Powerful

Climate Change

Scary pictures about the changing world – useful resource.

http://www.hefty.co/truth-in-pictures/

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Peace and Joy

sailing

Thursday, the 18th of December, was a significant day for many of us. I was worried for many things, with all sorts of thoughts floating in and out of my head. The following scenarios kept playing out in my head: What if the cohort did the worse out of the previous cohorts and was terribly unimpressive? What if the students did unexpectedly terribly? What if we did not do our students justice? 

I was not freaking out – I was still enjoying my little K reality drama show the night before and having a very restful sleep. But those thoughts did nibble at my mind every now and then. After a while, I realised that my biggest concern wasn’t the results analysis or what the school would think of the quality of our teaching, but the kids. This would mean so much to them, not just English per se, but all the other subjects together. This would mark the end of their journey of their Secondary education with us, and the start of a new one somewhere else. And what else could that be full of but hope and anticipation? I wish and prayed that they would see it as just that, no matter what the outcome of their N levels are. I prayed that they might have the wisdom and insight to recognise that every one of them would have a different path to travel, one that would suit them, one that would inspire them.

It gave me peace to know that the Sovereign Lord is in control of every single one of their lives, what we have no control over.

Peace I leave with you; my peace I give you. I do not give to you as the world gives. Do not let your hearts be troubled and do not be afraid.
John 14:27

It also struck me that I have so much to be thankful for. Just when I felt extremely drained after close to four years of teaching them, it took the 18th of December to remind me why I enjoyed teaching in the first place. God is so good – this is the first cohort of students I have taught since 2011 as a beginning teacher, and it is such a privilege to be able to teach them English since four years ago – my very first cohort of students I have seen through to graduation. Of course, there are many things I have done (or not done) which I am not terribly proud of. There is always something more that could be done, and I could never compare to Jean or other inspiring teacher figures who have really chosen to give up almost everything else for their students. But I try, and I know that this is one class that I probably have the most personal relationship with.

I remember going through the feelings of anger, diasppointment, frustration with them; they have driven me up to boiling point, to my wits’ end. But by the beginning of this year, I think we have come to an acceptance of each other: my temper and whinyness on some days, their laziness on (most) other days, but our tolerance and acceptance towards all those things. It isn’t the most professional thing to do, but this is one class I felt I could rant and share about certain things with them, without worrying that they might hate or misunderstand me, perhaps because they have seen the ugliest and best sides of me, and I them.

Coming one full circle with this class of students is truly an amazing experience. I can truly say that I have grown to love and care for every one of them, even the most trying students. And I thank God for this wholesome experience.

So how did we do? By God’s divine grace, our school achieved 100% passes and an improvement in both the percentage passes and percentage distinctions from previous years. The breakdown of results analysis was not all that fantastic – I had expected some students to do better by 1 or 2 grades. This was where I felt we fell short, and we could have done more for these students. I realised that God gave us again, just enough, to make us realise that it is He who holds everything in His hands. If he had given us too much, I may have jumped through the roof and forgot that it is God who has always brought us through. So thank you, Lord, for your wisdom and grace is upholding me and my students all these years.

The First Does Make A Difference

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Three years ago I met a class of students who over the next two years gave me a whole lot of joy, heartache and angst. They grew frustrated and cynical as they slowly discovered the inefficiencies and handicaps of the system they were a part of. They carried the burdens from home and outside of school into the classroom and struggled with meeting expectations of their parents their teachers and their own. God gave me the huge blessing of seeing them through four years of their education in school in the first four years of my teaching profession, and I cannot describe how grateful I am for being able to be a part of that.

At our cross-country yesterday, a number of them participated in the competitive run representing their classes. I got a pleasant shock as i saw them standing in line during the prize presentation ceremony. They won themselves medals and their participation even won their class the best class in the level – and a trophy.

I think the best part was seeing them also proud of their accomplishments. They even relented and took a photo with me! I guess the best moments of being a teacher are when your own students taste the joy of their own achievements.

The feeling of pride is heightened for me as their form teacher. It is hard to describe but they always say the first form class you have feels different, and it does. The students will always have a special place in your heart. For a second time yesterday, I felt that I might just miss these kids to tears when they leave at the end of the year. :'(

In our stride

One day ago I was dealt with a rather overwhelming blow at work. To sum it up, there were some deployment changes that meant my effort and time put into work the past few weeks are entirely discounted and no longer contributes to my preparation for school next year. My supervisor unfortunately, did not have the courtesy to explain this change to me personally, but assumed that I would do her bidding – as always. To top it off, my new role seemed thoughtlessly thrust upon me for the sake of convenience. I felt that I was tasked to do the “dirty work” because others did not bother with it enough. I felt hurt and undermined, because I felt disrespected as a person. As an employee, I would suck it up and do it, but as a person, I was angry and upset at the way she handled things.

I realised I spend a great deal of time moping and brooding over something that bothers me. I was hurling words of anger and angst all around, and upon hindsight, am not proud of it. I was with a good friend yesterday afternoon, who accepted me as a rather emotional companion. (Thank you, See.) I confided in several of my teaching friends, thankful that I had at least a sister-in-Christ who was committed to praying for me to get back on track. Even that was not enough, I bought Auntie Anne’s pretzels for supper, and ate it before dinner because I was just feeling so “blah”.

My first thoughts as I opened my eyes this morning, was about the same matter. Obviously, I had not found peace before the sun set yesterday, and had harboured my frustrations and worries throughout the night. On some level, it must have plagued my dreams. It was a large burden that weighed my mind down.

Then I opened my devotional, for my Quiet Time with God this morning. The reading was on working for Christ. We forget that our God is sovereign – and that every little detail in our life is planned and rolled out by Him. I forget that it is not my supervisor who threw me such a heavy matter to deal with, but God, who allowed me to be thrown such a heavy matter to grow from. I forget my place. I grumbled, I complained, and I threw a fit because I forget that my God is greater than any supervisor or employer I had, have or will ever have.

I rest my head in shame, because certainly God knew the conflict it would cause in me. I must not forget that my Creator God has things in His hand.

It does change the game. I know that I will submit to higher authority and the lot they have allotted me, not because they are higher authority, but because God is the highest authority. This is not just a game of playing your pawns on a chess board; this is a game of staying faithfully to the calling of your Lord.

And this is a game which we have already emerged victors. This is a game we have already won.

Sickly Service

The most dreaded virus I find my body most susceptible to is the flu. I hate it each time I get the flu, when the waste-paper bins are filled with mushy white tissue paper, the mug you drink out of reeks of illness, and there is hardly enough water left in the jar because your body practically craves water like it is air. 

This morning I debated between spending money going to the doctor’s for an MC, or to just head down to school to clock in 4 hours. The headache told me that I should not risk going to school looking like a measled animal whimpering and sniffing and carrying boxes of tissue around, so I headed down to the doctor’s. I queued outside fifteen minutes before the clinic opened at nine o’clock, only to be told when it finally opened that the doctor would only arrive later. “He looks at the CCTV and sees how many patients there are.” The nurse explained to another patient, who inquired when the doctor would arrive. what?? is that how private gps work nowadays? 

The doctor finally showed up at around nine forty-five, and as the first patient I had a two-minute consultation with him before I paid close to fifty dollars for the consultation and medication, and left in five minutes before ten. 

The experience left me feeling ever more sore. I decided to visit this clinic because the other clinic usually met a waiting time of two hours. But I felt indignant that for this clinic, the doctor’s schedules seemed to revolve around him than his patients. He asked all the relevant questions and prescribed all the appropriate medication, but I did not feel that I had just visited a doctor – I felt that I had just paid close to fifty dollars for an MC, period. 

Teaching, just like being a general practitioner, has to be more than just a profit-driven business, right? I did not feel like a patient, but a customer, who just completed a quick transaction. So I decided that I will go back to my usual GP even if I have to wait for an hour or so more, simply because she cares for every single person – young or old – who walks in through her doors, and treats them with patience and heart. 

 

 

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.

 

 

 

The Necessary Rethinking

With inconsiderable reluctance I turn my mind to the inevitable fact that school will reopen in just three days. I find myself counting the empty gaps in my timetable for the rest of the week – one and a half more free days – and drowning in insecure gladness. There is no more to anticipate, because there is nothing more beyond anticipation.

More than preparing ourselves mentally and physically to go back to school (no more late nights and late mornings, the headaches have become somewhat incessant these few days), it was also important to rethink the spiritual and emotional investment in this profession.

Two days ago I met a good friend and sister. Although we only meet once every half a year, she is someone who holds the mirror in front of you and forces you to look at yourself very truthfully. We did not dwell on the topic of teaching as there were other things on our minds, but not before she made me admit that I was doing “terrible” spiritually. No wonder there is no zest in my punch, no energy in my fight, no passion in my dance. “So why were we thinking about leaving again?” 

It does not take a genius to realise that one’s passion for their job is dwindling, or that one may be leaving the service to a different grazing field; but it does take a bit more to pin point the root of the problem if one has lost their source of strength. And yet it definitely takes much more than that to compel such a person to go back to Christ and stop being stubbornly self-reliant.

The prospect of no longer being bound to a school or the profession, in other words, being able to do something different is actually very appealing. But upon more serious rethinking, I needed to admit a few hard truths to myself:

  1. The drive to think about leaving (whether it is further studies, another job or another school) is fuelled by a negative, not positive force.That frustrates me, because I know that these thoughts are not pleasing to God, and will not be pleasing to anyone. I want to get out of feeling tired and bogged down all the time; I wish to get out of the regular drone of the day-to-day because I am dissatisfied with how I presently lead my life. And while yes there is room for dissatisfaction, that should prompt further reflection not escapism. In other ways, these thoughts are fuelled by a desire to have it easier than I do now.
  2. I have been running on my own adrenaline for the past two years, and I cannot expect to do so without my God.Where are the prayers and the tears, where are the cries for mercy and help out to a loving Saviour, in the past two years? My neck has been stiff and my heart has been hardened. Two years! Sometimes the sheer fact that I am surviving in school right now, is by the grace of God Himself.

    And lastly,

  3. If I do not right my relationship with God, there is not going to be any change.I will still be tired, unhappy, unable to deal with the challenges in the classroom, and wish to do less because I give myself the plain excuse that it is difficult to cope.

I am thankful for the prayer meeting cum teaching session last evening which I attended. While sharing what they have learned from their summer course in Regent College, I picked out a few hard truths that will hopefully plant itself firmly in my heart and drive the second semester coming up this year.

One topic that came up was this concept of “suffering” – and I broadened the definition of suffering to refer to anything we would consider “hardship”. Mum pointed out that we tend to imagine that a good, desirable life is one that is free of suffering and challenges and pain. And it struck me so hard because that seems to be precisely the starting point of my dissatisfaction.

This concept of ‘treating’ yourself to a movie, a good meal, or a luxurious holiday to make up for the tough circumstances you are facing, is precisely that. The innocent desire to pamper yourself once in a while, when taken too far, can be misconstrued into something that slowly nibbles at your drive and passion to give your all.

There have been many instances when I chose to gratify myself and justify it with the challenges faced at work. If I’m tired, it warrants a right to sleep or rest. If I’m sick of work, it is my right to do something that makes me happy. Yes, it is important to take care of our whole being, and make time for other activities and take a break. But perhaps I need to be clear where the line between excessive self-gratification and caring for the self is.

When we assume that life is suppose to be smooth-sailing, then we will also end up being unhappy when it gets tough. When work piles up and we feel that we have trudged through enough nonsense, we tell ourselves that we have reached the brim, the very top, and we will not take any more. There may be several redundant, unnecessary things on our to-do lists as dictated by the job scope laid out by our superiors, but as much as they annoy us, God says to submit to authority. If compiling a few more tables of data, or writing a few more reports is what my role calls for, then I should ask the Lord for strength and do it, unless I can help it.

That works for the classroom too. When the kids we teach presents a formidable daunting challenge that baffles and irritates us, what crosses my mind? Sometimes when I’m near my tipping point, I secretly wish that I could teach a different class of students. I would very much like the option of bowing out and sitting out of the match. In other words, I crave the easy way out.

And who in similar situations wouldn’t, if we have already been so ingrained with the idea that an easy life is a blessed one?

I should check myself constantly with the reminder that that is a fallacy – a blessed life is one where God is lord of, not one that is devoid of suffering and hardship. Even the Michael W. Smith song (I think) says the same thing: His strength is perfect, when our strength is gone. The Bible does not mention how followers of Jesus has a perfect, happy life – as much as we wish that for our family and friends – “Blessed birthday! May your life be filled with peace, love, and joy!” The Bible does however talk about how God’s grace is sufficient for us to tide through all suffering; and about how a blessed life is one of joy in the Lord’s redemptive work. Am I looking at this the right way?

Term 4 is going to be a really short term, cut even shorter by all the holidays. What will the rest of the year spell for me; will there be change in my life? Now many people may chide me for spending so much time thinking and rethinking this for the longest time. However at this moment, where life equals work, I think it is necessary to invest some thought and time into this life I currently lead.

It has been two years. What will the next year bring?

What are you in this for?

The inspirational ads the government has come up with on teaching turns me off – Mrs Chong, Mr Kumar, we all know those teachers exist in some form or another, but we also need to know that those campaign ads were created to serve one purpose – and in order to fulfil that agenda, glamorised and romanticised the occupation into a beautiful fictitious narrative.

I have had (and heard) numerous conversations about teaching. When I was still training to become an educator, I believed that a teacher does not choose his or her students; a teacher makes his or her students. That was the reason why I did not want to apply into a particular school, because I believed that God would lead me to a school according to His will – a place where I would be able to learn to become a better educator, grow as one, and learn to trust in the Lord Almighty as well. Two years since, I have had other conversations that seem to run against this principle. The notion that different teachers are suited to teach in different schools – is that true? Is that reason enough for a teacher to think about transferring to a different institution? Because the school “does not suit him or her”? As legitimate an argument it seems, it doesn’t seem fully sound either.

Guilt has plagued and frustrated me for awhile, feeling angsty basically at firstly, having angsty rebellious students who do not care to put in the effort and who disrespect the teacher, and secondly, having really meaningless paperwork pile up that screams for your time and attention. I think it is further compounded by the fact that I am at a spiritual low and have not been reading the Bible, praying nor enjoying fellowship.

So I ask: What am I in this profession for? When I shared some of these concerns with a few of my other teacher friends a few evenings ago, they reminded me that the result of this job is never instantaneous – you may never feel the sense of appreciation you humanly crave, or see the results of your hard work and heart work ever – but you must trust that if you put your heart and soul into your job, the students will feel it and ultimately, learn from it.

Are they right?

Sure they are, but in many ways, I wondered if they understood what appreciation I craved for. I do not desire presents, or teacher’s day cards, or thank you notes, or even good results. Heck if my students have a certain academic capacity, I don’t even expect them to blow me away with decent results. Much less desire students to come back three, four years after and make it big in their post-secondary education, and come back and acknowledge me as having played a small part in their success. I don’t expect any of those big glamorous things that the teaching ads are so good at conveying.

All I honestly really want, is for the students to show me that they are putting in the effort. Whether is it through submitting their assignments, or doing their work in class, or asking questions to show a desire to learn. Just do your homework – so I do not have to chase after you every day for weeks – and end up giving you a zero – because I hate to do that. Not because I am afraid to see a fat zero on your result slip lest I have to answer for it, but more because we all know giving you a zero doesn’t do any good to anyone. You, the student, don’t learn from not doing the assignment; the results are not a true reflection of your ability and is hence irrelevant; I don’t know how to help you because you have failed to do the assignment; it reflects poorly on your character and attitude as a student; and it affects your overall performance and perhaps your future.

Sigh.

So what am I in this for? Ungrateful students who may never come round and affirm the effort and care that you have invested in them? Someone who may end up insulting you and your personality whether directly or indirectly for years, not acknowledge your effort for them, and disappoint your aspirations and dreams for them?

Then I realised the answer, and this is what makes teaching so unbearably noble, if I may say so – that if you expect anything more to keep you going in this profession, then you may be rudely disappointed. The reason why so many teachers have such a big heart, is because they selflessly work for their students, not because they want to see the results of their hard work, or feel the sense of achievement when their students do well for an examination. Of course, those things would build up a teacher’s confidence greatly, and we do desire those things too. But if nothing comes out of it, if our students are unresponsive, if some of them don’t turn around, if they fail us and our expectations of them, if they don’t reciprocate the affection and trust we have invested in them, we might still be able to go on and thrive because we don’t look for those things. No matter how tough it gets, if you work hard because this is a calling – something beyond living for yourself – you would probably feel less uptight when a student fails you.

Is it possible for people to go on living like that?

Please pardon the rude, self-centred dialogue in this post as I struggle to find a way out of this garjumble of a mess of thoughts.