.  But dare I say that I have no regrets?  Well, maybe one or two.

My friend (of the same age) seems to be wishing for some things to be redone.  But I am not too sure if that is a good idea.  Well, he can't change the past.  And when we have let enough time pass, we forget why we made certain decisions.  He made decisions a long time ago that he felt was right, so why is he wishing otherwise now?

I do not believe in looking back to make wishes.  We look back to reflect and to help us make better decisions for the future.  If we think of our past and we wish for different paths, we risk paralysing our present and wrecking our future.  We are imperfect people living in an imperfect world.  If we feel pain, we deal with the pain and we move on.  No one is more 'special' than another and no one deserves more than another.

Is life unfair?  Not really. 

I think life is a combination of our destiny and our attitudes.  It is like playing a game of cards.  We get a hand of cards, then we decide what to do with the cards we get.  What will make the difference will be prayer and a positive attitude.  Well, that's what I believe, anyway.

Thursday, September 24, 2009

The Meaning Of A Degree Certification

Last weekend, I met some old friends who talked of the problem of undergrads who 'outsource' their assignments.  They said it was difficult to get these students to understand the importance of doing their own work.  Then we segued into the topic of degrees, universities and rankings.   

I used to wonder why a degree was such a big deal.  Does a period of four (or three) years in an institution really make you a person fit for employment and induction into the officer & managerial ranks?  Can a certificate encapsulate your skills, talents and potential??

But by this 'ripe old age', I have learned what a degree represents to potential employers. 

First of all, that cert testifies to a certain capacity to withstand stress while having the discipline, patience & sheer tenacity to see a course of study to its fruitful end.

Second, it attests to the ability to collect data, analyse the collection of data and distill a year's worth of research &reading into its most concise and benefit-laden form (hopefully!) - the thesis. 

Third, it indicates an ability to work in teams (or better yet, HELM teams) as well as deal with & satisfy the idiosyncrasies of some of the most eccentric people in the world, the academicians.

Such a wonderful package of skills and abilities, eh? MUST go through the course of study inch by mentally-painful inch in order to acquire said abilities.  A true graduate is like gold refined by fire... while graduates who cheated their way through their course have only cheated themselves out of this refining of self.

To people wise in the management of people, such half-baked graduates stand out like a sore blister. In the teaching profession, such half-cooked graduates go on to create other half-cooked versions of themselves. 

Very sad when you think of it :(

Wednesday, September 23, 2009

Breaking The Vocal Ice

Teaching English in Sabah, Malaysia is a major challenge. If only because some of the students won't open their mouths and say a single word in English. When you ask why, they grin shyly and say,"Malu..." (I'm too shy...) There are also contemporaries who make fun of them if they speak English or worse, accuse them of showing off.

So how does an English teacher break the vocal ice? Well, if you're creative and you're open to all sorts of ideas... there's PLENTY you can do!

Exempli Gratia..

a) Make them pronounce the words or phrases displayed on the whiteboard or flash cards.
b) Read! Poems, articles, speeches, ads, labels...whatever!
c) Do jazz-chants.
d) Sing karaoke songs!
e) Do choral speaking in class.
f) Tell stories in relays (e.g. story chains)

And here is one lesson I carried out with my Form Sixes :

I presented one poem by Edwin Morgan in class (with a reasonably solemn face) and after the class had recovered their composure, I made them write their own (AND present it!)

Before you say that YOUR students cannot write poems. I tell you they CAN!

Click here to read the poem by Edwin Morgan. I dare you to do this in class...but first, a word of warning : practise at home before you bring it to the classroom. And keep a straight face.

Saturday, September 19, 2009

Number One Skill For A Teacher : Persuading!

And the best way to learn this is by getting involved in debating!  Yeah, I'm a bit of a debate fan...:P  Some call me a fanatic.  Fan, fanatic, what's the difference..only four letters..heh heh heh...

I always tell my students that the most important skill in life for them is the ability to speak because it is through speaking that you convey information, opinions, ideas, arguments... in fact, it is through speaking that you show people WHO YOU ARE.  Some people say the window through the soul is the eyes...yes, that is true but most people only get to 'see' your eyes after they have heard your voice.

For teachers, their speaking is integral to their job specification for how can they convey information and elicit response if they cannot speak?  I am sure there are people out there who are unable to speak but are still able to teach...however, these are very rare cases and these teachers are probably very exceptional people working in very small groups with special tools.

As a teacher who has been in service for 17 years, I have found that my most essential tool is my voice, at varied decibel levels and degrees of warmth (or frost!).  It took me a while but I learned to 'fine tune' my control of my voice so as to be able to control a group of people and most importantly, to persuade.

Kids nowadays aren't like students twenty or even ten years ago.  They no longer swallow concepts and information the way they used to.  Teachers have had to change their teaching styles from Lord of The Classroom (I Talk, You Memorize) to Politician of The Constituency (I Persuade, You Decide To Accept Or Not).  I use the term 'constituency' because sometimes when I enter class, the group dynamics FEEL like a constituency's..:D

When I first started coaching people in debate, I found that as they gained more confidence in speaking up and speaking out, their personalities also began to shine brighter.  Some were already confident individuals (it takes a lot of tongue-biting gumption to stand on a stage with nothing but your brain and tongue..hahaha..) and learning how to argue only enhanced their package of skills.  However others who seemed to be 'invisible' before (in the group dynamics sense) suddenly became visible.  This naturally enhanced their ability to pull people and to persuade people. 

Where is such an ability more important than in the classroom?  But when as I walk through schools and classrooms, I see so many teachers who haven't learned to harness their most important tool : their voice.  So many of them have so much information to impart but they aren't as effective as they could be because of the way they present that info.

Why aren't there speaking classes in university???  Not the normal English Language speaking class.... but ones which are geared towards preparing teachers to be the best presenter they can be?

Wednesday, September 16, 2009

Teachers' Dilemma : To Be In Admin or To Be Academic Teachers

The first time news came of promotional posts for Form Six teachers was in December 2007.  That excited so many people... and then news came again of Master Teacher posts up for the taking.  In Sabah, anyway.  Promotional exercises came fast and furious and forms were being filled in by every teacher.  There were even cases of teachers filling in forms because they saw their friends filling in forms and they were afraid of being left behind. 

I remember when I was a DG44 Senior Assistant (Penolong Kanan) in school and there was an opportunity to get a DG48 post as a Form Six Academic Teacher.  I waffled for two weeks and finally gave in to the fear of being left behind and FILLED IN THE FORM!  Like so many other of my compatriots. 

And the result is... so many of my Senior Assistant friends are now stepping out of their administrative posts and taking up DG48 posts as Master Teachers or Form Six Academic Teachers.  Some are happy as they have been buckling under the stresses of administrative duties or they are teachers at heart and only took up the admin post as it was the only promotion opportunity that came their way.  However, some are unhappy (deep inside) as they LIKE the admin work but see no other opportunity of getting the DG48 promotion other than taking up the Master Teacher or Form 6 Acad Teacher post.  And when you have been in the position of making decisions for the whole school, to lose that 'power' can be deflating. 

A friend Lady J is presently pondering her choices.  She is currently Senior Assistant in a school and doing a good job.  She has just been offered a DG44 Master Teacher post backdated to the same date as her DG44 promotion.  So whichever post she takes up, it would be the same for her.  However friends are telling her that the Master Teacher post would be a better choice as in three years she can apply for a DG48 Master Teacher post (one of the special privileges of Master Teachers).  It's considered the fastest track for a teacher's career.  Her problem is that she has developed an affinity for admin work.  And I can see that she is good at what she does.

When she asked me what she should do, I couldn't answer.  She's the only one who can decide. 

But if she chooses the Master Teacher post, I think it will be a loss to the Sabah pool of 'pelapis'.  All these posts being given to so many senior teachers are playing havoc with the succession planning of the state....

But if you're a junior teacher, this can only mean good news for you, right?  You'll go up the ladder faster.... especially if you're interested in admin.

I'll probably face a similar dilemma within the next few months... wonder how 'bad' my dilemma will be.  Well, if I'm only offered one DG48 post, it's going to be a no-brainer, right?

Saturday, September 12, 2009

Friends That 'Care About You'

Was reading a book this morning...and one statement caught my attention.  The author says never to spend time with people who make negative remarks, especially those who do it 'for your own good' and who 'care about you'.

Old advice but I keep 'failing' to heed it in the name of friendship.

Just last week, a friend asked me so solicitously how I was doing at work or in my personal life.  I replied that I was doing okay, upon which she got an uncertain look on her face and looked as if she was thinking hard.  Naturally, I asked her if anything was wrong. 

What happened next was so typical.

She said,"Well, So-And-So so said to me... oh no, I shouldn't say this."

I took the bait and urged her to tell me.  Which she did and straightaway told me to forget it.

Hah, do you  think I can forget it?  It is like a stone in my shoe.  And I feel like such a stupid fool for this is what this friend does to me on a regular basis.  She likes to tell me things because she is 'worried for me'.

I think the next time she says that, I will say,"No, don't tell me." and change topic.  Some lessons take such a long time to learn...:(

Friday, September 11, 2009

Malaysian School Term Timetable 2010

Hooray the School Term Timetable is out!

KUMPULAN B : Sekolah-sekolah di Negeri Perlis, Pulau Pinang, Perak, Selangor, Negeri Sembilan, Melaka, Johor, Pahang, Sabah, Sarawak, Wilayah Persekutuan Kuala Lumpur, Labuan & Putrajaya
TAHUN 2010
  04.01.2010 29.01.2010 20
  01.02.2010 26.02.2010 20
  01.03.2010 12.03.2010 10
1 13.03.2010 21.03.2010 9
  22.03.2010 31.03.2010 8
  01.04.2010 30.04.2010 22
  03.05.2010 31.05.2010 21
  01.06.2010 04.06.2010 4
2 05.06.2010 20.06.2010 16
21.06.2010 30.06.2010 8
01.07.2010 30.07.2010 22
02.08.2010 31.08.2010 22
01.09.2010 03.09.2010 3
04.09.2010 12.09.2010 9
13.09.2010 30.09.2010 14
01.10.2010 29.10.2010 21
01.11.2010 19.11.2010 15
20.11.2010 02.01.2011 44
Jumlah Hari Persekolahan Termasuk Cuti Am 210
Jumlah Hari Cuti Penggal 78