Thursday, June 21, 2007

Learning trip to Kuala Selangor 18-19 June 2007

07 Jun 07

This will be a post about the learning trip that's gonna happen on 18-19 Jun 07 to Malaysia. 10 teachers, 40+ students from my school. Joy.

Will continue to update this post till the trip is over. However, what I want to show is that actually covers part of JB, Melaka and KL! Hence you guys can actually check out the location of the hotel we're staying in.

Which brings me to the next point.... Somehow, I've gotten the impression that this is a trip to KL - Kuala Lumpur. Well, it isn't unfortunately. Click on the link to find out the location of the hotel we're staying at. It's at least 25 km away from KL! Not too sure if you can even see the twin towers...

18 Jun 07

Time flies and it's now the day of the trip itself! There was an itinerary change, and so instead of the visit to the rice plantations and other 'educational' highlights, we were scheduled for Sunway Lagoon on the first day! Not that the students were complaining of course.

The 4 hr journey was spent on a 30 seater coach. Quite comfy by my standards.

The tour guide trying his best to manage the students. Teachers was slacking somewhere. "It's school holidays wat!"

Finally, Sunway Lagoon!

The students weren't allowed to go into the wet theme park, hence they could only help themselves to the thrill rides at the amusement park. Unfortunately, there were only 5-6 different rides. Most of them went to have a go or 2, before diving back into the cool embrace of the air-conditioned mall that's attached to Sunway Lagoon and began their shopping spree.

The challenge: 360 degrees viking ride

All smiles before the ride....

...and no fear in the eyes.

Not much smiles now though...

Upside down, insides coming out?

4 useless guys posing front of the ride they dare not take. Eventually 3 of them grew to try it.

"Hands up those that feel sick please?"

The girls from their class showed much more finesse though!

"Go lah...."
"Dowan lah you go with her lah!

Finding that thrill rides are not their cup of tea, they succumb to Singaporeans' favorite past time - makan!

Happy faces.

Meanwhile, what do science teachers do in a theme park? Evaluate the weight mass of the underweight Ms Fu!

Getting a earful and a valuable lesson on punctuality.

In the mall, a lot of the students were hoarding loads of titbits and drinks for the 'late-night party' in the hotel. Well, I guess they got slightly carried away and in the end a handfull turned up late at the appointed meeting place. This obviously did not go well with the organiser of the trip, the VP.

Despite the little lesson on punctuality, their spirits were hardly dampened. Next stop is a 2 hour journey to a riverside restaurant, where we had seafood dinner by the river. I find it quite ok although most of the students (and some teachers) said the food was not appetising. And after dinner, they packed MORE food and drinks from the conveniece shop across the restaurant,

We then visited the Belimbing Firefly park (which was just 10 minutes away) for a boat ride along Sungei Selangor. Here, we see thousands of fireflies lighting up the berembang trees with their luminous tailights. Unfortunately, none of us have a camera that's able to capture the very interesting natural spectacle. So you have to use your imagination, and visualise a tree filled with hundreds of 2mm green LEDs almost blinking in unison...

Reached the hotel in Shah Alam around 11 pm. Despite the long day, the kids could still chat in their room, gorge on the snacks they bought and some even ordered ice-cream and pizza from the room service. I do know all the teachers fell soundly asleep once we hit the mattresses.

19 Jun 2007

After checking out of the hotel (yes, they were late again...), we were taken for a city ride in Kuala Lumpur. But prior to that, I noticed that the buildings and city layout of Shah Alam is very different from the Malaysia that I know. Instead of looking like JB or Melaka, the roads and houses here resembles Singapore. And the cleaniless is comparable to our green city. There are even street signs that worked!

So what do we do when we were brought to national monuments and places of interest? Take photos lor...

Some students from my Physics/Maths class.

The inevitable pose-like-the-statues pose.

Teaching staff. Last smile before school reopens....

Acting cute version 1

Acting cute version 2

Vice-principle, OM and the boys under the shadow of the Twin Towers.

Wah, finally some students ask for a photo with me...

Last stop for the trip was 2 'educational insights into consumerism and tourism of modern Malaysia' aka shopping stops. First we visited the Chocolate Boutique, which showcased the process of making chocolate and that Malaysia, having vast plantations of cocoa, should logically have the best chocolate (anybody heard of Belgian chocolates? Swiss chocs? Heck, Cadbury is from Australia btw...). Of course, they waste no time in showing off their wide variety of unique chocolate concoctions, such as the infamous Durian chocolate (with real durians!), Tiramisu, Espresso beans (which I bought one pack. It was good.). Being the silly and swakoo Singaporeans that we are, almost everyone bought something from the exhorbitantly priced shop.

And to round it off, we were given 1 hr in Sungei Wang plaza, which really resembled the shopping malls in Thailand (small shops space, low ceilings, IT section on the top level, many many handphones outlets...). I only managed to secure myself a copy of Top Gear Malaysia magazine. Is there a Top Gear Singapore?

To sum it all, the trip was pretty enjoyable, though frankly I was hoping to see rice plantations. I'm not sure much learning has happened during this "learning trip" but I'm quite sure they all had fun. And perhaps the trip was more memorable because they were all Sec 4 students and this could very well be their last class outing with the teachers.

Dragon sculpture..made of chocolate at the Chocolate Butiq.

This is why you need to buy 5mp and above camera...for the unavoidable big group photos!

See you guys when the school reopens!

Friday, June 15, 2007

Qualities of a teacher?

Recently there was a small uproar about the termination of one Mr Alfian Sa'at as a relief teacher from MOE. The commotion is caused by MOE's unwillingness to express directly why did they terminate Mr Alfian's job, even though he seems to be doing quite well. To know more you can read his blog at, particularly

Not gonna argue who's right or wrong but, if I were to comment on this issue, it would be that the students in East View has just lost a valuable teacher. And also, it's always not easy to carry your beliefs and ideals in big placards and hold them up proudly above your heads. Your limbs will tire and sometimes resting and taking the easy way out seems much more 'common sense'.

But is that what you want people to remember you as? A being of common sense? Solely?

Anyway, just wanna share this story with my students (the blogs links are all very well written and will certainly improve your EL, as opposed to your daily MSN gibberish...) as well as for me to record this event in my blog. In particular, this few paragraphs:

1:13 am - what i learnt in school

I've been doing relief teaching (for History) for a bit more than a week now at East View Secondary School, a school 15 minutes away from my house, and one which has often been described as a 'neighbourhood school'. The term is of course reductive, and quite often one around which stereotypes agglutinate: the students are ill-disciplined, they are not interested in studying, there are gang members among the school population, etc.

My first week was a difficult period of adjustment. It takes a lot to enter a classroom and to establish a personality from zero. I was very aware that I was a new face and would thus be subjected to certain trials: the kids would test my threshold of patience, see what they can get away with. My position as an unknown quantity meant anxiety on my part, but for them not being recognised with a name meant liberation from surveillance. And thus when I handed out papers they giggled when I mispronounced names, multiple hands shot up when I called out somebody, I was vaguely aware that seating positions were shuffled under my ignorant watch: couples were reunited, cliques re-established, no more the strategic estrangements that kept mischievous combustions at bay.

I have to admit the frustration I felt when half the time spent in a classroom was spent at raising my voice, issuing stern warnings (a whole spectrum of threats was taught to me by the outgoing relief teacher: confiscating EZ-link cards, making them stay back after school, invoking the names of the Discipline Mistress and the Vice-Principal), pleading for the students to return to their seats. The din from the classroom was overwhelming; a tidal wave of restless yelps, red-faced bully laughter, the wailing of the freshly-smacked...a boy at the back gripped the sides of his table and screamed, 'I hate History!' A girl at the side of the class stared at me as if she was putting a hex on me; how in the world did she leave her house in the morning with eyeliner on? A boy ran out of one of the classroom doors and re-entered through the other, as if he was an actor rushing to make an entrance from the opposite wing. A girl was putting some green dye in her mouth, probably Art Class leftovers, and spitting foul green liquid at her classmates. A rosette of lurid green sputum bubbled on her desk. She was like Linda Blair in the Exorcist, but ten times worse, because I couldn't wave a crucifix at her and make her hair evaporate.

But: as I was novelty, the one they could gleefully blindfold and turn around like the guy in blind man's buff, there was something else, almost melancholic, in the background. Some of these classes have had up to four relief teachers in the space of half a year. Every new relief teacher was an opportunity to start again, to revise the rules; but it also meant abandonment. This was what was unspoken in class--why were they fostered out to so many of us, was it a) frustration b) hopelessness c) surrender or d) all of the above that ushered the hasty exits of all their former teachers?

Over the next few days, I realised how humbling teaching can be. For someone used to attention, indifference can be bewildering. I learnt to pace up and down the aisles, standing in the crossfire of rubber bands, eavesdropping on conspiracies of after-school plans, trespassing through barbed wire enmities, lingering over baroque mind-maps, scraps of notes, learning that a boy had cried because a classmate had written the words 'I LOVE' over the name of Mr Jeremy Wee, his English teacher on his journal cover. It is an illusion to think that the classroom is a homogenous neighbourhood. There are overlapping ghettoes.

This morning, a girl in one of the classes got sick and vomited on the floor. She went to the toilet, and I was frankly at a loss as to what to do with the mess under her table. If this was back in RI, I could imagine the class too being paralysed, by both helplessness and embarrassment. Someone might then suggest that we call the school janitor. But in that class, a boy walked up to me, a tall, gangly boy who I once scolded for not bringing his spectacles to school. He said, 'Cher, I go toilet ah.'I asked him what for.

'I go and take the mop.'

'Do you know where it is?' I asked. He nodded. The boy promptly came back, with a mop and bucket, and cleaned up the mess while I resumed teaching. He did everything with stoic professionalism, although I caught him taking a deep breath, hands on his hips, surveying the mess as he brought himself up to the task. He was probably used to doing housework.

This all happened in a sec one class. And at that point I believed that the boy's initiative, that hands-on spontaneity, was a mark of intelligence. I wished I could have rewarded him in some way for that act. Actually I believe that all the students I teach are intelligent, although perhaps they respond better to visual than auditory input. I have to constantly strain my throat to get them to quieten down, but I realised that when I draw on the whiteboard they are rapt, respectful. And thus I would sketch the faces of Brahmins and Shudras, the four Ministers of the Melakan Sultanate, the Shang dynasty Emperor. I would draw four-clawed dragons, cavemen, even the faces of some of the students, who would blush at the attention. I have had so many requests for drawings: Stamford Raffles, a character called Lady Xin, exhumed from her tomb, from their textbook, and even a hamster. I have complied with all. After lessons, I allow the class to take pictures of the whiteboard, even though I know some teachers impose detention on anybody caught with a handphone in class.

While conducting a mock-election in class, to familiarise them with the meaning of democracy, I picked two students out and asked them to make a campaign promise to the class. In one class, one student offered to have a computer in class, another offered air-conditioning. It did strike me how these were freely available in other schools. In another class, one of the students offered the class money, the other offered 'food every day'. The majority of that class chose 'food every day'.

There's something to learn from that response. The students are hungry. In more ways than one.

My last day will be this coming Thursday. And then the school will start to have exams; they have more than enough teachers to invigilate. I might be called back after the exams, but everything's still up in the air. It's going to be less than two weeks that I would have spent at East View Secondary, but I have a strong feeling that I will miss the students, the cries of 'hello, cher!' when I walk past the canteen, the cheering when I give them toilet breaks, and that one time, when passing by a whole row of students, the voice that reached me: 'Mr Alfian, we kena detention, come and save us!'

Certainly gave me something to think about. So are you guys hungry?