Meet the Form Class!


All the talk about our deployment in 2016 is speculative and at best tentative, although it would not be far from the truth to say it is likely I will not be teaching them next year.

It is no secret that teachers have our ‘favourite’ ‘best fit’ classes; I am truly blessed that other than my very first form class in 2012, I had the chance to enjoy that kind of camaraderie and rapport with this class of munchkins who have won me so many times over this year with their awesomeness.

  1. When I shared with them the importance of sincerely showing appreciation to others and made them write ‘thank you’ notes to all their subject teachers, they happily obliged – some of those personal thank you messages so honest and thoughtful.

    (So many teachers were immensely touched when they received the handwritten thank-you notes. Hope they keep encouraging others to become better versions of ourselves!) 

  2. All 43 of them showed up – properly attired and on time – on the last day of school.
  3. All 43 of them showed up on time for the entire duration of their examinations. (I was hugely impressed also because of the haze.)
  4. Three-quarters of the class brought along gifts (wrapped!) under $5 so we could have our year-end gift exchange! :) I exchanged a deco-tape roller with a fragrance incense, a choc bar and some pens.
  5. They unanimously agreed to stay behind for pizza when the pizza could only be delivered an hour later! (Impressed by their class spirit, not their desire for free food.)
  6. The student representatives of the class helmed and prepared their service learning presentation entirely on their own – videos, PPT slides, reflections, Q&A. We teachers only gave them the guiding questions and criteria, and some teenyweeny advice. This really won me over – took a huge load off my chest, especially when some other classes had roles reversed when teachers prepared everything (right down to the script) for the students.
  7. The student groups really took to the children at PCF – and learned from working with the teachers there – perhaps through some challenging tough ways. They may not have impressed PCF completely, but I could see them grow as individuals as they challenged themselves to break out of their comfort zone.
  8. They were mighty disappointed because they did not have time for the boomnet activity at the level camp because we had to take the first ferry back. But after the initial disappointment (“Really? Couldn’t we just try? Maybe we could go now? What if…?”) they accepted it graciously and made the most out of the flying fox pool, just hanging out as a class and playing in the water.
  9. For their VIA project, the kids went to a little village in Bintan and helped to tile the floors with bricks for the village school. Seeing the way they all (yes, even the princesses) got down to work and interacted and played with the children made me proud.
  10. The class committee spearheaded the class tee-shirt orders – sourced and liased with the vendor, gathered the names of the students, feedback and a host of possible tee-shirt designs (although they all looked questionable at best with florals, weeds and skulls and I ended up helping with the design.).
  11. They are receptive to feedback. If you reason with them and set clear but realistic goals, there will almost always be visible improvement – be it about using their handphones, being on time for school, greeting a teacher properly, arranging the furniture neatly etc.
  12. They are hungry to learn. Some boys automatically started on their corrections on their end-of-year exam paper, and this was the dialogue it triggered:

    Me: Wow, are you doing corrections? I need to run through the rest of the questions to check for marking errors – there may not be time for that.

    Boys: You don’t want us to do corrections? Don’t you want us to improve??

    Me: Well… [to the whole class] If I print the marker’s report – it shows you the answers, and reasons why the marker accepted or did not accept some answers. You can attach that to your exam paper then and go through it later on your own. Would that be helpful? Who would be interested?

    80% of the hands shot up in the air.

  13. We won Second Place in the SG50 National Day Inter-class Competition! Some of the kids really impressed us with their sporting spirit – to dress up as  SG50 national day icons!
  14. The boys came in second place in the inter-class frisbee competition for Secondary 3s. (You should have seen them – they light up and transform on the field.) Then they offered up their extra medals to us teachers on Teachers’ Day. The girls came in a close third too!
  15. We won the Best Class Award for the Normal Academic stream in our school! :D This takes into consideration their attendance, results, achievements, attitude etc.

Thank you, 3T1, for giving much and striving hard this year. :)


A New Friend II

I asked the new friend I made online if he would care to meet up, and despite his busy schedule, he said ‘sure’. So on Tuesday evening we met for dinner at some cafe in Toa Payoh, and then took a walk to Creamier to have some ice cream. The food was not fantastic (I think we were both kind not to make any unpleasant remarks about it) and Creamier was so crowded we sat outside in the haze and choked ourselves in conversation chatted for a while.

Although it was not an unpleasant evening, it was not memorable or exciting and I am not sure he would give it another go if he had a choice.

Yet, I did appreciate the chance to ‘do something different’ during the holidays and actually have a conversation with someone who is not from the teaching fraternity. I was mighty glad I did not feel any pressure to keep up with appearances or have to look pretty – we made it clear we were interested in being friends and I think our conversations go beyond ‘what do you look like’ or ‘are you cute’. I was glad we could be comfortable with slow, personal conversation, just staring up into the (hazy) night sky and sharing ice cream. The evening prompted me to think about why I teach in the first place, whether or not it is truly my calling or if it was thrust upon me and I learned to accept and enjoy it in the process. I admired this young doctor for investing in his conviction and sticking it to his ideals when the going gets tough. ‘I had a choice, and I chose to be here.’ He said that night. Do I tell myself the same thing when the going gets tough too? Did I choose to be in the classroom, as a teacher?

We will see.

And we will see where this new friendship takes us too.


Are they your first form class?

She gestured to the class photograph on my cabinet. I couldn’t help myself but broke into narratives of individual little kids – one of them almost threw a fire extinguisher at their chairperson and another teacher, one cut himself with a penknife and had to be sent to the hospital after it bled out of his bag… these memories were priceless. And because they are priceless, they are also happy ones.

Our experiences, some though nasty, should be kept and stored as pleasant memories. After all, memories are but our way of remembering the past. If we choose to associate sadness and unhappiness with the past, our memories will be grey ones. But past experiences, unpleasant moments and discontinued friendships alike, can all be stored and saved as happy memories.

Those will make our lives more lighter, happier and more beautiful. :)

New Friend

On National Day yesterday, I had a chat with a young man I met online through a social media app. It was a pleasant surprise that we managed to hit it off quite comfortably, so much so he proposed meeting for a quick cup of coffee at close to midnight. It did prompt me to think about whether or not people would still bother to make friends and keep them in this day and age when everything is short-lived and fleeting. A part of me did wish that when you meet new friends like that, people would still want to keep them.


images (24)

Familiar music streamed into my ears as the cool twenty-second story breeze rushed in through the open windows. I had just taken a short afternoon nap and had been woken up to a string of familiar National Day theme songs and local medleys. Even now the music still rings on from the sports area in the distance. Ah, National Day is coming soon.

My brother walks by and hums ‘Together we make a difference’ as the song continues to float melodically through the air – in English and Mandarin. I hear a young child scream a line from the song probably a few stories below us. National Day is coming soon.

In school, we have an inter-class competition and part of it requires us to dress up 5 Singapore icons to win points. It is hard to believe that National Day is just a few days away, and that it is our nation’s 50th jubilee year!

I miss belting out to the familiar national day and community songs just like how we used to as a kid in Primary and Secondary school. There was a certain liberation that came with being appreciative of, happy with and proud of being Singaporean when we let our hair down and groove to the music. I wonder if that day will come this year.

There is just too much to say Thank you for should we make a list of what we are thankful for. A clean and green environment, a well-established education that groomed us to be high-achieving and skillful individuals, the conviction in ‘lifelong learning’ and the multi-racial multi-cultural environment we have grown up in, the access we have to religious and cultural practices, a stable government and economy, a secure community where safety is prioritised, great leaders who were our forerunners in this project of nation-building… and now this responsibility has come to rest on our shoulders.

Out of Beat

As long as the song you dance to plays on, you will never stop moving to its groove and rhythm. And with that, it has been four long years since I started dancing to the beat here. It started out a careful, slightly eccentric, happy beat, and then it morphed into something like a light, contemporary jazz. In the past two years it has transformed into a mellow bass tune, sometimes faint, sometimes frustrated, sometimes sweet, but never upbeat. A few days ago, I chose a different song to dance to. This song will only start playing a whole year from now, but it is on the waiting list, and for now, that is enough.

I went for two interviews in the past week to explore my options. I spoke to many people, mostly to try easing the burden of making sense of this on my own. I prayed about it too – less than I should, but more than I have in a while. All I can say is that the past week has lent itself to thanksgiving and marvel and reflections and praise and all things good. I marvel at the grace of God in making things right.

For someone who has only gone for one interview (ever!) and never had to submit a job resume, I think I handled the interviews fairly well. Unless we have been teaching blind the past few years, we would know our personal beliefs and principles regarding teaching, and our hopes and aspirations, even if they are not firmed up. Right before my first interview I said a little prayer to God before stepping out of my car. I prayed for God’s sovereignty and providence, I prayed for Him to guide me through this process, I prayed for His will be done. It was the same prayer I said four years ago before we received our posting.

The next 24 hours just happened in a whirl after that. I received two offers after both interviews, and had to make an almost instant decision. But on hindsight, the whole process was extremely humbling and self-reflective, and I want to give all praise and glory to God.

The success of the interviews was a much needed affirmation for me as a teacher. They recognise the efforts we have contributed in our present workplaces, and more importantly, are willing to take a leap of faith with us. I received an offer to consider barely an hour after I went for the interview. That is overwhelmingly humbling.

Success of the interviews aside, the interviews compelled us to crystallise what we believe in and what we want for our students and ourselves. It is similar to a surge of positive reinforcement and energy that comes from you just admitting your teaching ethos. After months of hesitation, I finally came to the realisation that the next step I hope to take will challenge me to become a more effective and efficient educator.

I have gained a new kind of gratefulness towards my present workplace. I realised it is a learning ground with plenty of opportunities to grow. I built up a repertoire of classroom management skills, I was given plenty of encouragement to attend courses and workshops relevant for my skills and interests, I learnt to thicken my skin and ignore the insults that the students can throw your way, for lack of a better expression. Above all, I learnt to fall in love with a part of society I was hardly ever exposed to as a child and teenager and young adult. God did lead me here for a reason – and while I still do not know what that reason is, I have grown certain that there is one.

Indeed, it is only when we are at our biggest loss, that we turn to God and depend on Him. My God has preserved me till today, and has never let me go.

Thank you, Lord.


images (18)

Because it was Al’s last week as a bachelorette, we girlfriends decided to (finally) meet up for tea at Arteastiq. There was a strange sense of lingering bittersweetness as we listened to each of us share about our present stage of life. Almost fifteen years ago, we still donned our short haircuts looking like awkward schoolgirls on the edge of puberty, carrying our heavy schoolbags and making our way to school. Now years later, we have experimented with all sorts of hairstyles and lengths, negotiated fashion trends, and exchanged our boxy schoolbags for totes and hobos. Time has been kind to us; we have grown up well.

I listened in to the various conversation threads at our tea table. We recognise that life is not all roses and chocolates and pastel colour shades. There are realities of wedding days that people may gloss over due to the hype and celebrations; there is unflattering truth that I have ballooned twice in size since I graduated from University. There is the private emptiness when a happy marriage has not bred children a few years later. There is that nagging torment that beneath our seemingly successful jobs, we are not all that happy, and looking for the next turn in life is at the corner of our minds. There is also that swell of courage that we need to brace ourselves with, when we get ready to welcome the possibility of change.

I am becoming more excited at the prospect of possible change, and am becoming more convinced that there is no harm in entertaining that possibility. Perhaps when time is ripe, circumstances will allow me to be more forthcoming in sharing.

Too Large For Words

So it happened. A disaster, both tragic and unexpected, in the form of the quake that hit Sabah and the climbers at Mount Kinabalu last week, happened. My heart goes out to everyone affected by the quake, Singaporeans and non-Singaporeans alike. As an educator, my heart went out to the parents, teachers and students involved in that horrific experience. It would take a person all the boldness and courage and faith in the world, to move past an experience that shattering, and keep living. I cannot imagine how everyone directly involved must feel. I worry for how Singaporean public would try to wrap their heads around this letting a group of Primary School students trek overseas and whether or not the trip is justified, whether or not the experience is worth it, whether or not … we could have foreseen what would happen. These parents, students and teachers put their faith in a school learning expedition, because they believed in an education that was bigger, and better, and beyond the classroom. I pray they do not lose hope in that ideal after this. I pray that the school leaders have the wisdom to counsel, to support, to love their teachers and students more than ever. I pray that the parents and families will learn to trust and love and live again. I pray that the teaching fraternity, all of us out there, will band together and stand up for what we believe in.

Everyone has been sharing the articles and news on social media since a few days ago. My fingers wane at the prospect of sharing an article like those being circulated. What happened seems too large for words to describe or contain, too sensitive for it to be conveyed via online text. Should I appear apathetic and distant and say nothing when I share the article? Or should I engage in what has transpired, and undermine the severity of emotion underpinning it? There just seems to be no straightforward, correct way to mourn with the relatives of the deceased, our teaching fraternity, and our nation.

Perhaps that is the way mourning is: always out of place. May God uphold us.

The Good Fight

So X was musing one afternoon on the journey home in the car about how it must feel like preparing lessons for a class of students who may not appreciate or bother to even stay awake while you conduct the lesson. At that moment I gave a generic response about how getting the attention of 100% of students 100% of the time is beyond our control, and we need to realise that a goal like that is impractical. The conversation faded into something about colouring books and art after a while, but the question still lingered in my mind.

The truth is, there are plenty of truthful, human experiences that underpin that strand of thought. For X it may be the group of students he teaches whose primary goal may just be to get by day by day. For T and B it may be the students who prefer combing their hair and sleeping to listening to the lesson. For myself it may be the class of Sec 1 students whom I just cannot seem to get along with. These classroom experiences make us feel vulnerable, tired and over time it wears us out, amongst other things.

These experiences may not be uncommon to an educator, yet every end of a term or semester or year, we have our reviews, we relook at our schemes of work, and we have a candid, reflective discussion about what worked and what didn’t, and we try our utmost to make changes for the better. The process can be so long-drawn and painful because often you do not see a positive change immediately. As teaching pedagogies and activities change, so do the profiles of students who pass in and out of the classroom. There is simply no ‘one size fits all’ solution to address everything less than ideal we observe in our classrooms. But we do so constantly because those processes of refinement is part of our job and they make us better educators.

A deeper truth that not everyone recognises is that teaching is a very human job. Our students are humans; and teachers are human too. We understand that students come to class with different baggages, and they get tired after a long day of lessons, and their emotional burdens get in the way of being an attentive model student. Teachers too walk into a classroom with their own personal baggages and emotional burdens. We may be adults but it does not make those burdens less legitimate.

Many times I have walked into class and see a badly behaved student and wished desperately the next second that I did not witness that sweet the girl just popped into her mouth, or that paper plane that just flew across the classroom. The more tired I am with other things, the greater the struggle to ignore and dismiss behaviour that needs to be addressed. At my worst, I have wished that the year would fly past because walking into particular classes had become more a chore than anything else. These are dark moments I am not proud of and do not wish to revisit. It is tempting to sideline classes because there is ‘less at stake’ should they not perform. But this logic is  gravely flawed because all classes of students deserve an educator’s regard and attention – they all deserve the best learning environment possible.

It is this struggle that forms every educator’s battle. We fight for our ideals because we believe so strongly that a class of students deserve our best, whether or not they are ready to learn. We feel overwhelmingly gutted when we realise we have been shortchanging our kids or have not been reflective enough in our practices. We put aside that evening appointment or that few hours of sleep for our lesson preparation because of the hope that that one lesson might make a difference in our students, even if it is just one kid. If it could help a handful of kids in that class understand this concept better, if it could help that girl gain an ounce of confidence to overcome her insecurities, we would try our best to make it happen.

Perhaps the longer you are in the service, the more tired you become, and over time these ideals may be traded for something else, like soundness of mind, sleep, family, or maybe just the sense of emotional distance for protection against your vulnerability as an educator. It is not a pretty picture, but I do believe this is the ultimate struggle I face every day as an educator. When and why, if you do, forfeit your ideals? Is it justifiable? Do all civil servants have to give up their passions and ideals in order to get by in the system?

It is very much like the battle we face as Christians – the knowing what is right versus the doing of it, the battle between the flesh and the mind. It is always a daily struggle and sometimes the obligation that drives us just fades away and in its place is indifference and apathy towards our duties.

I struggle to end this post with an inspiring piece of closing advice or visionary reflection, but I do not have any. They say the fruits of education come many years later when your students succeed in their own ways or cohorts of students benefit from the change you strived to implement in school. Perhaps we can only celebrate and take heart in the fluidity and unpredictability of our teaching experiences, like how life is.