Saturday, 11 March 2017

Subtle Racism in the Malaysian Classroom

Hello reader hope you're conquering mountains this weekend.. Literal or figurative!

A while ago, R.A.G.E posted  a video about how racism was rampant in the property market, and I was suddenly reminded of how teachers shoulder such an enormous role in shaping human beings of tomorrow. Everything we complain about in the attitude of grownup Malaysians today are traits that were not checked or corrected by a teacher 20 years ago!
As teachers, we are a pretty huge, if not biggest influence on a child's formative years. We build good habits, and character traits. It goes without saying therefore, that we should practise what we preach. What if we don't realise when we're being hypocrites?

I was having a delightful conversation over kuaci and coffee with some of my most treasured comrades, and was quite surprised to hear a story related by one of them, regarding an officer in the the education dept who, while demonstrating a poetry lesson, had used a large fair boy to represent an Albino buffalo, and a dark skinned boy to represent a regular buffalo. Although it was done in good humour, and the kids who were compared to the beasts, took it lightly, it made me think about some of the subtle messages that we give off through the simplest of actions in the classroom.

A few months back, I was having a conversation with a fellow teacher on what we could do to quieten some of the hyperactive ones in class. Quite frankly, I was at my wits end on how to deal with him! And something she said took me by surprise. She would make the misbehaving Chinese student sit among the Indians as punishment. This, she told me, was a sure way of getting him to zip it, because "the Chinese students don't mix with the Indians."
Why make it a punishment then? Aren't we only justifying their hatred towards the other race by forcing them to sit there only when they misbehave? She had no answer. It was, after-all a quick-fix and no one was ready to give that up.
 But what do we get in return? "Quiet" kids who grow up with a roaring disgust towards their brother from another mother.
 We speak of a 21st century education system, and as terms like "open minded" and "modern thinking" are bandied about and used to describe generation Y, teachers too try to separate themselves from our rather "narrow-minded"  grandparents. But honestly how different are we from the old aunties who used to say "I will let the Keling man catch you if you are naughty"?

I have always thought about her actions and wondered why it would be considered okay to anyone. In fact, today, many complain about the kids who never mingle with other races in their vernacular schools. But what about the teachers who studied exactly the same way and had not experienced living and interacting with different races till they reached the tertiary level of education? What are they bringing to the table...or rather the classroom? How equipped are they to handle the multiracial adolescent learning environment, never having tasted it themselves?

At this point my head usually starts to hurt.

In another incident, I had accompanied my school track and field team for the district level sporting event, and during the closing ceremony, I overheard two teachers talking loudly... Apparently one was speaking too fast, because the other said "cakap slow sikit, macam keling betul ko cakap" (speak slowly, you're speaking like a real keling). Now don't even try to tell me that Keling isn't a derogatory term, because just the context of this teacher's dialogue proves otherwise. The other immediately hushed her and they sheepishly glanced around to see an Indian teacher from my school sitting close by. Fortunately for them, he hadn't seemed to hear, and they burst into a fit of relieved giggles. But we haven't come to the saddest part of this story. Sitting and gaping at their teachers banter, were at least 5 students who then proceeded to laugh and share in this disgusting brand of humour endorsed by none other than their mentors and educators. And THAT, my dear reader, is simply heartbreaking.

We don't realise that as we sit and laugh, we are educating, as we talk and tell stories we are educating, as we chide, scold, and punish, we are also educating. So, it is a constant reminder to be mindful of what we impart every second of the day. As my afternoon school supervisor once very aptly put; in all our actions, we are being watched not by one, but eight hundred pairs of eyes. Eyes that remember, and eyes that learn.
Every day I am  humbled by this profession, in the weight it carries in shaping the biggest assets of the future!

"Nasty littering adults, were once grimy littering, snot-nosed children, who were not checked because their parents and teachers were nasty litter bugs as well."

Saturday, 4 February 2017

That time in Taman Rakyat

For a couple of non planners, I would say this trip was a pretty huge success.  I hadn't been to Taman Rakyat in ages! So based on severely warped memories of my childhood, I insisted and lowkey bragged about the great hiking trails and jungle landscapes that Taman Rakyat had to offer.
"Peak? of course there's a peak!" I nodded enthusiastically

But alas,  as we ambled up the flat and quite safe tarred and sometimes cement-paved road, I realised that this was quite literally "a walk in the park." We passed Taichi enthusiasts along the way and ran into the same uncles and aunties multiple times, as we made our way up the docile and unchallenging terrain. It wasn't all bad. The cool morning air was refreshing though, and it also guaranteed that we didn't break a sweat throughout the morning exercise, if we could call it that.

Anyway, it's the last day of the holidays for me. The relaxation was tremendously fun and I will hopefully take on the rest of the year with a rejuvenated spirit.ho ho ho.

Saturday, 21 January 2017

Hoomanising hoomans

I was talking to a friend over banana leaf rice (getting in shape for Christmas) about how our ages were getting closer to the third decade, and how I felt like an underachieving piece of ..Plasticine (because plasticine has potential). We went home, and I thought about the year, and what it had taught me.

Lesson 1
Breaking down in public.

I've broken down in the classroom more times last year than when I first arrived at school. Each experience  unique, whether it was a quiver in my voice, or tears welling up or yelling at them through wretched ragged sobs, I've categorised them all as breakdowns; big or small.

The question is 'Is this an unmistakable sign of weakness?', a teaching faux pas? Are we forbidden to do so? Am I the only exception to the rule, "It's okay to cry sometimes"?

While showing emotion is so often negatively translated as being delicate, frail, powerless and feeble,   I believe it should be embraced as being fearlessly, courageously vulnerable. I believe being vulnerable is exposing yourself  to criticism or judgement but with the aim to achieve a deeper connection and understanding.

Having said that, I must stress, that  did not do it with an ulterior purpose. My voice may have quivered just because, at that point, I couldn't expertly handle the situation and I believe it is perfectly alright, that in those few seconds, they got a glimpse of the feeling and emotional person I am underneath all the Verbs, Nouns and adjectives I preach every day. Soon one's breaking point will cease to be a breaking point anymore. One will learn to reprove students in a meaningful way, to admonish artfully.

The subject of vulnerability, is often discussed in terms of a relationship, or potential partner but what about looking at it through a different lens. As a relatively new teacher I was always told from the get go, to build an emotional wall and never let students see that you are scared, that you are hurt, that you feel confused or amused because that was giving them a psychological upper hand. But in all seriousness, how then, would they know that we were human and not robots. Instead of a psychological upper hand what if they were merely making connections, understanding and feeling compassion, closeness, brotherhood and belonging. What if seeing their teacher tear up stirred a sense of remorse and compassion? was that such a cringe-worthy effect?

By all means, I'm not saying I bawl on every stressful classroom experience, you too will soon be able to withstand greater challenges, but I refrain from advocating the NO EMOTION rule. I believe it grinds us into unfeeling moulds, that we force onto our students, who in turn learn never to share problems, never to admit defeat, never to show sadness.

I'm still on the road of self discovery, and the road is a long, winding and well worn path.

The Art of Saying No

Hello reader, How is your weekend going? Off hiking? Building an arm chair? Travelling to New Zealand? Food hunting? Good for you!

My ideal weekend involves actively doing nothing, in my room, with Spotify turned up, some form of junkfood, (and if my internet is being nice) a movie.  Nothing tops this. So if I am out and about on a friday and/or Saturday, its either obligation or a case of me not being able to say no.

Saying no is extremely hard for some, and an especially arduous task for me. It is NOT because I have a heart of gold; neither does saying YES give me a deep sense of fulfilment. I say yes, because the alternative seems like a socially gargantuan task. 

What my brain is thinking : 

"No, I don't feel like it"
"No, I'd rather not"
"No way, I'd spend my afternoon doing that"
"Hell no!"

What my mouth says:

"oh OKay"
"yea sure"
"yea can"
"yes Im okay with that"
"yay, sounds like a plan"

So at the end of the day, I’m left with nothing but a shitty sense of you-tricked-me.


A few times, my brain wins! And I end up declining an offer to hang out. But then I do this absurd thing where I try to make up for meet ups I’m unable to/ don't want to attend... and...sigh.   Let me illustrate, 
In the picture above, I have very expertly dodged a lunch. Alas, somehow I end up planning a raincheck meet up, and  even recommending a place! ARgH!!!

This has occurred an uncountable number of times! 

But the real question is, "why can't I say no"??

1. Too concerned with what people think 
People talk, they come to conclusions, and they infer from situations, I do it all the time. So I get really nervous about what people would think of me if I were to reject an invite. 

I wonder if anyone out there feels remotely the same. 

Having said all this, I do enjoy going out sometimes. Not a total weirdo. Hanging out with yourself doesn't allow for much conversation. 

So if anyone is struggling with this predicament, just remember, you are not alone. We'll figure it out soon enough.  


Wednesday, 14 December 2016

The Titanic Bear Hug

Hello reader, I've never been a hugger. Have you? I've never enjoyed that close proximity,  of someone invading my personal space,  an assault on my no entry zone. But I have experienced a precious few good ones, and after an especially tiring day, I wish I could just sink into a warm embrace right now.

|Sometimes it feels like a giant hug would suffice,
To thaw a situation with a lot of ice,
Nothing a load of body warmth can't heat,
When you've got a lump in your throat to beat,
When words are simply insufficient,
The more yelling the more inefficient,
There's something magical in an embrace,
In its power to erase,
The heaviness that you carry around,
After all the unnecessary sound,
It draws you in silent and slow,
And crushes you in a powerful show,
Of kindness, forgiveness, sympathy, comfort,
So much emotion, so little effort,
What I would give for a giant squeeze,
So powerful but leaves me light as a breeze,
What I would do for a mighty cuddle,
In that deep affection I'd love to snuggle,
So let's release all this energy,
Not sweep it under a rug,
Let's flush it all out,
In a titanic bear hug.|

Go get a bolster.


Hello reader, please ignore the sudden eager poetry. Doesn't everyone go through a rhyming phase at some point? No? Oh well. This is a throwback to a couple of months ago, when I was losing hair but not my mind and not my appetite. A time, when nothing had a rhyme.

|You told me you missed me. There was a heavy momentous pause. A pause that the movies never allowed after an "I miss you".A pause that in its lack of words, explained everything. The wait was over. I sighed and told you not to say that. You asked if I was angry, annoyed, pissed off, your voice tinged with  a crazy hope that I was. I replied, stifling a yawn, no, I was just tired. I felt nothing else. I closed my eyes and tried to conjure up those same three words. All I could see was an endless line of yawns. Yawn. Yawn. Yawn.|