Resonance with local film Ilo Ilo

The local film Ilo Ilo by director Anthony Chen that won the Camera d’Or prize at the prestigious Cannes Film Festival 2013. Convinced by the magnitude of the win, compounded with a desire to experience the winning film in person, a group of us Literature teachers (familiar with the body of local works in both text and film) took the opportunity to do so during the school holidays last evening. Although we walked out of the theatre with mixed reviews about the film, I felt that it was one of few films that resonated with me and my experience as a child living with a maid in Singapore. Even Captain America or Star Trek did not do that for me – they wowed me with amazing CGI effects and the best-looking hunks around, but they did not connect with me the same way Ilo Ilo did.

Ilo Ilo

Alert: Spoilers follow. 
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Yesterday

The celebrations yesterday did not evoke the same feelings of affirmation for our profession as it may have in the past. Perhaps with time, the joy that you derive comes not from the presents and cards showered upon an educator on that one special day in a year, but the hard work, improvement and moments of sincere gratitude, that comes in the classroom, throughout the year. To an extent, true appreciation does not need to be planned or scripted; it should not be.

I was disappointed with the way my school celebrated Teachers’ Day. It was planned with Health Fiesta Day – with the written objective of celebrating teachers’ day through healthy and meaningful activities. The programme ran quite smoothly apart from the rain, but I felt that the conflation of the two events simultaneously in half a day made the objective behind the event unclear and confusing. The stated objective a valid but lame justification so that we do not need to give up an additional day in the school calendar to conduct both events. As a result, the essence of both events were diluted and maybe even trivialised. Most students were not challenged beyond their comfort zones to participate in physical, mental, social and emotional sports and activities because of the time constraint and the long queues that greeted every student who wanted to participate in an activity. Similarly, the half-an-hour Teachers’ Day concert was hardly impressive and memorable in the course of the day, much less in the course of a month or term or year. At the end of the day I am proposing this: If an event is important, it is important enough to be done thoughtfully and completely. If you are going to put two events on the same day and tie it loosely together by a thin thread of a stated objective, the day’s programme might just fall flat.

I was also disappointed with some incidents leading up to yesterday. Trying to advertise for students to buy post-its to show their appreciation to a teacher so that the funds raised can go to the school is not cool. It conflates money with a value as raw and genuine as being grateful for someone – and conveys a very disturbing message to the students. Insisting that every class write cards for every subject teacher is not a bad idea – but when it is a reactive measure because some people realised they were not receiving as many gifts as other teachers with form classes, it dulls the initiative and makes it a whole lot of meaningless wayang you make the kids dance. As a result, some cards were half-heartedly written, and as biting as it might sound, I would much rather do without cards thrown together “just because” they were told to do so by the school.

Gratitude is not an easy value to teach and inculcate, much less the spirit of appreciation. Too many times we miss out on acknowledging the important things in life because we assume that it is our right to have them. Is it our right to have a good teacher (otherwise how can you blame me for doing poorly?); it is our right to have interesting lessons (otherwise how can you blame me for sleeping in class?); it is our right to do only what we want (for it is our mind and body, and you cannot make us, hear it?); it is our right to lead our lives (so stop telling us what we should or should not do, ‘it’s my life’!) … and the list goes on. It is painfully sad that even when we feel grateful for someone or something, we stop short so often of expressing it. After all, what’s important is that I am not taking it for granted right? But wrong – we do not know how much someone can be encouraged or is in need of a single word, or note, or card. So why do we always find the easy way out for ourselves, and persuade ourselves that it showing our appreciation is not necessary or important?

To every single thoughtfully-written note, carefully-chosen gift, or card out there, thank you. Because it is the culmination of all these sincere expressions of love and appreciation that made yesterday wonderful. It was for that reason alone that I pulled myself to school even though I could hardly utter a sound for a week. I wanted to come to school because I wanted to show my appreciation to my colleagues, and well yes, to receive that kind of appreciation from my students and people I work with. The amount of gifts, or the value on the pricetag does not matter at all, what mattered was the heart and thought behind those gifts, because those were the gifts I sieved out, and the gifts I cherished. Now I understand why some of my older teachers in Secondary School would insist (almost complacently) that they did not want us to spend money on them – if only to write a note or a card to thank them – for the words (and actions) matter more than the gifts you can buy from a world far too commercially wrapped up in presents than it needs to be, perpetuating the very same ideas I mock.

Teachers Greater than ourselves II

Perhaps we need to rethink what being an educator means to us, and the significance we attach to the day – Teachers’ Day. The 1st of September is no longer fixed as Teachers’ Day because there have been instances where September 1 fell during the the September Holidays, and the day lost its significance – teachers had no additional day of rest to unwind and enjoy their day. But Teachers’ Day is not just about making sure all general education officers have a day of rest, is it? How can a school or an institution make use of that day once a year to reaffirm a teacher and renew a teachers’ conviction?

This Teachers’ Day meant little to me. I enjoyed myself thoroughly (despite the few disappointments) but not because it was teachers’ day and I received a truckload of goodies and I took lovely photographs with my students and the school had a rocking exciting concert which blew our socks away. It was because yesterday was a time well-spent with my friends at work. After the Teachers’ Day lunch, we went to playnation and then to watch a movie before we winded the day off with a cup of good coffee. I realised this is a group of friends from work who actually wants the best for the kids they teach, and who holds strongly to the same beliefs and values as I do. These are the people you want to be thankful for because it is a blessing to know them, and a privilege to work with them.

There are always going to be untrustworthy and dishonest people – adults – you will meet at work which might slowly tug at and ruin your faith in the greater community we are a part of – but let’s hold on to those adults we have come to trust and confide in – because it is those people who matter.