Tuesday, 9 October 2018

The Name Game

There is power in a name. It’s the reason the fairy-tale goblin, Rumpelstiltskin lorded over the King and Queen. No one ever bothered to find out his. 

My dad always insisted on finding out and remembering people’s names. He would write them down or recall them by association to something else – whatever it took to register their identity in his brain.

While most people think the definition of popularity is if your name is well-known, dad always believed you were actually disadvantaged if the person in front of you remained a stranger. I had found this theory to be very interesting, amusing even, until I became a teacher, of course and suddenly everything rang true.

As a teacher, one teaches and communicates with at least 200 human beings daily. In a school lacking academic staff, you can always expect to take over a class if a teacher is sick or away for a meeting. This is called a relief period. It is anything but relief. I especially dread relieving a class that I do not already teach. Most teachers would agree. The reason is simple. You don’t know them, and therefore in the words of the possessed King Theoden from “The Lord of the Rings”, “you have no power here.”

Can you imagine trying to call out a misbehaving student, and only having to resort to “Boy!” or “Girl!” or worse, “Eh!” If you don’t know them, you are deemed powerless, and as a result will be ignored. On the other hand, a teacher who can correctly identify everyone she is speaking to will notice very different reactions.

I have seen the shock on some students’ faces, when they hear their names being called, especially by a teacher who doesn’t teach them. “Kenapa, cikgu tahu nama saya?” (how is it possible you know my name?) they say, belatedly covering their nametags. I have noticed the baffled expressions on students playing truant as I yell out their names down the corridor. “She knows my name” “How?” they breathe, in horrified whispers to the other miscreants in the group.

Trust me when I say there is power in a name. Power to freeze a student in the midst of mischief. Power to stop an argument before the first punch is thrown.  But above all, knowing a student’s name allows you to lay the foundations for mutual respect.

Apart from the authoritative aspects of being able to identify your students, there are benefits that run so much deeper than forced obedience. One of which, is allowing yourself to truly see your students. Using their name effectively removes the invisibility cloak around a pupil. By conveying the message, “I know and see you”, they can begin to crawl out of the “wallpaper”. This invitation to be “present” in class, can effect a world of change in a student. Students feel like you want to understand them, want to relate to them and they will confide in you.

Some teachers can go months without bothering to find out this simplest piece of information, only to later complain about “what’s-her-name’s” attitude. 

My advice, if you take over an unfamiliar class, walk around and log their names in. Even if you forget it later, taking time to break the ice is effective in winning them over. Be the “busy-body” teacher that wants to know everything.   When you see students in the corridor, greet them by name even if they don’t do it first. There is no way that that can end badly. Put your ready-stock teacher ego aside and try it. Outcome 1: The student greets you back and subsequently always greets you. Outcome 2: Student is startled and smiles. Outcome 3: Student ignores you (highly unlikely). 
In conclusion, for a better relationship with students, and an overall more rewarding experience, reap the benefits that come together with knowing this fundamental piece of information. A name.

Tuesday, 3 April 2018


I am dead inside. A hollow shell of nothing.

Self belief has abandoned me, self confidence has departed. Inspiration, motivation and patience are simply words. They don’t exist. Not in me.

I died at around 3.50 pm today. In 1 Merpati.

::Arriving is like entering a warzone.

Wei Xiang lies flat on the ground at the entrance shouting vulgarities in Mandarin and holding his chest.

Stepping over him carefully, ignoring this bid for attention, I address the rest who were trying to slip out.

“Satiswaran, inside, now.”

“ Shyh Ting, masuk” . She mouthes “toilet” .“ No. I will let you out later. Get in first”

“Shun Xin, Jeremy, enough, come in”

Suddenly Wei Xiang jumps up from the floor and roars at Paakya from the class next door who had accidentally touched his huge log of a leg, in a bid to escape her own class.

Taking this as a clear form of attack, Wei Xiang rose to the challenge. Literally.
It is what he wants from the beginning, for someone to make the mistake of touching him. He wants this fight, he is ready for it. Like a heaving, clumsy giant he begins verbally slamming her with foul language and obscene gestures. Seeing the rage he flew in, you would think she had murdered his family. Bewildered and not understanding what has just happened, Pakyaa looks at him as if he is mad and hurries off, to play truant elsewhere.

My voice is so out of place, even I can’t hear it. As I physically try but fail to drag Wei Xiang by his humungous arms, out of nowhere, knowing absolutely nothing, Hui Ying storms out of the class, her heavy thuds heard a mile away. BoOM BOOM boOm...She too starts yelling at Pakyaa, screaming at her to get out! Get LOST! Go and Die!

I am just as confused as you are, Reader.

Her screams bring other curious teachers out of their classes. I turn my attention to Hui Ying now, and try to usher her in the class. If ever I thought I was strong, I was wrong. I am small and puny beside her. Physically pathetic and powerless beside this gargantuan girl, I barely budge her heavily perspiring body.

Her expression suddenly goes blank as if a light bulb goes off and she stomps back into class. Episode over.

 I follow her in.

Wei Xiang riding on his anger trip just now, feels he can do no wrong and charges about the class, ignoring my “teacher voice” telling him to take a seat. Finally I raise my voice and yell his name! This too is ignored.

I shrink inside. What else have I got?

Like an animal on the loose, he darts around, body still pumped with energy and playfully punches Shun Xin on the arm. Shun Xin shoots up and chases him halfway around the class. Mandarin vulgarities are being fired across the classroom.

As I stare in horror at this scene unfolding, Hui Ying, Rohaizat, Shyh Ting have all come up to me waving their passes, asking to go to the toilet. NO. NO. NO. Not now. I haven’t even started teaching. 
Sit down.

They trudge back, muttering.  

Ignoring the two boys chasing each other I try to get my class to focus.

“Text books, page 21”

I repeat this 10 times, in Malay and English, till everyone who has a book has it opened to the right page.



Syafiq has twirled his scarf into a long thin whip and cracked it on Hamdan’s chest.

Right in front of me.

Hamdan snatches the bandana out of the offender’s hands and begins to furiously twirl it, his eyes ablaze with vengeance. Before he exacts his revenge, I demand weapon to be surrendered.

Syafiq begins to protest, as he is the owner of the offensive rag, and fears he will never see it again. As if I want to hold on to his sweaty, germy disgusting piece of fabric longer than 30 seconds.

30 seconds.

A lot can happen in 30 seconds.

1 Merpati has taught me that.

Pakyaa, tired of gallivanting decides to pop by and yell for Logasunthari.

I don’t know where I am anymore. My other rational senses are shutting down, and an insane rage is bubbling, boiling...

“GET OUT!!!” I thunder.

“Cikgu H panggil Loga” she replies “Cikgu mahu jumpa dia”

I walk to the door, and lower my voice to a whisper, “Cikgu can call me if she wants to see anybody. And if you are lying to me, I will make sure I wipe that smile off your face.” I am not sure how much of this is understood, because Pakyaa is still standing there grinning at me.

Out of the blue, a pen whizzes by my ears, aimed straight at Pakyaa, who manages to dodge it.

I know who threw it. But I ask anyway, looking carefully at Wei Xiang who is suddenly immensely interested in his textbook.

Luckily he has enough classmates who detest him, and Hui Hui gives him away

 “Wei Xiang, teacher!”

Wei Xiang, now revisits his anger and begins his loud abuses, egging Jeremy and Shun Xin to do the same. Afifah and Balqis join in, cursing at Pakyaa to leave.  

I successfully get rid of Pakyaa and shoo her back to class.

Page 21 seems so far away.

I begin reading. We have a choral reading session.

Choral reading: Frowned upon in the teaching community as a pointless activity that should be stopped.

Choral reading doesn’t help students to read.

There’s no way of monitoring their pronunciation.

How are they supposed to improve?

I don’t know. I don’t care.

They read.
And repeat
And read
And repeat.
And read
And repeat

And my heart beat relaxes a little.

We finish 2 sentences.

TWO amazing sentences before the bell rings.

"Thank you class.”

“Have a nice day.”

Jesus Christ, where is my motivation and passion? What has happened to my prayers of being a mentor and guide and loving teacher? How is it possible that I felt like murdering at least 5 students today? Jesus Christ, what are these kids going through in their lives that they act this way? How can I teach with such hate? Am I such a lousy teacher that they do not respect me? Where is my inspirational teacher movie moment? Am I cut out to be a teacher? I think not. Nope. Nope. Nope.

Thursday, 4 January 2018

Bubble and Squeak!


 It all began one cold and wet Thursday afternoon. The rain beat down mercilessly on our roof and I pulled my comforter tighter around myself. I was engrossed in the tab I held in my left hand. It was simply marvellous how every fact I ever wanted to know was quite literally at the tips of my fingers. "Tap" "tap" "tap" my index scurried, a master at the task, unveiling pages upon pages of information that would satisfy but never satiate my hunger for more. Who needed human interaction when the screen gave you its undivided attention? Yes, I could do without silly coffee shop gossip and mindless chatter about the weather. God, humans bored me sometimes. "Click" "click" "click" better Google who else thought the same. 

Anyway, I digress. I was quite obviously enjoying the peace and serenity of cyberspace, when it was rudely interrupted by a loud holler from downstairs. I had lived here long enough to know that it came from my brother. The only time he ever hollered was ... never ...he never hollered, so naturally my curiosity was piqued. Putting down my tablet, albeit reluctantly, I zipped down the stairs, skipping two at a time (a talent proudly acquired by the age of 7). 

Turns out, all the hullabaloo was due to a cute little mouse that had found its way into and was snuggled up inside a little blue plastic pail I had outside. You should have seen it. Totally insta-worthy. Its soft brown furry body lay peacefully asleep, as its cute pink squiggly tail curled around it. Its soft little whiskers twitched as if it was having a cute little nightmare. I know what you're thinking; total keeper right?


Dad hated rats, and this filthy, disease riddled little sewer rodent, looking for a lazy snooze, certainly wouldn't be an exception.    

A horrendous mental image flashed through my mind. 

Dad had a way of dealing with rats.
First, rather solemnly, he boiled a kettle of water. When it whistled, signalling the end (in many ways), he would slowly arise from the depths of the cushions. His face expressionless, but mouth set in a line that was both grim and triumphant. (How??)
He carried the vessel outside almost ceremoniously and as if administering a cruel but just punishment, he would bathe the offending rat or shrew, effectively scalding them to death. During this unholy baptism at the boil, he always insisted that I witness the victim's “beady little eyes begging for mercy” for a few agonising minutes. Perhaps he harboured the crazy hope that I would morph into a stone cold rodent assassin in the future. Me? Never.

A terrified squeak snapped me back to the present. I glanced down at the very same beady eyes, pleading clemency. No, I decided, with a burst of furious determination. Dad would not get to bless this little guy with scalding showers. Not if I could help it.

I marched into the house to get my all purpose gloves and snapped them on professionally the way I imagined a surgeon or dentist would do. Grabbing a can of mosquito repellent, from the kitchen cabinet, I exited the house. I have no idea what possessed me to think this was a better way to go. I assumed the furball would simply get drowsy and fall into a Forever Slumber. So I shot jets of the product into the bucket willing my four legged friend to get dizzy.

Instead, it seemed to fight to stay awake. Go to sleep, damn it! I thought frantically. It bore its fangs and seemed to spit at me, as if to say “eff you, human scum!” Now this, I did not expect. How dare he? Deeply affronted, I felt my self losing patience. If that’s the way you want to play, we’ll go for a little swim won’t we?

“Bring the hose!” I barked to my brother

My brother, bless his soul, had by that time turned into an unwilling accomplice who gaped in muted horror at the abomination before his eyes. I don’t think he expected me to be capable of such emotion. If I’m being honest, neither did I.  
Aiming the hose into the bucket, I caught sight of my brother fidgeting in clear discomfort, darting glances at the inviting respite of the hall.

“Watch” I commanded, adopting a military tone, not unlike my father's.

As the bucket filled with the cold clear liquid, our fur ball registered this new threat. The more it tried to claw its way out, the further it fell into the deep blue (of the blue bucket). After about 15 minutes, still burning with absurd hatred for this animal, I forced it under with a broomstick. I did this a few times, and only stopped when I recalled scenes of torture from TV that involved dunking a man’s head under water. Only a monster would do that. Me? Never.

But by then, physically exhausted from its frenetic struggles earlier, it soon succumbed and listlessly paddled around before going absolutely still. And with a bubble and a final squeak (see title) , I had sent him to his watery grave. I dropped the hose, turned around and walked inside, leaving my appalled brother to clean up so we could resume life as normal. 

 Dad would have been proud. Okay, maybe not. He would have commented on the highly inefficient proceedings. Throwing away a bucket, wasting insect repellent, and of course a load of water.

Killers are not born, they are made.  

I made the mistake of telling my loony (but hot) girlfriend about it, and she has run off to write a story, and will probably get most of the facts wrong! I’ve got rat’s blood on my hands for life! Time to let off some steam with some Dota.  Peace out!

Wednesday, 25 October 2017

Exam Season

Invigilating 1 Belatuk is like hosting a twisted talent competition.
I Belatuk sat for their history paper today, and had to contain their otherwise relentless energy to conform to the numbing silence of the exam atmosphere. Under these dreary circumstances, they still showed tremendous effort to entertain and put up a great show. Bless them.
s A: *makes whistling sound through his teeth to the crippled tune of "baby shark doo doo"
me: Viknes! ....
s A: Oh!hiiii *waves*
s B : Rocks his chair so far back that his head lands on table behind. knocks his head on that table.
me: Sharen! Stop that *through gritted teeth*
s B: *does a Tamil movie-star salute* (ask me for a demonstration anytime)
s C: pulls up t-shirt over his head to form a tudung, rocks back and forth and stares at me....blinking
SUDDEN THOUGHT!: Oh God, they're taking turns!
Nope, NOT this time. I will NOT react.
s C : *starts singing a Malay song and wraps t-shirt-tudung tighter around his head.
me: Norman!! Sleep! Now!
s C: Sorry teacher.
-eerie scraping sound begins-
me *what now? searches wildly around the room.
s D: Using a pair of scissors to carve up the notice boards on the side. making a bloody mess of confetti.
me: Chuan Sze...what is wrong with your head. (mental note: make him clean it up, without a broom)
s D : *stops for a blessed second*
s E: seeing all the drama, decides to stretch and make a loud BURRRRPP sound. (then says oops and acts like it was a mistake)
*class giggles madly*
s F: has been suspiciously quiet all the while *decides this is the best time to test his catapult (ruler over three erasers to launch little paper balls, one of which hits the teeth whistler on the forhead) *SMACKK*
s A: Hoi! Cikgu kacau cikgu...*throws paper back* misses *hits tudung boy* who jumps and shrieks because he scares easily.
Teeth whistler, truly an accomplished musician, begins with a round of percussion. *plays imaginary tabla under his desk* -war drums in the Blackboard Jungle.
*class erupts* "WE ARE ENTERTAINED," their eyes scream, because their mouths can't
Some who were blissfully asleep, stir from their slumber.
No no nooooooo...
me: Suppresses aggressive language with Herculean effort.
"One more word, and you all go for recess late.
That's it. Silence. Recess always wins.
Encore! Encore!

Friday, 8 September 2017


Currently listening to: Bravado by Lorde.
          I can’t identify what it is that makes me nervous. Perhaps this is why I don’t travel anywhere alone. The idea of solo travel is a romantic one but I know the minute I get off the plane, I would regret going. Who would help me? Who would I talk to when I’m not exploring amazing architecture. Who would I eat with? Strangers? You mean I have to *shudder* socialise? I want to shake off those shudders and approach strangers to ask for help without feeling judged, stupid, pitiful, lost and beyond help. I want to get over that feeling of hopelessness in unfamiliar territory.
               I sometimes imagine myself exploring unknown places, foreign lands without a plan or care in the world, but then I realise I’m just replaying a scene from a random movie or travel programme, where the hero always bumps into someone willing to take them around to explore the colourful street life of Vietnam, Thailand, the Philippines.
              I digress. I realise I fear being vulnerable, being in a position where I have to admit I am lost, in order to get help. I fear new train ticket machines because using them entails putting yourself in a clueless position to ask for instructions. I fear getting on a plane because it involves checking in and boarding and a hundred other terms I’ve read about but never experienced.
I fear the unknown.

Saturday, 12 August 2017

Breathe in.Your chest experiences a sudden tightness as if it's making a last desperate attempt to stick a band aid on and hold itself together. Breathe out. The band aid snaps off. Shocked/angry/hurt/embarrassed tears well up, which you will furiously blink back because they who hurt you cannot know it. Your fists curl up, not to punch a wall, or pound a table but just to contain the trembles. Truth is, you don't know how to react. There's always a first time.

TEACHER HEARTBREAK. So I know the picture seems trivial enough, (not to mention badly drawn) but this is one of many teeny tiny heartbreaks that happen along the way. It's easier to post the funny faces but it's not always a Mary poppins kinda day, I'm afraid.
Here's to teachers everywhere who breathe in, breathe out and move on! 💝💝💝

OKAY, kids, copy this down!

Me unintentionally starting a dialogue on coffee...again.