Planning for the Holidays

There are a number of non-work things I want to complete during this school holiday period.

  1. Finish my art painting class!
  2. Learn the ukelele!
  3. Make healthy, homemade meals more frequently 
    Breakfasts would be a friendly, less intimidating start. I already have a few recipes in my head to experiment with!
  4. Read. 
    Some colleagues have insisted to put “Sense and Sensibility”, “Pride and Prejudice” and “Persuasion” on my reading list for an upcoming book club. My current read is “The Great Gatsby” and I would like to complete “Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close” by the end of the year.
  5. Gym more often.
    My present schedule involves hitting the gym once a week. I would like to do so more often – at least twice a week.
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Giving Thanks for 2013

And with a blink of an eye, the academic year 2013 has come to a close. There are still school camps, competitions, projects and supplementary lessons that require students to come to school, but for the next two months, I do not need to stand before 40 students, being conscious of my every word and action, and always reflective and aware of how I can persuade, inspire, perform, teach, and discipline children.

This year has been a greater struggle that the year(s) before. I find myself more critical and cynical of the school management, the education system, and the policies and ‘codes of conduct’ that prescribe our actions and behaviour, and more significantly, our attitudes. Being critical is good, but cynicism is something that we would all want to get rid of because it causes you to shrivel up inside dry.

I am also definitely trying to get a firm grip on my spiritual life. Many people would say it is impossible to effect change or fight the system, or achieve a healthy work-life balance yada yada, but I refuse to give in to that belief because we are promised that “[we] can do all things through Christ who gives [us] strength”, and because our Lord has not failed us in his promises, I can not betray Him like that and be someone “of little faith”.

But God is good. And for all the distraught and heartache this year, my form class has been a dear. There is a sense of “homecoming” when I walk into that classroom, and when you see how some of them have grown or matured throughout the year, it certainly warms your heart. We had a mini class celebration with certificates, awards and prizes, birthday presents and personalised cards, as well as a birthday cake. A group of students presented Jason Mraz’s “I’m Yours” (which I failed to record, apart from the last 3 seconds when the class was clapping for them). The talent show was definitely a lot more meaningful than the Talent Show at the level meeting.

My co-form and I realised that our class is a reflection of us, their form teachers. None of us are overtly affectionate and we hardly express our affection and gratitude openly. It has been an entire year, but other than our class photographs, we did not rush to have other class photographs taken. Even when my class chairperson (who I demoted three weeks ago) said that he would like us to be his form teachers next year, he had to do so with a certain swagger, and punctuate it with a, “I really mean it! From the bottom of my heart!” and even then, my co-form and I did not quite know how to react to that… rather unadulteratedly blunt and sweet expression of affection.

Then I realised that even when my class does not overtly show their appreciation or love through words or gifts or cheers, they do so through other means. Some students practised for hours and sang “I’m Yours”, some students say “hi” each time you walk past the class, some students do their part by cleaning the class, others change into the class tee-shirt during class celebrations, others stand around and offer you assistance when you need help to carry things. Some wait until everyone has left the classroom before they approach you for a photograph.

And being able to work with these children to see them develop and grow this year, has made me really excited to see them grow and mature more next year. If we see with our hearts and not just with our sight, we might just be able to realise how beautiful and pleasant the world actually is. How full of love the world might be, in all its various forms and strands.

And with this, I can only thank my God for my class of students who allowed me  a glimpse of the childlike to see the good in the world.

Glimpse

I have taught for two and a half years This year has challenged me to work harder beyond what I had expected for myself, question my ideals more than ever, and struggled to find a balance in my life. It has been exhausting and a constant battle, and perhaps in time, I will be able to negotiate an outcome from all these.

There has been much ongoing dialogue about the workload of teachers and what our focus at work should be. This has obviously led to some disagreements, unpleasant exchange of opinions, and hopefully also helped  to shed some light on the real situation on the ground in schools. Not just elite schools, or specific-tiered schools, but schools dealing with all range of student profiles.

The education system we work under is not perfect; but no system is perfect, and I don’t think we should blame the system. It is at most an inanimate set of structures, procedures, and guidelines, managed by people and applied across all schools. The problem, I believe, lies in the transference of a system (developed with an ideal, good purpose behind it) onto a group of teachers and students. Teaching is a laborious, painstakingly human job, and you can not apply a system without giving due consideration to the people it concerns. When you take away the heart of the matter behind education, commercialise it, and run it as a business, it tears the ideals and purpose of education apart. So easily your students and their parents become your clients, stakeholders become opportunities to profit (mostly in the form of raising the school’s reputation, or fulfilling some targets), and teachers and staff inevitably become units of labour.

There are many things that frustrates me as a teacher. As a disclaimer, no school is alike, and one teacher’s experience should not be generalised as others’. However, I believe most educators would be in agreement of this: that an outsider to the education system, should not assume knowledge of the challenges of a teacher. Let us not even go into the issue of our pay and how deserving we are of it. One of the biggest personal peeves is when someone assumes that teaching is simple.

“Those who can’t, teach.” 

“It’s the holidays now, right? So you should be freer?” 

“Oh, so it’s the exam period now? So it’s like holidays for you? You just need to invigilate, right.”  

It is easy to misunderstand the requirements of being a teacher when you have not stepped into the classroom or taught in a school. This is why I am in full agreement for the contract teacher schemes that are offered to interested applicants for the job. Some people are cut out for it, and others are simply not suitable.

For the past two weeks I have, together with my colleagues and teaching friends, marked till late at night just to clear our pre and post-examination marking. After 1:30pm (which is our official dismissal time), we strategically visit some local (very kind!) cafes and sit there with coffee and a quick lunch, and mark till late – often past 9 pm, before we pack up and head home. I had 9 classes of papers to mark in 10 days – a reasonable load, thankfully, but still a challenge when you have to mark for an average of 8 hours straight every day.  We could work faster if we had the luxury of marking during school hours, but unfortunately, there is also the organisation of post-exam activities, keying in of marks for the summative assessment, writing student remarks, writing school reports that consume our time and concentration.

I have tried my reasonable best to work less (work smart) this year. I have become more selective about meeting deadlines (because there often more pressing things to do) and more strategic in directing my efforts to completing tasks (some require more work while others, minimal effort). There are afternoons when I make myself take some time off early to go watch a movie, shopping, or just hang out with good friends and colleagues at a cafe to chill out. I am really thankful that I have not yet driven myself to the ground with the support of people around me, especially my colleagues and friends. But on most other days, we find ourselves working till at least 5pm, and work does not end there – we take it home, work at night, and half the time this does not even involve preparing for lessons the next day. Much of my weekend is spent ensuring that I am ready for work responsibly when Monday comes – and often this means missing family appointments or other additional activities that may require my time and attention.

I know not every teacher spends his or her weekday or weekend this way, uptight about work, but for someone who is still struggling to manage my self, teaching is not giving me an easy time.

I can empathise very closely when people remark on how our attention on teaching is being diverted onto other things that “counts for something”. These include sending out emails (with your initial on it), organising programmes for students, preparing excel templates for marks analysis, writing reports for official school documents for recording or auditing purposes, writing remarks for students… and the list goes on. If you prove yourself able to these things that count towards something on your KPI, you are almost guaranteed to be on the right track when it comes to promotions and career advancement opportunities.

It is not that these tasks are unimportant and ridiculous. Targets are there to help make things better, or at least they should. But when we lose sight of the purpose behind the targets we work towards to achieve, when we forget that our purpose is to add value and teach our students to become educated, keen learners of good character… when we work towards these targets at the expense of the soul of teaching, then we need to take a step back and ask ourselves if there is a necessity to realign our priorities.

 

 

 

One of those Facebook things

A friend (and someone I truly respect and admire in the realm of teaching and literature) posed a question on Facebook:

You have six months off work. You must:
a) learn a skill (either something new or improve one you already possess)
b) live in a country for three of those six months
c) work in a completely different job from what you usually do.

a) what skills would you want to learn? b) which country would you want to stay in? c) what job/s would you do?

These are fun, think-about-them-because-they-probably-will-not-come-true questions that I want to make myself think about! Plus, why not share them to the world on your blog, than to limit your audience by posting a comment on Facebook? (tee hee.)

Here is my response:

a) Singing. Or learning the ukelele. Or both.
b) Switzerland. Or New Zealand.
c) A barista and service staff at one of those coffee joints or cafes. I figured I would learn all there is to know about coffees and teas as a barista, so there!

Now… how about I try to make them come true?