For a Comedy is the Greatest Tragedy of All

For a comedy is the greatest tragedy of all

This week has been an eye-opener, and mind-opener for me. I feel sorry being a teacher (sorry does not mean regret), because at this point, I can only see teachers sandwiched between two ungrateful layers of sourdough, forgive the weak pun.

My students, sitting for their national examinations in a few months time, have shown themselves to be made of little mettle in their heart, mind and soul. Let’s be honest, a machine functions by assumptions. It assumes that it will continue to function normally in the next hour, minute, second. If the assumption is wrong, a machine breaks down. But humans function by hope, not assumption. I discovered this almost a decade ago (golly, how old I must be!) when my Maths teacher walked into class with another test paper in her hand, and I realized the only reason why we all come to class is because of hope that the next question, or the next tutorial, or the next assessment will mark our improvement, an indicator of our success, however slight.

Similarly, a teacher will spend time and effort preparing for lessons the next day. During those occasions, many teachers do not do a skimpy job. When the situation calls for it, we have to create worksheets, source for materials, consider variations and other factors and preempt potential problems… and after all of that, coming to a class that is ill-prepared and not ready for the lesson you have painstakingly put your heart, mind and soul into…. very very simply, sucks.

Now pardon the language, but when it happens so often, and to a subject that you are so in love with, something just dies inside you after a while. The spot where hope used to spring from, now this single deathly-white rose just takes its place. Their attitude is killing the joy in teaching them. Perhaps at this point it is not about loving Literature anymore, it is about doing Literature, working Literature, making something Literature happen. Literature is now a subject, one of six or seven they sit for, not an idea.

Ungrateful students aside, I think some colleagues are worked unfairly hard. Pawn pieces of a chess set? I am starting to realize how flawed the structures are, and how they have gone strangely invisible or missed unless there is a pressing glaring need to address an issue, which will then be tackily patched up and chucked under someone’s wing. People are no longer happy workers, driven with a secret purpose to bring hope and joy and a good and sound education to make these young ones under our wing good people. I always believe that good character can never be replaced by academic excellence or similar quantifiable pursuits. But of course, because everyone talks in numbers around here, only numbers count.

They even build in an electronic care portal, as if it will make the youngsters feel more loved or cared for. How purposeful can such care and concern be when administered through such a system, honestly? The problem with technology is that it has diluted and reduced human relationships into something thin and mechanical and practical. But there is so so much more to a relationship between two persons that it cannot be measured by how much time you spend, or how much money you pay, or how big your house is, or how huge a spread at your wedding feast. Why do we like to quantify things so much? Is convenience really that important a factor we must let numbers rule our lives and rob us of our ideals?

What looks good and sounds good, may be functional, but can it be genuine, and honest and sincere, and self-sustaining with all of that?

The best part is, under this huge machine, we are the gears that manufactures the product for important clients. We give out survey forms to the same group of ungrateful people every term to ask them for feedback on our teaching, under the spirit of “helping us help you learn better”. The thing is, the students become so comfortable giving criticism, comments, remarks, complaints, they barely show appreciation or gratitude… and the more surveys they do, the idea that teachers ought to cater to their wants and desires is perpetuated and reinforced? “Oh, now is the time to blast that teacher!” their minds might go. Will they really think, “Here, let me write something really constructive because it will help this teacher who has a really good heart to help me score well in my examinations”? I honestly doubt so.

I think it is a joke, and truly, life is a tragedy and a comedy, in which we are all part of a jolly good musical.

Tomorrow, we wallow and weep for the love of our young ones and their parents – our customers we should pander to – for a comedy is the greatest tragedy of all.

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Running: away from all things gooey

I am an escapist almost by my nature. When my parents were going through a divorce in Primary Four, I had rather not talk about it because then I could pretend it was not quite as real as the beating and shouting and bad nights were. When I made a mistake, like breaking a glass jar of candy, I would much rather hide in a room than come and tell my mum I did it in the face and take whatever comes my way. If I forgot to bring my homework to school, the worse part would be telling the teacher that I had forgotten my homework. As I wiped the sweat off my palms and got ready to walk up to her to tell her why I did not think I deserved to sit, I would be so nervous I might as well pee in my pants. In fact, I think there was once I peed in my pants and pretended it was a leak from my water bottle. That was how much of an escapist I am.

It was – it is – always easier not to face the music. I don’t understand how or why the proverb “face the music” came about. Unless the music is noise, I think it would be quite enjoyable and comfortable to “face the music”.

I have been trudging on with this particular English class of mine for half a year. It has been tiring, and honestly, I would be kidding myself if I said their attitude was showing improvement. Ah, would it be the most blatant ridiculous lie ever! Today when H was giving them a piece of her mind, I realized how worn out I had become teaching them. I may have been trudging along week after week, hoping that one of the days, they would actually feel compassionate and cooperate, but I also realized after 10+8 weeks of fighting fire and trying to salvage their near-lost case for English, I have not quite come to love them any more, nor feel more concern about their English proficiency.

Then I asked, why? Was it because I was feeling so tired this week, my mind and heart had automatically told myself to stop worrying and caring? (No, because I feel similarly worn out week after week.) Was it because I wanted to protect myself, and so distanced myself from all of this so I wouldn’t feel so affected by the lesson? Whatever happened inside the classroom, however rude the students are, however disruptive, however malicious the remark made, if I could just ignore them all… I realized I would have then saved myself a lot of effort from my heart and mind.

This probably explains why I would much rather walk away unscathed, than invest more time and emotion and heart into what I do for them, only to find myself discouraged, dismayed and defeated. Yes, it is almost like an auto-protective mechanism that would rescue myself from self-destruction. If I could bother less, I would not feel so bothered by the nonsense. I would be superior to it all because I was indestructible by their flaming arrows and poisonous darts. I was impregnable.

It may not be the right thing, or the best thing to do. In fact, it is rather worrying that I would much rather distance myself from my kids than try to affect change for the better, isn’t it? (Yet, isn’t it only human, to do otherwise?)

We choose to draw up boundaries between ourselves and people, or things, we want to safeguard ourselves from. We do that in love too. When we have been hurt before, we would much rather draw up invisible lines and pretend to be obnoxious and selfish, or arrogant and self-fulfilled, or a workaholic and perfectionist, so that people will get the idea and not come too close.

I think the act of running away or drawing lines or choosing not to care because we do not want to be involved, because we would much rather take the path of least resistance and disappear or escape or vanish, is cowardly. It definitely proves we are human, and we can feel, but it is cowardly, because we do not dare to put ourselves in a position that leaves itself vulnerable. The moment we are thought weak, people may overstep us and take advantage of us.

Giving in or Giving up

Giving in, or giving up

The end of this week was quite a whirlwind of emotions – happy, sad, sour – rolled into one.

As teachers during the exam season, we marked, marked, and marked some more. The scripts came in since end of April, but we were still marking machines just one, two days ago. I have to admit I did cut myself a lot of slack during this one week or so while the kids were having their examinations. I think we deserved it, as teachers, after running nearly half a year or a marathon with the kids. Anyway we invest a lot of emotion worrying for them outside of the examination venue!  (Plus, who could have resisted the opening of the Avengers movie?)

Because of the shorter school hours I also found time to return to a new coffee joint, buried in the Upper Thomson private residential area. Once to do marking and a second time this weekend with a colleague to have lunch and write our marker’s reports. It was jolly nice to introduce that lovely place to someone who appreciates the range of coffees and ambience of the place.

This may sound kind of cryptic, but I realized that a lot of it is about either giving in, or giving up.

When my kids get into trouble, increasingly, and I feel that I have screwed up. Sometimes I think about distancing myself from all of this mess, and just give in to apathy. There is little we can do, and perhaps apart from our official duties as FT, I am not in the right position to give advice or counsel. How then can I – why then should I – make myself involved just because I care?

More often than not when I mark those scripts, my heart sinks more than it leaps in hope. In those cases, I have to struggle against giving up, quite honestly. What else can I do to get them past this hurdle?

It seems premature and vain to conclude that you are struggling to move on. But if so, does it also entail giving up an ideal of love and truth and beauty?

And here I am trying to stop myself from giving in to unfounded emotions, especially when there seems to sirens of warning against it everywhere.