Meet the Form Class!

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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. :)

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‘Together’

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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.

Head Space during the Lunar New Year

Things seem to just spiral on, event after event, day after day, week after week, the moment 2015 started. It is a little too quick to handle, too fast for me to stop and ‘smell the roses’, to notice and appreciate the other insignificant little things that could together make up a very pretty picture.

In yesterday’s “MIND YOUR BODY” Living column, I read about the necessity for ‘head space’ – the alone personal time you have to be disengaged from all electronic (and non-electronic) distractions, and just reflect, think and pray about life and you, and everything else that truly matter in kairos. And I realised I have not had that time to pause, reflect and write or read, as a form of re-calibrating my lifestyle, if you would have it.

Even during the festive Lunar New Year period, the home visiting can easily become one of those very things that demand your attention and energy. Which is why I am hugely thankful for the time to break away and find some time to think about how the past 2 months have been since the start of 2015, even if it comes at the expense of my marking.

I am thankful for friends. The past two months have been manageable because of friendships that support. S and our random dinner dates when we get too zonked out from school is always a refreshing way to end a long day of fire-fighting or nonsense. When we get upset our colleagues are there to give us a hand or offer a piece of candy to brighten up our day.

I am thankful for my students. As miserable as they can make me, they are also the meaning behind what we do. We want them to learn, we want them to mature, we want them to become people of sound and steadfast character, who is able to find succeed in life in the future. They challenge me to take my job seriously (no half-hearted lessons!), to find ways to make myself better (a good adult role model, as I try to walk the talk), to inspire me when life’s circumstances make them hardier than me.

I am thankful for my family. There is always a home to come back to, a safe environment (although there is not much room for a study/work space) to relax and unwind in, a working television set (haha! what could be more important?), my own bedroom (because my brothers are abroad), and the comforts of a stable loving family.

I am thankful for my job. As practical as that sounds, it provides me with the stability and financial independence to make decisions such as where to have dinner at, what clothes to buy, what movie to watch. It gives me something meaningful to do and challenges me to make myself better and more confident than previously.

We are going for an overseas camp next week. Here’s hoping everyone stays safe, and the trip is an uplifting and positive experience for all of us!

Hello Twenty Fifteen!

Last evening before the new year countdown, about a hundred and twenty family and friends from our church gathered to share our thanksgivings for 2014. It is my promise that I count my blessings for 2014 in words, even if I do not share it.

I am closing in on the end of four years of my first career. A lot of people say that you tend to face an ‘existential drought’ at the end of the first four years of your career, resulting in many switching careers. I reckon that it may not be true, but at the same time, 2014 was a year of questions, answered mainly with frustrations and disappointments. It did lead to a lot of personal reflection, taking the time to slow down and rethink my raison d’etre.

In 2014, I lost the friendship of someone very dear to me. But through it, I learnt that everything is volatile, and as cliche it sounds, change is the only constant in life. I learnt that I need to cherish every person in my life, and not take their friendships for granted.

In 2014, I also learnt that God is sovereign. He has always been and always will be. He works in the hearts and minds of not just our peers but our students, and although it may not be clear, it is clear to me that He was there when W, N X and H struggled to come to school and fight their own shadows. It gives me much peace and comfort to know that He is Lord and I can pray and commit all my little students’ futures to Him. There is always a way out, a way that the Lord has prepared for each child.

I learnt that words can be cheap, but they can also cut deep. But my run-ins with some people only made me more certain of my purpose and abilities. Despite all the challenges, God sustained me through the love of close friends and family. Every little success and failure that happened in 2014 is a result of His mercy and grace. Praise the Lord!

I am thankful for the privilege to watch my little kids grow from when they were twelve to when they graduate at sixteen, making decisions concerning their future, preparing to chase their dreams.

I know that no matter what challenge 2015 flings at me, God is able to catch me and His sovereignty and love will empower me to tide through all of that! There are a lot of new changes to welcome and embrace this year, not to mention that 2015 is Singapore’s 50th year! I pray that I walk more closely with the Lord, and listen to His leading.

Hong Kong Diaries

This December, I went to Hong Kong for a short trip with M. In the five days there, I have returned wholeheartedly acknowledging the heartiness of food at the centre of Hong Kong’s lifestyle. It was massive, excessive even, and yet the amount of physical exercise we did on foot seemed to offset the indulgence we spent taking care of our tummies.

M was patient and accommodating, and we went around to some lovely touristy places and visited the streets of Mongkok and explored some of the lovely HK eateries. The best part of the eating must be the HK congee. I fell in love with the generous flavours and cook of the rice. Although I have never been a huge fan of porridge, I loved and polished every bowl of porridge I had in Hong Kong. We also had our fair share of egg tart and bread tasting at several bakeries, including Kum Wah Cafe & Cakes as well as Tai Cheong Bakery. There was a lot more variety and flavour in the food and I definitely enjoyed savouring each dish I was introduced to. I could not appreciate every dish though – the traditional HK dim sum with the beef balls and fish balls were strange to the palate and I had to rely on M to help finish up the food. But goodness we ate so much – almost every thing we had could have been halved and we would still be full. There just was not enough time spent in HK to fully explore the different foods and flavours!

We also went to Disneyland, Ocean Park, and The Peak – which were exciting places to spend time at. It would have been great if we had other company to give us that boost in bravery to take more rides. M isn’t quite a thrill seeker when it comes to theme parks, and I needed that extra persuasion to truly make our every penny count. It is my first time in Disneyland, and the experience was truly magical – it is probably the best time I had in Hong Kong these five days. We had a nice variety of thrill rides, fairytal-ish exhibits and performances, and delicious park snacks like caramel popcorn with Mickey sitting on the pack, and a Mickey Mouse shaped rice with grilled chicken from their Starlight Fast Food stop yum. M specially requested to stay for the evening parade, which really killed my feet by the time we got back to our hostel – but I thought was something we could not miss out on! It was amazing the lights, logistics and detail that goes into the parade, and I was nothing short of being blown away.

Our accommodation was at the HK Youth Hostel Association’s Mei Ho House at Sham Shui Po / Shek Kip Mei – one of the revitalisation projects that aimed to preserve the historical aspect of the district after the 1953 big fire that wiped out many families’ housing. The hostel was only opened a year ago, and the building was beautifully furnished, complete with a gift shop, laundry room, huge kitchen pantry, beautiful eclectic cafe, open-air lounge areas, and even an indoor museum that presented the story of Mei Ho House.

I did not think I would need that long to walk through the exhibits in the museum, but I spent almost one and a half hours in that 2-storey showroom. There was a fair balance of videos, photographs, artefacts from the past and more importantly, write ups that presented very honest but courageous real life stories of people who experienced the fire in one way or another. In the midst of the disaster, the strength and resilience of the victims of the fire really moved me in a powerful way – almost as if there was something that connected me with these families that I had not even met. The burning down of the residential buildings made way for restorative projects and the new housing policies from the government. It also brought out the best in other people in communities near and far. People who generously donated to the needs of the victims, people who contributed their time and energy to raise funds for the victims, even the victims themselves who came together to tide through the difficult times, sharing bathrooms and food and money. I was just amazed by the strength in humanity to face adversity in such a courageous way, something I am not sure I can manage. It is in times like these that we see the providence and sovereignty of our God who gives strength to the weary and hope to those in darkness.

It is a lot to take back, in a strange way. During the week-long vacation in Hong Kong, M visited her aunt several times, which allowed me opportunity for some personal reflection and prayer. As she shares with me the personal stories of her relatives and family in Hong Kong, what strikes me is that they have endured certain kinds of hardship that required them to stand up strong from beneath it by relying on the Lord, and in a very humble way, they have done so.

When my ankle gave me all sorts of mobility problems – we had to plan our itinerary around it in some way, resting at regular intervals, avoiding walking long distances (and eating more) – M’s relatives kept asking after us, reminding us to rest enough and apply medication and what not. As much as the attention can be overwhelming, their concern is undeniable as well. Despite wheelchair-bound, living in an elderly care home, M’s aunt bought pork buns for us as she worried we may not have time to grab dinner.

More than anything else, these five days gave me plenty of time to spend with my good friend and sister-in-Christ, and catch up on what has happened in the past one semester of our lives. We had plenty of time to pray and think and engage in conversation, and I give thanks for that.

Lots of take back, lots to remember to keep moving forward.