Archive for the ‘School’ category

Back to school

September 27, 2013






I took up a short teaching stint once when I returned to Singapore in April, this time at my alma mater. The travel to and fro everyday was pretty intense since I live in the extreme east of Singapore, but there was just something about this school I couldn’t resist.

Even when I was 17, when I already had a place to study at a college closer to my home, I immediately changed my mind when I stepped into this school. I was awestruck by the rows of gorgeous raintrees and the lush greenery. It felt right.

I really felt at home at this place, loved the job, loved my bosses, loved the people I worked with, loved my students. Although it had been 7 years since I last stepped into a classroom and I was initially worried that I would be rusty, I took to the job right away.

I am blessed to have been given this opportunity to teach again. It left me with happy memories.

I hate the school bus

July 1, 2008

The minibus driver honked a few times. “Hurry up!” he yelled. The cries of the screaming girl echoed around the block. “I don’t want to go!” Her screams descended with the lift.

Her mother dragged her to the bus and she clung on for life. “I don’t want to go!” Finally, with a push she was up on the bus with the other kids. The door slammed shut, silencing her cries. The driver quickly drove off to deliver the children on time.

A look of relief appeared on the Mum’s face as she walked toward the lift lobby. Is she affected? Because I imagine it must be traumatic for the child. I remember myself sobbing in class when I started kindergarten.

Though this feeling is temporary, I’m wondering if there is a better way of easing a child into school life?

360 degrees

June 27, 2008

I keep bumping into students whereever I go these days. Some recognised me and came to say hi, while some clearly were too engrossed in whatever they were doing to notice me.

Yesterday I was at Bugis to meet an ex-student, Winnie, for lunch when I heard someone call my name. It was a tall girl with long copper hair. “You don’t remember me?!” she asked. I looked at her again. She was in mini shorts, a low cut blouse, high heels and she was holding on to a stick of Virginia Slims.

“I’m Jojo from Informatics!” she said. Jojo? The quiet Vietnamese girl in my class? The slim petite girl who wore glasses and no make-up? The sweet, plain girl who was ever attentive in class and delivered good work?

Of course I couldn’t recognise her now. She’s put on a bit of weight, she’s swapped her glasses for dark blue contact lenses, she has long metallic coloured nails, she’s drawn her eyebrows too thin. She was puffing away at a cigarette as her Western boyfriend waited in the corner for us to finish catching up.

“It’s been two years since you left us. We still talk about you though. Almost everyone in the class is still there,” she said in a slight American accent. I noticed she had a piercing above her lip.

As we reminisce old times, I wished she hadn’t called out to me. That way, I would be able to always remember her the way she was.

Standing on the peak

June 16, 2008






And so I kept my promise. A selected few from the class who collected enough stickers went out with me to Swensens today for their much deserved ice-cream. They were all very appreciative and we had a good time.

Honestly, my wish is not that they would love me or thank me. Instead, I hope this will inspire them to want to keep up their good work and have more confidence in the teachers who come their way.

My biggest regret: A boy who had shown the most improvement did not turn up though he said he would. My question: What happened? And how would the class progress under the care of my successor? 


June 12, 2008

On Monday, we learnt about Song dynasty writer, Su Dong Po (1037 – 1101). I particularly liked this story he wrote, which displayed his wit and humour. The original Chinese text is very animated but perhaps this is somewhat lost in my English translation. Themes I like in this story: self awareness and ignorance.









(选自苏东坡 《艾子杂说》)


Hunting Duck

A hunter didn’t know what an eagle looked like, so he bought a duck to go hunting in the woods. When he saw a rabbit, he released the duck into the air for it to capture the prey.

Instead of soaring into the skies like he thought an eagle would, the duck dropped onto the ground. He repeated this a few times.

Fed up of being thrown all around, the duck waddled up to the hunter and said, “I am a duck. You can kill me and cook me, that’s my purpose. But don’t torture me by smashing me about!”

“I’m sorry,” the hunter replied. “I thought you were an eagle which I could use to catch some rabbits.”

The duck raised its webbed feet at the hunter and said, “Look at my feet. Do you think I could catch anything with these?”

Thinking observer

June 7, 2008

Friday morning, we visited a secondary school to observe their lessons. The teacher went through a passage entitled, “Life is like Dance”, and invited students to discuss their thoughts. He asked the 13-year-olds a question which I believe even adults could not answer – “What is the essence of life?”

But I was both surprised and impressed to hear them speak. To see how vocal and opinionated they were. The teacher could pick on any student and h/she would be able to answer eloquently without hesitation. 

Later, I heard them read. They read with all the right pauses and varying tones for maximum dramatic effect and I felt my goosebumps. It was like sitting in a storytelling competition.

They sat straight – nobody had their heads on the table. I could see they were reading and thinking about the passage. The teacher spoke softly because it was so quiet in the class. I don’t think that’s because they feared the teacher. I think that’s because they respected the teacher.

He was a knowledgeable teacher. Young, but well-read and able to ask though-provoking questions. Every of his questions inspired students to think, to question, to come to their own conclusions. It did not matter that they had differing views. What mattered was that they HAD differing views and were not afraid to VOICE them out.

The Chinese education system focuses a lot on character development – to nurture children who are optimistic, polite, patriotic, courageous and altruistic. I think the recent quake reinforced the point that they were a nation which refused to bow to adversity.

Somehow when it comes to teaching national education, respect and positivity, the Chinese seem to have gotten the right formula.

Thoughts after the lesson: Is it easier to nurture patriotism in a racially homogenous country where most people are not religious? Race or religion? What makes us more diverse? Less patriotic?

It was a good lesson. It made me think.

Teaching the LaoWai

June 3, 2008

Today, the 60-odd MOE Chinese teachers began our two weeks’ learning in the University’s International Cultural School. This morning, we sat in the lessons with the foreign students who have come to Shanghai to learn Chinese as a second language.

The University embraces all things traditional. It still uses chalk and the blackboard, and the teaching is very much teacher-centred. That means, the teacher will stand at the podium and just talk for hours, seldom pausing to interact with the students.

Very little also is done at the beginning of the lesson to “create a need for learning”, but I suppose that’s not really necessary if you have a whole class full of focused and motivated learners.

One teacher chided the class made up of students from Korea, Italy, the US, Switzerland, Belgium and other Western countries when they failed to tell her what’s “toothpaste” in Mandarin.

“Sylvia, did you bring your toothpaste from Italy?” the teacher asked. “No, I bought it in Shanghai.” the student answered in her best Mandarin. “So, you should see the word ‘toothpaste’ everyday when you brush your teeth. Why makes it so hard for you to answer this question? You should be using your dictionary to look up on words you don’t know. Words which you come across daily! It’s not difficult. It’s just whether you want to do it or not.”

In another class, a student wanted to ask the teacher the meaning of a word, but was told “the answer would be given another time”.

This is the traditional way of teaching and learning. The way I was brought up on. To fear and respect the teacher. To do my work and give my best. To look for the teacher when I needed help – he certainly wouldn’t come and ask me if everything’s well. Students had to learn to find his own answers and study independently rather than wait for the teacher to spoon-feed them.

It feels rather strange yet familiar to come across this style of teaching after my stint at the College, where I had developed my own style of the other extreme.

I feel for the students who were fervently jotting down every word the teachers scribbled on the board. To hear them getting the tones for the Chinese words mixed up. To hear them struggling to string a sentence together. To see them being scolded when they give a wrong answer.

“I quit my job as an engineer to come to learn how to speak Chinese,” said a Belgian guy. “Unfortunately, we focus a lot on writing and reading and don’t get to speak much.”

“About 1/3 of our foreign students do not do well enough for us to grant them their degrees. I am not ashamed to admit this, but quite proud on the contrary. This shows we have a high standard and do not pass people for the sake of passing people. We must uphold our quality and reputation.” shared the director of the School.

Somehow I prefer this traditional way of doing things.