Monday, October 18, 2010

Off The PhD Track.. Again...:)

I'm such a terrible flibbertigibbet... at least when it comes to doing my PhD.  But then it isn't a choice to be lightly made.

Over the weekend, I sat for hours and thought hard.  I had three other projects on my plate... could I handle a fourth?  Especially one as big as a PhD course?  Worse, it was to be done on a part-time basis.

In the end, I realised that I was being too greedy, wanting everything.  But like an over-ambitious juggler, if I try to have too many balls flying up in the air, I may end up with all of them falling on the ground.

Well, it isn't as if the PhD has an expiry date.  So back on the shelf those dreams go.  Again.  

But, guys, I still want my books back.  I still want to do some research.

Friday, October 15, 2010

Back On The PhD Track...

I've just taken my PhD dreams off the shelf and blown the dust off.

Next step would be to track down my PhD-relevant books from various people who have borrowed the books while they lay dormant.  Hey, y'all... I want them books back!

I am still unsure about which research area to focus on (I have two in mind) but what I am VERY sure about is that I MUST choose my supervisor carefully.  To me, that is way more important than the university.  After all, it is the experience and research I'm going after, not the name of the university.

Wednesday, October 13, 2010

Farewell To A Friend I Have Never Met... And Will Never Meet

Dear Annie John Dismas,

I have never met you although our paths could have crossed some time some place.

But when I heard about you, I saw a friend I could have met some time in this temporal existence.  

Perhaps I could have taught your son or daughter.  He or she could have said something funny and I could have shared it with you when we met during PTA meetings.  Perhaps we might even have shared a cake during school events.  Or even some tears if your child was naughty.  But then perhaps I could have sat with you and we could have worked out a solution.

Perhaps you could have helped me if I were to spend some time in a hospital.  You could have given me an injection (which I so dislike!) and made me forget the pain.  You could have told me stories while we waited for my turn to undergo treatment.  Maybe we could even have played cards together.  But how do I know what games or stories you like if I have never met you?

Perhaps my son could have met your daughter and maybe we could be mother-in-law to each other's child.

But now all that potential and promise is gone.  Your killer didn't only take your life... he or she also took away so much from other people's lives.

I am so sorry, Annie John Dismas.  May your soul rest in peace.  I will be praying for you and all your unrealized dreams.

And now ... when your killer is found, his life, his family's hopes & dreams, his friends' innocence & faith.. and his unrealized dreams will be 'killed' too.

Saturday, October 09, 2010

Project Coming Up?

One of the dangers of being a teacher is falling into a rut.  Year in, year out, you seem to be doing the same thing... although the clients change every time.  And if you don't watch out, the kids (and the solutions you implement) will begin to look the same and will begin to feel boring to you.  Since teaching is so closely tied to my emotional state of mind, I always need to stay 'excited' and 'revitalized', which means a change in my 'scenery' or 'focus' every few years. 

Two days ago, Florence smsed me to tell me about an UPSI PhD briefing in KK.  Suddenly I remembered my shelved dreams.  It's not easy to begin a project like this... the time must be right... and the group of people too.  I'd got through my Masters with the help of friends supporting me through so many ups and downs.  I knew I needed the same thing with any further study I wanted to take up. 

Some of my friends have signed up for this postgrad programme... some at Masters level and some at PhD.  Shall I?  Should I? I am sooooo tempted!

Thursday, September 23, 2010

Online Education Portals : The Good, The Bad and The Ugly

I first bought an online education portal (with a very cheerful bee as its mascot!) for the use of my nephews end of August 2009.  One was in Year Five (he's sitting for his UPSR government exam this week) and the other was in Year Two.  Never said much about it before, as I like to try something out and suss out the good, the bad and the ugly for myself.

Well, it's been a year and a handful of months since then.  So here goes.

The Good

1.  Instant Feedback.
Do the questions and you get instant evaluation.  70%?  Try again.  98% Very good... on to the next level.  There is also evaluation in the form of statistical data; subject tests and marks, frequency, list of questions answered wrongly, that sort of thing.  I remember discovering something interesting.  My nephew got one science question wrong.  

Question : Which of the following is a satellite?
 
First Attempt : MEASAT I.
Second Attempt : MEASAT II
Third Attempt : TAN SAT (forgot the real answer)

There were only four options and the last option was the moon.  

I realised in horror that the poor boy didn't know the meaning of 'natural'.  To him, satellite had to be something people rocket up into space.  The idea of a moon being a satellite was alien to him.  But thankfully, he's come a long way since then and has now been identified as one of the school's hopes in scoring an A for Science.  

This instant feedback is also a godsend for a kid who doesn't like to tot up his marks and a dragon auntie who checks on his progress from the office and sends demanding smses.  I was quite worried over his preparation for his govt exam.

2.  Colourful and Interesting Visuals

The notes are arranged in colourful charts and tables.  So studying is easier.  Plus this particular online education portal now has interaction in the form of an intelligent tutor.  Although it was just implemented recently and I haven't had the chance to ask my nephew about it yet.  However in the last few months, his focus had been mostly on the past year papers in the portal.

3.  Practice In Answering Exam Questions

The secret of every top scorer is to get as much practice in answering exam format questions as possible.  The online education portal had many years of past year papers all equipped with instant feedback.  My nephew couldn't hide the results of his practice from auntie.

The Bad

1.  Of course, the cost.  

Buying the portal and keeping it going is pretty taxing on the wallet.  But I thought it was something worthwhile investing in.  So far, it has proved its worth in terms of re-igniting my nephew's interest in learning and helping him (and his grandma, mum and aunt!) keep track of his progress.

I was very fortunate that earlier in the year, the company had a promotion where if you buy three months' access, you'd get three months extra free of charge.  And recently they restructured the fees.. phew! much better for me as I plan to keep the portal active until my nephews leave school.  My son has a portal to himself too :)

The Ugly

1.  No normal kid sits at a computer for hours and does questions without sneaking open an extra tab for Facebook or Habbo.  At the same time, auntie couldn't sit with him for hours and 'guard' him either.  Sigh.  Yet I couldn't disconnect him from the internet either.  So my solution was to check on his progress of doing the tests (although I couldn't check on the progress of his doing his studying online).  Other times, I stalked his Facebook wall.  Confrontations with him were not pretty.

2.  No computer can teach you mathematics concepts you don't understand.  And my nephew 
had a mental block about mathematics.  That required psychological treatment more than academic 'medicine'. 

We had to 'work' on him, shoring up his confidence in himself and telling him that he is what he thinks he is and the sky's the limit for him... you get the picture.  We tried teaching him ourselves but we came up against the problem that surfaces whenever a parent tries to teach his or her own child.  My sister and mother weren't patient and couldn't understand why the kid just couldn't retain information.  As an experienced teacher, I explained to them that psychologically they couldn't accept that the kid wasn't a genius as his genes should make him (*cough cough*).  Especially when maths came very easily to my mother, sister.  And me  (*cough cough*).

In the end, his mom hired a tutor just for him.  The tutor Jessica was one of those with pretty looks, razor sharp brains and a clever way of dealing with a kid who had lots of escape tricks up his sleeve.  Much to my nephew's amazement, maths was easy for him too!  

Conclusion

In the end, buying that online education portal was a good decision.  But a word of warning, if you think you can buy one and let the computer babysit your child, without any input or monitoring from you, then keep your money.  As in anything to do with ICT, the human touch is still indispensable.

Wednesday, September 22, 2010

Long Interminable Meetings..

I've been stuck in long interminable meetings over the past few months ... so many of them .... which makes me wonder.  Do long meetings really achieve their objectives?

Plus, I get awfully hungry when I sit down for long hours.  Which doesn't exactly help my diet plans.  Hmm, what diet plan, anyway?  Since I joined the district education office, diets and exercise plans seem to have disappeared from my life.


Wednesday, July 14, 2010

Whither Thou Goest, PPD or School, It's All Up To You

Today a friend asked me for some advice.  Should he go to the PPD (education district office) or stay in school?

Well, it all really depends.

I know why he asks me for advice.  I am currently working in the Kota Kinabalu PPD and I have past experience working in the State Education Department.  I've also racked up a reasonable number of years in school, if you'd call 11 years reasonable. 

Here's what I want to say to him and I'll make it clear that this is my OPINION.

How many years has one been in school?  Two years?  Six years?  I'd want to have at least three years of school service time under my belt before I try the challenging walk of a PPD officer.  Some people would scoff at that and say more years are required.  However, if a teacher has been in school almost seven years, I'd advise him to stay put.  He has better promotional chances in school.  HOWEVER, there are many reasons for one to serve as a PPD officer (note that I use the word 'serve'... more on that later.)

Anyway, some of the posts in PPD are for DGA29 and DG41 officers.  Such officers only last about nine years, after which they move into a higher grade.  So if the boss wants experienced staff, he'll have to be ready to see these officers go after a few short years.  So it may actually be smarter to take on a 'young' DGA29 or DG41 officer who's got six more years to go before he qualifies for time-based DGA32/DG44.

One should also consider whether the post is 'hakiki' or 'secara pentadbiran'.  To take a post that is in the PPD structure is preferable to being posted to the PPD but one is still 'with' the school.  There are disadvantages to this and there can be confusion with things such as leave.  But at this moment, there is a situation in my own office where the new structure has yet to be actualised but the officers are already being posted in.  Which is why they find themselves in the slightly-undesirable position of being a school teacher doing work in the office.

While experience would really help one hold one's own as an officer, a positive attitude and a strong work ethic would be more useful.  PPD officers can't 'clock out' at 5.00 p.m.   If an MOE officer is in town to check on things, the PPD officer has to be ready.  If a district function takes place at night, the PPD officer has to be present and on the job.  Hmmm, teachers do this too, don't they?

Another inescapable fact of life for every PPD officer is they are reference points.  They must be able to answer questions and guide teachers and schools in their district in their effort to achieve academic excellence.  At the same time, the PPD officer needs to have circulars and ministry guidelines at their fingertips, if not in their laptop hard disks.  If they don't know something related to their sphere of influence, then they must know where to get the info. 

Here's where I would remind my friend of the word 'serve'.  The PPD officers are meant to be enablers and guides to schools, not little Napoleons.nnOne mistake some officers make is to think that they are almighty.  Well, my dear DG41 PPD officer, you may be in the position to send letters to that DG52 school principal or make phone calls to that DG44 senior assistant but in 12 years' time, you may find that principal or senior assistant looking at you from his post as State Education Director.  So watch your tone of voice... nobody is asking you to be slavish... surely being civil isn't difficult. Govt officers are very into hierarchy :) The schools follow your directives, not because the directives are YOURS but because you are representing the ministry.  'Saya Yang Menurut Perintah', remember????  That translates to 'I Who Follow Orders'. 

Whoops, I've gone a bit off track.

But, dear friend, if you're not aiming to be a Master Teacher or a Form Six Academic Teacher, going to the PPD is not a bad thing to do.  You'd gain plenty of invaluable experience.  Hmm, let's see now what you can get out of the experience...

Experience in Translating Plans Into Action
The MOE and State Edu Dept are wonderful at coming up with plans.  But the people who have to see the plans translated into reality are usually those in the PPD and the schools.  When things go wrong, the ones to get lambasted are usually these poor creatures.  That friend of mine will also find out the wonderful agony of trying to pull a group of diverse (& fickle?) personalities together.  When things go well, it's a feeling like no other!  Conversely, the feeling of doom is like no other, either.  Ha ha.

Great Network of Friends
After a few years, a friendly officer (who is also a joy to work with) will have gained a network of friends in schools, PPD offices, the state education dept, the ministry and also, if he's lucky enough, in the private sector.   When you need info or help, these contacts can really work wonders!

The Ability To See Your Vision Come To Life
If you have always had passionate ideas about what should or could be done by teachers, with teachers and for teachers, you can make these ideas come to life as an officer in the PPD. 

When I was an ICT officer, looking after ICT teachers all over Sabah, I wanted them to have access to information and courses... I wanted them to be able to be up and running on the first day of teaching the ICT subject... I wanted them to feel that working in a school deep in the jungle wasn't too much of a handicap as compared to to their counterparts in the cities.  I wanted them NOT to need the help of an officer in the dept.  So what I did was to set up online networking (blog and group) and also a system of information sharing.  Made them share one test paper each year (imagine if 50 teachers shared 55 test papers every year....).  Made them share their strategies, ideas and materials.  I left that job years ago... but that network is still in place.  They don't need to meet IRL to get info.  The net is their world.  Some have left Sabah... but they are still in touch. 

A teacher can invite colleagues to share in an endeavour but an officer can make a project and a program out of an idea.  Those ICT teachers weren't all of them keen on sharing (LOL...) but there was this adamant and pushy officer who just wouldn't stop harassing them...and she used directives to back that bossiness up. 

Confidence In The Public Eye
Like it or not, a PPD officer has to conduct and/or chair meetings, make speeches and debate points with just about everyone.  After a few months/years, a new officer is sure to have gained more self-confidence and a stronger sense of self.  Unless he has decided for himself to collapse under the challenge.  Although why he would do so is beyond me.  I strongly believe that if you lack something within yourself, you should have the sense to go out and find it or learn it or borrow it till it becomes yours.

When all is said and done, a PPD officer is a teacher identified and lifted out from among other teachers, expected to handle education programs at the district level.  This officer is given the chance to show his mettle.  So what he does and shows is up to him. 

In past posts, I griped and moaned about leaving school for the PPD.  It wasn't because the PPD is such a terrible place.  It was because I hadn't had enough of school yet.  I hadn't seen my plans come to fruition in my previous place of work yet (2 years and 4 months was just not enough time).  But now I've come to terms with what has happened.  And I'm 'waking up'.  So watch out, Maths and Science teachers in KK...

Thursday, July 01, 2010

Unwritten Teacher Skills

Or should I call them survival skills?

Skill No. 1 : How To Be A Team Player

The school organisation is like wheels in a cog, fitted together, sometimes well, sometimes awkwardly.  But STILL fitted together.  Those who aren't team players will find themselves facing hard times.  They'll still get on... but not as easily as when they take the team into consideration.


Skill No. 2 : How To Identify Team Leaders In The Staffroom


Every school staffroom has leaders.  They could be the Loud Busybody or the Strong Silent GC or the Smiley I-Love-Everybody Gossip.  They could be the principal's first cousin or the Education Director's wife.  But usually what they say goes.  And it tends to go a long way.  Getting on these people's good side is usually the smarter thing to do.  Unless you really have no choice.  Then I wish you luck.


Skill No. 3 : How To Identify Clique Leaders In The Classroom


In any group of people, there will be the followers and there will be the leaders.  In my first year of teaching, I found out that I could control a whole class of grim-eyed, knuckle-cracking teenagers just by identifying the three clique leaders in the classroom and getting them on my side.  Why didn't my lecturers ever tell us about this?


Skill No. 4 : How To Prioritise Work


Or in simpler terms, how to recognise work to complete and work to keep in the file.

Teachers now have so much work to do that it is just IMPOSSIBLE to finish everything.  So a smart teacher will decide which work to complete and which to shelve (until available time opens up.. such as during a flood or storm).  Usually, the most important things to do will be the teaching record book, student records-keeping (especially the attendance record!) and the marking of books.  Next will be data that needs to be submitted to the District Office or the Ministry of Education.  Other things come low on the list.


Other skills are optional :)

Friday, June 18, 2010

I Dream Of....

It's 5.02 p.m. on Friday and I'm still at the office.  I have two letters to fax to schools (poor schools..!), calling them for meetings at the PPD.  I think by now, some of the teachers in schools absolutely dread seeing an email from me in their inbox.

Well, while I sympathize with them, I feel so absolutely sorry for myself too.  I've got so much on my plate that it's tipping over ... but 'nuff said.  I don't want to dwell on negative things.

Right now, I dream of white sandy beaches, shining turquoise waters and the heroine of the story would be soaking inside those waters, thinking of nothing but how warm the waters feel.  Actually, I am describing what my Friday would be like if my boss hadn't frozen all leave, forcing me to cancel my weekend in a beautiful resort just 45 minutes out of Kota Kinabalu.  Let me rephrase that... not cancel... POSTPONED.  I cannot wait.

Monday, May 24, 2010

But Then I Should Be Grateful I'm Overworked

Yes, I should be grateful I'm overworked. 

Because that means...

... I have work to do. 
... someone wants to give me work to do.
... I have a job.
... I have a salary.
... I am solvent.
... I have financial independence.

Today was pay day :)

Thank you, God, for overworking me!

Saturday, May 15, 2010

It's Teacher's Day...and I'm Overworked!

The clock is ticking and soon it will be 16th May 2010... Teacher's Day!  Happy Teacher's Day to me!

I was being sarcastic. 

That is because I'm sick (LITERALLY) and tired from too many hours sitting in front of the laptop and too little time spent doing things that are good for my health, such as exercising, watching movies, playing with my son and keeping away from laptop screen radiation.

The good doctor has noticed that I fall sick on predictable months and I've connected all the months with either preparation frenzies or report deadlines.  He has also reminded me that 'people can only do so much' and 'you're not as young as you used to be'.  Meaning he doesn't want to prescribe me too many antibiotics and such.

Sigh...

You know, I truly truly understand now why so many teachers choose to reject admin posts and remain 'KUPs'.

Sunday, May 09, 2010

Options For A School Leaver

Every year, around May or June, I am sure to be asked by a school leaver the plaintive question,"What am I going to do now??" I will normally retort,"What do you want to do?"

After years of dealing with that, I finally decided to list down options so I need only tag them. You see, nobody can answer this question except for the school leaver himself. But of course he needs to know the options first, right?

Option One : Continue your studies; matriculation, A-levels or Form 6. And whatever else is at the same level. If part of your problem is money, then you'd have to do some part time work, such as giving tuition, typing assignments for other people (NOT doing them!) or working in fast food restaurants.

Option Two : Continue your studies with the help of a scholarship or loan. Be diligent about filling in forms, knocking on doors and making phone calls.

Option Three : Work first, save the money and continue your studies later. The danger of this is once you have felt the 'joy' of receiving a salary and spending the money, you may not want to go back to study. Unless you feel unhappy at the salary difference between an SPM school leaver and a degree holder. Let me tell you that there IS a substantial difference.

Option Four : Work first, save the money (both in your bank account and in your EPF) and then use the EPF money to pay for part time studies with universities such as OUM and UNITAR. Distance learning programmes are offered by most universities, anyway.

Option Five : Join one of the apprenticeships offered, where you are given the chance to work and study at the same time. I need to do some research on this first. But believe me, there ARE such programmes around.

Option Six : Take a skills course, such as those offered by JPSM (Jab Pembangunan Sumber Manusia or KPD). Usually you can pick up skills in culinary arts, electrical wiring, hairstyling, tailoring etc. After that, you can open your own business.

Option Seven : Forget about studying and go to work. In places like banks, you can slowly move up into management from among the rank & file. They give you exams to take and if you pass, you get promoted. HOWEVER, the kicker comes when the bosses transfer you any place they like. If you resign, you won't be able to get another job with the same salary elsewhere because you don't have paper qualifications.

Option Eight : Go to work. The 'best' work to do with minimum qualifications is SALES. It is also work with unlimited potential when it comes to commissions. When you do sales, your income is limited only by yourself. But you need to develop a thick skin and learn to be very creative & resourceful.

Option Nine : Repeat your exam if the results aren't what you want them to be. When you have 'made it', nobody ever asks how long it took you.

And while you're reading this, keep telling yourself... 'Life Never Promised To Be Fair' and 'A Quitter Never Wins & A Winner Never Quits.'

Hmmm, I wonder if I missed any other possible VIABLE option.

Sunday, May 02, 2010

The Best Thing I Can Teach My Child

When I was single and teaching in an all-boys school, I had my eyes opened really wide to the challenges of growing up nowadays.  I saw boys who stayed back in school because school (even if it was empty) was much better than home.  I found out about boys who came to school in a Toyota Prado and waited till the 4WD was down the street before they hopped onto another vehicle (bus or car) headed God-Knows-Where.  But after a while, everyone found out where.  I had one boy (clean-cut and such a well-behaved angel!) in my class who disappeared after a few months.  I found out later that he was helping coordinate the activities of a car theft syndicate. 

The thing was.. I knew most of these boys' families or backgrounds and the majority were from normal middle-class families.   What happened to lead them down such thorny paths?

The boy with the Prado had permissive parents... nothing was too good for their angel.  So he grew up with a self-centered mindset.

As for the ones who preferred to stay back in school, one had an abusive parent and the other had a parent who wasn't around much.  I suppose the teachers became substitute parent figures.

I never found out the whys of the car thief but I can still picture his angelic face.  Just think of a 14-year-old Leonardo di Caprio.

And of course, in the course of teaching, I came across instances of well-dressed clean-cut characters who offered the youngsters free colourful pills just to try and if you like 'em, you can buy.  They hung around the streets leading to the school and escaped notice because they looked so respectable.

Which was why at the relatively-youthful age of 25, I had a discussion with a Kelantanese contemporary about how to protect our future children from such dangers.  After months of arguing, we realised that there was NO way to protect the kids.  Unless you put them in gilded cages.

The best thing we as parents could do would be to bring them up with love and equip them with a strong foundation of self-worth and integrity.  Then whatever decisions they made would be guided by these principles.  Of course my Muslim friend and I also decided that we had to give our children a strong grounding in our respective religions.

However, that will still not be enough.  For disappointments and disasters abound in today's world.  Before, it would have been enough for one to be able to feed a family.  But now, there is so much competition for everything (from food and jobs to homes and loves) that sometimes I think that  the youths are set up for failure.  Even the kids who get straight A's aren't sure of a place in matriculation or university.  Even a first class degree nowadays doesn't guarantee a job in a top company.

So what would be the best thing I could teach my child? 
That would be RESILIENCE, the ability to recover quickly from adversity. 

I cannot cage him, nor can I capture all the 'lions' that may want to devour him.  The best thing I can do is teach him that life is for living... and if he falls, all he has to do is get up again. 

In the meantime, I will simply bite all my fingernails and grow more white hair as he happily leaps over drains and launches himself at trees.  I should be grateful because he hasn't begun launching himself at girls yet.  I'll worry when the time for it comes.

Tuesday, April 20, 2010

Why It Is Frightening To Be A Teacher

Frightening to be a teacher?  Sounds laughable, right?  But I do feel fear when I am in school as a teacher or an administrator.  Some people would call me paranoid but I think it is better to be paranoid than to be in a dock in some courtroom or at a hospital bedside some place.

Let me twist a Robbie Burns poem

How do I fear thee (O' burden of a teacher)?
Let me count the ways...

1. In Loco Parentis

In English, that means 'in the place of a parent'.  In legal terms, that means a teacher is expected to be as responsible as a parent for the safety of his or her students while they are within the school grounds or under his or her care.  And they may be liable in the same way a parent would be, where the law is concerned.

I attended a course by an IAB lecturer way back in 2000 and listened in horror as she detailed the many different ways I could've been in trouble with regard to the way I dealt with students. 

If a rock falls on a student within the school grounds, the school has to answer.  Even if the rock fell at 5.30 a.m. and no teacher was in school... and the student climbed over the school fence to get in.

If a student breaks his or her leg while on a school outing, the teacher AND school has to answer.

If a student whacks another student over the head with a piece of wood in class, the teacher in the classroom (AND the school) has to answer.  Woe betide that teacher if he or she was supposed to be in that classroom according to the school timetable but he wasn't.

Things really go to hell in a handbasket if the student on a school outing didn't get written permission from the parents or the teacher isn't one of those given permission to use the school van (in the case of an accident).  It doesn't matter if the outing is an informal one organized by students who just invited the teacher along.  As long as the teacher is there... it's IN LOCO PARENTIS!

Once, my La Salle boys decided to go on a biking adventure from Penampang to Papar and invited me and another teacher along.  It was a whole day event and I had lots of fun.  Imagine driving (did you think I'd bike all the way??) along lush green padi fields, stopping by white sandy beaches and drinking ice-cold juices at roadside stalls.  Then when I got home and my dad (who happened to be a Nazir) found out, he really ripped a strip off me for that.  If anything had happened to the boys, I would've had to answer. 

2. Lawsuit-Happy Community

Nowadays, lawyers are everywhere and parents are not afraid to sue teachers, principals, schools... even the Education Minister if they think they can do so.  While I respect the right of every parent to safeguard the rights of his child (I too am a parent), sometimes things are taken to a ridiculous extent.

Teachers nowadays are wary of disciplining a student for fear of being slapped with a lawsuit at the end of the week.  But sometimes some students can be too much.  Yes, there are procedures in place with regard to the disciplining of students.  But the bureaucratic maze can delay things so much that the student will only be punished six months later.  How could that be, one may ask?  Very easily... in a former place of work, the discipline teacher sent letters to the parents which went unanswered.  Then the teacher went in search of the house.  Imagine an address as simple as 'Kg Bahagia, Kota Kinabalu.'  Believe it or not, such addresses exist.  By the time the teacher found the house, he was informed that the parents had moved away (without the student!).  No wonder the letters went nowhere!  Then the poor teacher had to ascertain who was the legal guardian of the student.  All this without the cooperation of said student.  And later, the teacher told me that he feared for his safety while walking in the kampung as everyone there stared at him in a hostile manner.

Even then, the teacher was worried about trespassing and the non-delivery of the letter.  The student involved had been in a fight and the parents of the other student was threatening all sorts of action over what they perceived as apathy on the part of the school.

3. Trigger-Happy Students

Last but not least, the students themselves.

I would like to think that the majority of the students in Malaysia are gentle happy souls.  But if you, as a teacher, come across one hostile youth with a machete or a Molotov cocktail, that is already one too many violent person to deal with.

I won't elaborate on that... it speaks for itself.  That is why many teachers fear teaching in inner-city schools and prefer to stay in the rural areas. 

I have been fortunate in that I haven't had many run-ins with violent students. 

However, I HAVE charged at two boys who were each of them double my weight and were about to start fighting.  I didn't have the chance to feel fear as I only thought of stopping them before the first punch. 

I have also faced up to a young man who spat the F expletive at me in class.  That doesn't sound so 'bad', does it?  But if I hadn't handled him and showed his classmates that I didn't accept such behaviour, I would have been in for a hard time in his class.  Incidentally, he had a problem but not with me... poor kid was struggling with problems at home... and luckily I didn't begin by yelling at him.  When I asked him if I had done something to upset him, he just deflated.

And yes, I have gone nose-to-nose with stubborn young people.  I don't know if it was my fierceness or my foghorn voice... but somehow or other, I have been fortunate to come away the 'victor' in all the confrontations.  And university never prepared me for this...
I've come to realise that I 'won' these confrontations because the students knew I was right.  It's easier to win with righteousness on your side.  But if a teacher is wrong... well, students nowadays don't back down like they used to.

But a word of warning, a smart teacher must know when to be hard and when to be gentle.  A wrong move may take you down a path that will only lead to more pain and trouble... if not for you, then for the youth who is probably only lashing out at a world that is hostile to him or her.

Monday, April 19, 2010

How Challenging Teaching In Sabah Can Be

As a teacher, I have had many memorable experiences but one of the most fascinating has got to be observing my colleagues from other states as they deal with their first days in Sabah.

Born and bred in Sabah, I never really had much reason or opportunity to question what sort of image Sabah presented to the outside world (which includes other states in Malaysia) until I went to university in Kuala Lumpur.  And, of course, when I began working as a teacher.

My first inkling of how 'scary' Sabah can be to outsiders came during my third year in university.  I had coursemates who quickly got married ... it was the first time I had ever heard of 'nikah gantung'.  Apparently, they could get married but it was a sort of 'marriage on hold' (if such a thing exists..).  What mattered was that they could get a marriage certificate that would help 'save' them from the jungles of Sabah and Sarawak. 

Then, during the briefing I attended to receive my first posting, I found myself sitting next to a teacher who was posted to a school in the interior.  When she asked if the school she had been posted to was far, the officer in charge gave a large guffaw and said that she'd only need to spend three hours on the buffalo.  I wonder if he realized that we didn't laugh.  Till today, I am still not sure whether he was serious or not.

However, bearing in mind that there ARE a few schools in Sabah which require survivor-style effort to reach, the majority are still not that remote.  In most cases, there are roads or rivers that offer hope of reaching the schools.  Heh heh.

I confess that my first posting was to La Salle Secondary School, five minutes from the airport, eight minutes to the city and nary a buffalo in sight.  But even then, there are people who are unsure of just how 'city' the school is.   I remember walking to the staffroom after one of my classes, to find suitcases and various boxes at the entrance.  I knew five teachers were expected.  But when I saw a table fan (!) with the MAS cargo label still hanging from it, I couldn't help but ask the teacher why she carried it all the way.  She told me that her mother was worried there would be no electricity in Sabah.  But then, I asked gently, what use would the table fan be if there were no electricity in Sabah?  Hmmm.

So I haven't experienced any privations in the course of my work as a teacher.  The most terrible experiences I have had involved walking to schools, laptop slung over my left shoulder and blazer over my right shoulder while trying to make sure I didn't step too close to the edge of the cliff or hill.  There was some mud involved and slight heart palpitation... but it was a temporary thing as I was only visiting the schools in the course of my work as an ICT officer.

Yet another time during my years with La Salle, I saw a teacher lug in a bag of rice with the suitcases.  I didn't bother to ask why.  Perhaps family members were worried there would be nothing to eat in Sabah.  Or perhaps it may be a DIFFERENT alien type of rice... oh, horrors!

And there was one instance when I noticed a teacher looking at the currency in my hands.  I could only suppose that she was trying to see if we used the same.  I feel that this is a reasonable assumption as my own mother has been asked where she changed her currency (she was attending a course in Penang.)

I always LOVED mentioning supermarkets to the newly-arrived... if only to see the abject relief on their faces.

And as recently as 2002, an ex-student of mine now working as an English teacher reported having to slog through knee-deep mud when her car broke down on the way to town.  She had been posted to the Kalabakan area.  She also said that she and her housemates bought generator electricity, which came and went as capriciously as a flibbertigibbet's mind.  Well, at least she had a road.  And a generator.

To be fair, I'd noticed how documentaries and stories about Sabah tended to focus on orang-utans, proboscis monkeys, verdant rainforest, marine wildlife, dive sites and the such.  Can hardly blame people for thinking that that was all one would be able to find in Sabah.  One West Malaysian teacher defended himself by saying that when he looked for information about Sabah (before departing for Kota Kinabalu), all he could find were nature coffee table books and history opuses that had great descriptions of headhunters.  Armed with such knowledge, he probably fortified himself with a bagful of prayers and running shoes.  Ha ha... just joking.  Don't get mad, X... you know who you are.

But on the whole, the teachers who were sent to the interior of Sabah have been quite open-minded and right-thinking about their travails.  Susan used to tell me that on the last leg of her journey to her school, she'd begin with a white tee and blue jeans and ended up all red in colour (including her hair and skin!), thanks to the red clay dust of the logging track.  Susan's lot in life has improved considerably... now she only needs to board a boat for a 15-minute ride to SMK Pulau Gaya, just off the Kota Kinabalu harbour.  She no longer 'changes colour'... unless you count her bright yellow life jacket.

However, the tales I am telling belong to the early nineties.  I think things are much better now, thanks to the Internet.  There are enough pictures of Sabah's supermarkets and roads to gladden the most fearful heart. 

But then again... just five years ago, my dad did give a lift to a UMS freshie and her father (they had just arrived from West Malaysia).  When my dad drove into the parking lot of a supermarket, he noted the looks of relief on their faces.  It seems that a supermarket is proof positive of an acceptable level of civilisation.

That said, it is also very common for people to fall in love with Sabah and they never leave...  even after their tenure is over...:)

Maybe I should post a few pictures of Kota Kinabalu City here... as I do get a few visits from people who search for 'teacher sabah work'.

Saturday, April 17, 2010

Friends That Last The Mile

I have friends who have been with me from schooldays or campus days.... we've been through happy times, stressful moments... even anger and long silences.

But when I think of them, I feel a warmth deep inside my heart for they have lasted the mile.  After all these years, they still want to be my friends :) 

I told a friend once that when you put your trust in a friend, you are giving that person a knife, which he can choose to put away and never use.  Or stab you in the back.  But I didn't tell that friend that it is possible to survive stabs in the back and still remain friends with the other.  It takes time for the wound to stop bleeding and the heart to forgive, but it is possible.

---------------------

There's X, who shared many adventures with me, even though there were points of friction between the two of us.  But I would like to think that deep inside, both of us see beyond those points of conflict.  I appreciate her for being willing to share many enterprises (haha...) with me.  There were some she actively opposed but I respected her right to have an opinion and just went my way.  She's far away now, off on her own adventure but we still keep in touch.

And there's W, who can be counted on to offer a solid and rational opinion on whatever topic I care to toss her way :) Besides sharing a love for moist chocolate cake, of course.  We meet infrequently... but it's always over coffee, which always provides the perfect ambience.

Then there's C, who taught me that  love and hate can be two sides of the same coin.  I mean that in the most positive way possible... :) as I like to test proverbs.  Handled well, C is one of my favourite sounding boards.  And if he reads this, he will demand a debate rematch on the topic...LOL...

I have so many other friends, who colour my life in the most vivid shades.... and I cannot imagine my life without them.  Which is why when I meet people who don't have many friends, I have to try hard to understand them... for they seem to be quite happy with a solitary existence.  But if their one True Friend is God, I can relate.  He won't ever let you down, right?

Monday, April 12, 2010

Income Tax Megrims

Income tax returns and I haven't been on good terms for the past ten years.

It all began in 2000 with a letter from the LHDN office in Kuala Lumpur demanding money.  From statements, the letters steadily degenerated into reminders and then thinly-veiled threats.  So, like any dutiful citizen, I trotted off to the LHDN office in Bandaran Berjaya (the old office) and tried to pay. 

Lo and behold, the counter staff refused to accept my money.  They kept insisting that I didn't owe them any money.  I told them that the income tax payments were for my account when I was unmarried.  However they'd deleted that account.  And under my new account, I had no debts.  So I went into a small room where an officer looked at my file and then told me to go home.  Six months later, I got another letter from Kuala Lumpur, telling me that I still hadn't paid (no kidding???) and that I was in danger of losing my limbs.  Hmm, I'm kidding about the latter.  But it was no laughing matter. 

So off I went to the LHDN office again, in a more aggressive mode.  After some letter-waving and gesticulating, I was told to fill in a form and told me to go home (again!) so they could find out what was wrong. 

Later on, I was told that they had misplaced my file and were also in the midst of moving office.  But I went back again and was informed that I had four accounts!   One under my old IC number, another under my new IC number,, the third under some strange series of numbers that the officers themselves didn't understand and the fourth under my husband's account.  By this time, I was reduced to begging them to PLEASE solve my problem.

In the meantime, LHDN Kuala Lumpur kept sending me love letters.  I was beginning to feel very wanted.

By 2007, they had moved into a building of their own and were busy converting everything into bits and bytes.  So I went again.  By this time, they were able to pull up my file from the database and check my account right in front of me.  Lo and behold, I had three accounts now.  Was that an improvement?  One under the same old strange series of numbers and the other two under my husband's account.  That made me sit up and feel a rush of adrenaline.  As far as I knew, when a husband's account is 1234567, his wife's account is 1234567(1) and his SECOND wife's account will be 123467(2)!  Seeing my eyes widen and my face turn red, the officer quickly told me,"Oh but the second account is also under your name!"  And he said something like 'so his second wife also has your name..haha..' 

By this time, I was extremely tired of having multiple accounts.  In one account, they owed me money.  In the other, I owed them.  And the offices in Kuala Lumpur and Kota Kinabalu didn't seem to be linked.  Imagine P demanding  payment and Q refusing to accept said payment.  At one point, I asked sarcastically if perhaps I was supposed to go to Kuala Lumpur to pay.  If that would solve my problem, I was fine with it. 

However, by 2008, everything was solved.  Now I have only one income tax account and my husband doesn't have another wife. 

THEN last month, I got a letter from the dears again.  Telling me to pay.  Again. 

This time, I took leave from the office (I was sure it wouldn't be just a lunch break thing).  I carried all my files and dressed official.  Somehow they tend to treat you 'better' if you dress official.  And what a relief... it wasn't an old megrim.  No, they have just started asking the citizens to pay for NEXT YEAR's tax return.  And I hadn't even submitted the current year's tax return. 

What have I learned from all this?

First, I suspect they had courses on How To Intimidate Citizens Into Paying.  I imagine they are told to sprinkle the letters with liberal doses of frightening words.  My least favourite is Without Prejudice.  As far as I'm concerned, this is rubbish.  If they are truly 'without prejudice', then why mention deadlines and further action?

Second, patience doesn't solve your tax problems.  They just pile penalties on top.

Third, technology may make things easier but it also expedites errors.

Fourth, citizens hardly ever win income tax battles.  They will always say that citizens should know their responsibilities.  So pay pay pay!

Monday, March 29, 2010

Uncommon Sense

When I was much younger and more impatient with the world, I had difficulties dealing with people who did 'stupid things'.  Such as :

- not releasing an important report because it was incomplete (what was incomplete was a minor detail, such as page numbers). As a result, the report missed its deadline.

- not answering a question, even though he knew the answer because 'it wasn't his job'.

- teachers inconveniencing students about attendance at certain school activities because they cannot make sensible judgments of their own.  E.g. A school I won't mention set a date for all students to come and update their clubs and societies' files and reports.  So a student who had already completed his work asked to be excused from that particular activity.  The teacher demanded that he attend school that day as 'arahan sudah keluar' (instructions have been issued).  So the student asked what was he to do since he had already finished his work.  The teacher told him to just sit in the room.  Does this sound sensible???

Once I complained long and loud to my dad (one of my mentors in life), he just smiled and said,"It's because they lack uncommon sense."  That silenced me.

But WHY is common sense so uncommon? Why can't people just use their heads?  Sometimes some people are so wrapped up in doing things within their own little boundaries that they refuse to be bothered with other things.

I'm older now and more patient (at least I like to think so) but dealing with instances such as people with no common sense is still FRUSTRATING...

Monday, March 22, 2010

Lighting The Fire In Students

A junior teacher once asked me... what should she focus on in school? She was finding the multitasking a bit wearing and she was losing focus. She found herself deep in typing worksheets, analyzing numbers, preparing powerpoints and she instinctively felt that she was going the wrong way.

She was lucky because she asked a senior teacher. I didn't ask... and I only figured out the answer for myself after about four years of teaching. To give you an idea of how busy I was, just picture a cat running around after its tail...LOL...

Anyway, this is what I told her :

A teacher's most important duty is to make the student hunger and thirst for knowledge badly enough that they will take charge of their own learning.

Not to finish the syllabus or textbook chapters
Not to prepare and grade test papers...
Not to sit in class and make sure everyone is doing something.
And most definitely NOT to condemn a child for his disinterest in his books.


I have a secret to share : when a colleague complains about students who are bored in class, the first thing that comes to my mind is... perhaps the class they are enduring is boring.

Sounds terrible of me, right? And YES I will be the first to admit that I HAVE been responsible for some pretty boring lessons.

However, I live for those moments when a student's eyes suddenly brightens and this look of awareness dawns on his features. Suddenly he begins to have an idea just what it is he is supposed to be doing in his classroom. Suddenly he begins to think of working towards something he wants...

So much better for the kids than simply trudging to class and going through the motions of doing work and reading books, don't you think?

Friday, March 19, 2010

A Teacher's Heartbreak

What breaks my heart every time it happens is watching a student fail to continue his or her studies because of financial barriers.

I have lost count of the times I have personally witnessed a student do well in exams but cannot continue because of money problems. 

C was one of the top three students in a previous STPM exam.  She could've easily got a place in university but for reasons known only to her, she chose to help her family in their shop. 

Q was in the top TWO in his school in an SPM exam.... but family pressures and financial obligations steered him away from a confirmed place in matriculation.  Now I do not know where he is.

J was the TOP student in a school.... but because his father didn't live up to his responsibility as a parent, J dropped out of school.

I cry inside when I see these things happening for I know education is their best route to a brighter future.  I feel so so SO frustrated because if it is not their own family that 'drags' them down, it is they themselves who make the choice.  One student even switched off his handphone so his teachers could not talk to him and persuade him to just go for the course.  Yes, money is needed but it can be sourced.  There are ways and means.... but the adults cannot help if the student refuses to be helped.

Sometimes I wish I can just grab the student and 'force' him or her to go.  But of course, I cannot do that.   I guess I can only pray for these young people that somehow somewhere they get to achieve their dreams.  They will probably have to go through experiences that will test their heart, soul and willpower.  But I really really pray that they also meet angels in our world who will help.

And the irony is... there are hundreds more young people who never worry about their next meal or their next place to sleep but who don't really care about their education.

Sunday, March 14, 2010

Finding Love And Acceptance Part III

Finding Love and Acceptance

Finding Love and Acceptance Part II

Continuing my reflections on how people seek love and acceptance, it is inevitable to talk about what happens when love is rejected.

Authors and playwrights like to write about unrequited love because there are so many variations and so much more drama. Besides, such tales sell better than ones where the hero and the heroine meet, fall in love and get married. Yawn.

For those who have felt the pain of unrequited love, they know that it is a pain like no other. Imagine feeling strong emotions for someone and that someone doesn't even know you exist. Or perhaps does realise you are alive but isn't interested to know more.

It is no wonder that some are driven to send endless smses and make endless calls to the object of their affection. They know that they are probably driving the other person away but they feel frightened of not being able to win the other person's affection, either through inaction or by being too late. They cannot stand the thought of 'losing' the other. But, of course, how can you lose what you have never had?

A friend once asked me what to do. She was the one being bombarded by unwanted attention. I told her to just tell the other person how she felt. However she preferred to play the avoidance game as she said that replying smses would only lead to more drama and unending debates. Unfortunately, she is probably right.

I always feel sorry for the ones who are suffering from unrequited love. They are bound by their feelings and are feeling pain. But how do they escape the feelings? Some are lucky... the feelings fade with time. But some are not ... and years later, still remain 'in love' with the other person who has moved on with his or her life. And so, they live a life of emptiness, unwilling to settle for less than the one they want. Some people think this is romantic in some dark tragic way but I think it's lonely.

Well, I do know of others who have learned to put their feelings away in some hidden part of their hearts and are happily married with children.

Some may think that settling for one when you want another is a stupid thing to do. But what do you do when the one you want doesn't want you? I think putting your life into stasis is more stupid than finding love and acceptance with another.

Well, that's what I think, anyway.

I think if you can survive the pain of unrequited love, you will emerge a stronger and more resilient person.

The song 'Lover of Mine' by Alannah Myles... more memories than I care to recall.

Friday, February 26, 2010

Pondering Choices : Form Six Academic Teacher Post

Sigh, it's that time again.... of choices, dilemmas, adjustments and ANGST.

Yesterday was a deadline for the Form Six Academic Teacher Post applicants to verify their data with the Unit Naik Pangkat (Promotions Unit?) of the Sabah Edu Dept. As I have already moved to the District Education Office, I had to contact my previous school to do the verification. The teachers were whispering about a possible appointment briefing in March or April. Hmmm, wonder what that would mean for me.

A Senior Assistant friend of mine sat for an hour, unloading all her grief related to this promotional exercise. There were teachers who applied for posts in Phase One but didn't get any offer, while others who applied in Phase Two were given offers. So the aggrieved teachers were complaining to her, asking why how who what and whyyyyy...(imagine sad eyes and upset hearts). I think (my own personal opinion, okay??) that this may have happened because a number of teachers in Phase One turned down the offers and some options had too many applicants while others had too few.

Yet another friend emailed me, asking me for my opinion about the post. She told me that her school principal encouraged her to take up the DG48 Form Six Academic Teacher post that they were expecting to be offered to her.

This is the gist of what I shared with her :

One, in the Form 6 Acad Teacher job grade, the highest grade is DG52 at this point in time. For Master Teachers, the highest is JUSA. Those in admin can hope for higher grades. This isn't an issue of being greedy but logically, if you have a choice between a job grade with a ceiling of DG52 and another grade with a ceiling of JUSA, then it is better to go for the latter. There is a big difference between the two job grades. However, if you are offered the Form 6 post and turn it down in hope of a better offer, what will you do if that 'better offer' doesn't materialise? I asked a principal who I trust very much in matters such as this and she said that perhaps it would be better to have a bird in hand than two in the bush.

Two, the Form 6 Acad Teacher job grade is a new one. I worry that it may take years for the powers-that-be to plan and implement better opportunities for those in the job grade. Right now, my honest opinion is that it isn't the best choice available to teachers. I welcome other opinions contrary to this and would like to be convinced that the job grade IS a very good place to be. You see, I say this because I have looked at one particular situation in a school I shall not identify. The school has three DG48 posts and one DG52 post. The teacher occupying the DG52 post will be retiring in about three years' time. The three teachers in the DG48 posts are about the same level of seniority. Who among them will be promoted to that post? Perhaps the dept will 'import' a more senior teacher from another school. In the meantime, what happens to the three teachers in DG48? They either wait for the the 'more senior teacher' to retire O_O and battle it out among themselves for the post. Or they pray for a vacancy in a school elsewhere. There aren't that many schools with Form Six in Sabah.

Three, talking about choosing between admin and teaching, if one likes to teach, then it would be better to choose the academic posts (Form 6 or Master Teacher). I'd go for the Master Teacher post anytime. Yes, it's not an easy post to aspire to. But if you dare to hold such a post, then you better start polishing those teacher skills, right? Too many people want the pay but don't want the job. I get really irritated with such teachers. I sometimes feel like asking them what planet they come from. But if you like admin, then go for admin by all means. There are more admin posts than any other promotional post. Every school needs admin but not every school offers Form 6 classes.

So much to consider... but the bottom line is... if I am offered the Form Six Academic Teacher post with no other offer in sight, I will take it. That is such an easy decision to make because I love teaching. But my choice and my opinion isn't applicable to others. Every teacher in this position will just have to think it out for themselves.
The last time I blogged about this, I got a few brickbats. And some new friends. I consider that part of a learning experience. And I got more information about Form Six posts. So it wasn't a waste of time.

I wonder what I will get from this post...LOL... :) I would LOVE it if someone could see loopholes in what I have blogged. This is my possible future too.

Wednesday, February 24, 2010

Friend Requests From The Wild Blue Yonder

I should be happy....I get requests to add friends almost every day. But how can I be happy when these requests come from Mawar Putih, Duitbah Dragon, Shmily Love, Mary Mz, Hellstrom, Freddie Mercury, Shadowrunner Daus, Friday Starz and the list goes on and on.

I thought Freddie Mercury died a long time ago.

I've tried squinting at the pictures but they are usually taken at odd angles (the current craze is to make your eyes look super big and your chin almost embedded into your neck) or of various body parts (e.g. one eye, half a forehead or a foot). I've also got requests from babies (well, the pictures are of babies... and the names are cutesy ones like BubbleBee or AngelPuff). Although I didn't think the babies actually typed out their requests.

I usually don't bother with those who have 'killer' combinations of weird nicks and weirder pictures (a skull, an X, a burger, Spongebob etc). And of course, there are requests from people whose faces I don't know from Adam.

I DO have the odd 'Antz Yaya' and 'JefGilz' but their requests either came with a message that identified them or enough detail on their profiles for me to figure out who they were.

However now I have the princely number of 139 friends requests, which I don't ignore because I'm hoping that maybe next week, the requester will post his or her real name and maybe put up his or her real picture or maybe just maybe a light bulb will blink in my head and I will realise that I DO know this person and add him or her.

But till then, I'll just keep that list as it is. After all, why on earth would I add a person I don't know?

Tuesday, February 23, 2010

It's A Bad Thing When....

... you have so much work to do that you forget mealtimes.
... you have so much data to compile that you compile more than you analyse.
....you have so many emails to download that you forget which folder you put them in.
....you eat drink breathe live your work till you can't even blog!

&*^%$#%&**&@&%^$!!!!!!

Sunday, January 31, 2010

Refreshing The Mind

Ofttimes I feel a need for some quiet time. Just some time and space to myself. No thoughts of lists & deadlines, no worrying, no thinking...

Amazingly, when I first tried doing this, it was very difficult for I had become so used to filling my mind with 'noise'. The noise of the world I live in... but after a while, it became easier. Some people learn to silence their minds through meditation. I do it by listening to prayer and music, such as the ones below... can't really achieve total silence, can I?

Listening to prayers or music for a short while is like refreshing the mind... taking a step out of the crazy world I live in and going into a world of tranquility. Then after an hour or two, I feel ready to return to the craziness again.

Sleepsong by Secret Garden



The Promise by Secret Garden

Saturday, January 30, 2010

Food : Binder of Communities

When I was in university, I learned one unfailing strategy to get people to attend society activities. All we had to do was ensure that plenty of food was available. Simple fare like sandwiches and biscuits but plenty of it.

In the first school I worked in, that same strategy worked like a charm. The boys were willing to paint endless walls, make innumerable posters and run unending miles as long as there was food and drink available. During sports season, I promised lunches and a guaranteed supply of cold drinks - this got me extreme loyalty and perseverance in sports events...LOL... I've since learned that for boys (& men too?), food is a most important starter. It's no wonder I was always broke in my first decade of teaching.

Recently a friend commented that Malaysia was lucky to enjoy such harmony despite the many different races & religions. Bar the occasional lawsuit and Molotov cocktail. I noticed that he had been attending a number of events which naturally meant lavish spreads of food. It was a light-bulb moment for me. Malaysians love coming together for food very very much and perhaps that is one critical factor that glues us together. It's very difficult to eat at the same table as someone you dislike and many a dispute has been cooled by a sharing of bread. Metaphorically speaking.

Perhaps we should have more breaking of bread together.

Thursday, January 07, 2010

Boundaries - Good Fences Make Good Neighbours

I have noticed that most problems in relationships can be traced back to boundaries, whether unclear or unrealistic or whatever.

Last week, a cousin had a quarrel (a major one!) with her parents and aunts (the uncles normally run for cover) because they disagreed with her choice of partner.  As someone on the outside looking in, I could not really tell what the real issues were but I could see that for the first time in her life, my cousin was rebelling against the established boundaries of her family expectations.  As these boundaries (rules and protocol) were the same throughout the families in the clan, the aunts jumped in to 'defend' family traditions. 

One could say that the family was being too rigid... but at the same time, my cousin not only rebelled against family 'law' but she was also trying to buck social rules - hint : she could end up in Syariah court if she wasn't careful.  As far as I know, tradition has won .... although I suspect my young cousin is merely lying low to figure out other strategies.  Love conquers all, they say... although I beg to differ.  I prefer to add the qualification love with smart decisions.

This week, a friend found himself embroiled in a 'war' with his sister.  Again, as an outsider looking in, I couldn't really grasp all the dynamics in the relationship but what I understood was that the two had a problem of unclear boundaries.  She expected things from him such as his help as a chauffeur (they live in different cities) when she was in town and his consideration of her and her family's needs.  However, he felt he had work commitments to carry out (which made being a chauffeur till nighttime difficult) and he couldn't just hand his car over to her.  He also felt unhappy over their 'invasion' into his privacy (short term was okay... but not long term) and he felt that his sister didn't have enough consideration for his own needs.  So when he made his boundaries clear, she was not happy.

I myself have had to 'hack out' my own boundaries with my family members when I first began work.  As a student and as a dutiful daughter, my main duties were to study hard, bring home the results and obey my parents (which normally meant following their timetable and their activities other than my own school-related ones).  But when I began working, I had my own timetable, my own activities and perhaps a strong idea of what constituted fun things to do...LOL... my cousins will know what I'm talking about.  My family members didn't agree and I began a sometimes-civilised campaign to defend my boundaries.  I was lucky that I was more rational than emotional and so, there was a minimum of tantrums & crockery-smashing.   Makes me smile now to remember those days....

Well, whatever it may be, I believe wholeheartedly that CLEARLY-DEFINED BOUNDARIES are very very important in relationships.  People HAVE to tell their close friends and relatives what the boundaries are.

I am not comfortable if you tell me how to dress.
I am okay with your daily gossip.
I do not like it when you borrow my car without my permission.
I don't mind if you use my home telephone for short conversations.

But when you don't make this kind of thing clear, and people cross the boundaries, then it will just be a matter of time before something blows up.