Sunday, February 21, 2010

Back to school


A new teacher learns from her students.

RETURNING to school after 25 years has been quite the adventure. Only this time, I am here as a teacher, not student.

After spending almost two decades working in the media business, I made the (some say mad) leap into teaching English to upper secondary students this year.

Luckily for me, my current principal was gracious enough to grant me this opportunity to walk in the footsteps of my late parents, both of whom had taught all their lives.

My first month was tumultuous to say the least. I was always on top of things in my previous job, but in my new position, I felt horribly lost, confused and even a bit regretful at having left my comfort zone.

Here at school, I face a swarm of teenagers who are usually simultaneously apathetic and arrogant every day. I wake up at the break of dawn and am on my feet till 5pm at least. Adding to my agitation is the fact that I have to handwrite my lesson plans!

At first, this was frightful to me as I have not handwritten anything since ... well, since I left school! Yet now, a month later (yes, you can pat me on the back for having survived January), I am starting to enjoy getting acquainted with my pen again. All those memories of learning how to write in cursive, way back in Standard Three, have come rushing back.

In fact, each time I walk along the corridors of the next-door primary school, something tugs so hard at my heartstrings that my eyes well up with tears. It’s like a gloriously nostalgic trip down memory lane, and I quietly soak up all the good vibes.

The highlight of my month, however, has to be – without a doubt – the annual Sports Day that took place recently. Yes, Sports Day came early this year because of logistical reasons I will not delve into here. The important thing is, I’ve not felt this way in a long time.

It began with the run-up to the day. Being one of the cheerleading teachers for Green House meant I had to stay back in school on Fridays to supervise (for safety reasons more than anything else). Although annoyed at first, I soon grew quite fond of watching the team in action, led by team captain Wan Nee.

The cheerleaders, I must say, have to be one of the most independent groups in school. From the get-go, they knew what they wanted to do and how they were going to do it. And they had a single-mindedness that would make Glee’s Sue Sylvester proud.

When the big day arrived, the kids on my team gave it all they had but, sadly, they didn’t earn a place on the podium. What was inspirational for me, however, was the way in which the team handled its defeat.

In fact, all the teams were so supportive, clapping, cheering, commiserating and congratulating one another in a spirit of togetherness that I have not seen in a long while. These kids really were all one big happy family – yes, there were tears when they lost, but only for a minute or two. And then it was time to cheer on their classmates.

While some felt hard-done-by by the judges (me included!), not once did I hear these children grumble or complain inappropriately. In fact, I had to take my cue from them and accept the fact that the judges’ decision was final. That was a humbling experience!

Sports Day also made me fonder of my students. Each time I saw one of them participating in an event – the long jump, march past, 4x100m relay – my heart felt it was about to burst. And I know I say this at the risk of being ridiculed by all and sundry. But I say it sincerely.

You just have to hand it to guys like Lawrence and Bryan who were able to flex their muscles in the tug-of-war one minute and then, in the next, cheer and chant like there’s no tomorrow on the cheerleading squad.

And what about Jordan, who is never easy to handle in class but who shone like a rough diamond when he took part in the track and field events? Sports Day made me see these kids in a whole new light.

I was in awe at all the hard work that went into the organisation of the events: Blue House won for House Decor with its clever take on the 3D movie Avatar, calling itself “a new race of champions”, and Yellow House were the overall Champions, having led the points table from the time Standard Tests were held a week in advance.

And Red House’s march past theme, Matador, was a stroke of genius!

While the Red House team was in training, I would cringe each time the kids were verbally whipped into action by their coach, Miss L; it brought back my own memories of taking part in march past parades and being terrified of my “commander”.

On Sports Day, however, when the Red House team took the gold, these same children who had what seemed like the fear of God in them while training, were all over Miss L, bear-hugging and almost knocking her over because they were so elated.

Sports Day really brought home to me what it means to be back at school again.

Sure, life is not going to be a bed of roses here. After all, these children have tantrums every now and then (more now than then, it seems!), and they may not always want to sit in their seats and pay attention when you want them to. But once you accept that you aren’t always going to be on the same page with them, you start to notice that underneath all those raging hormones, these kids are pretty great to be amongst.

They are accepting of each other’s flaws; they are bright-eyed and brainy; they are determined and creative. They are full of hope and dreams. Out there in the “real world”, the order of the day usually comprises a whole lot of backstabbing, gossiping and a**-kissing. Here in school, things look mighty different.

For this 42-year-old jaded ex-journalist, a whole new world is unfolding in so many exciting ways. And I intend to savour every bit of it.

Ann Marie Chandy was a journalist for 19 years before recently making a life-changing decision to switch careers. She now teaches English at Sri KDU Secondary School in Kota Damansara, Selangor.

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