Buried Deep

Dear Friend,

I am writing this during my Principle’s retirement ceremony.

I do not know where to begin to tell you about my week. Things have been crazy busy. I only got time for two meals a day. I do not have time to cook. In school I’m pack with 7 to 8 periods a day. By the time I go down to get food, it’s all sold out. So I drink water to make my hunger go away.

I feel like it’s last year away all over again. I feel I’m tired. I’m so tired, it’s right up till neck making it harder for me to breathe. I have so many deadlines to meet, so many things to organize, so many parents to call and tell them about their children.

Every morning I’m in school to train for Red House. I’ll come back and then prepare last minute lessons and head back to school. I should consider just staying in school this whole week. It seems like I’m there more than I am at home.

This whole week itself was not just stressful in terms of timing but my students were giving me hard time too. This week was the beginning of the changes of classrooms. Students are placed in different classes. So I have almost 80% new students. My heart aches. I miss my old students. It’s going to get a while till I’m used to this new bunch. 

I also had to give one to one talk to a few students who misbehaved in my class. It was difficult.I have to be accountable to the things I said and I also have to validate them at the same time and hold them accountable. It’s hard because I am also in the process of growing. And I have to help them grow too. 

This week has been the toughest so far. The fact that I survived is surely a testament of the greatness of the divine. 

Do you ever feel like a plastic bag, drifting through the wind, wanting to start again?
Do you ever feel, feel so paper thin, like again house of cards one blow from caving in?
Do you ever feel already buried deep,  six feet underscreams but no one seems to hear a thing? 

Tomorrow maybe I’ll get back my life on track. I mean it’s the weekend! 🙂

The thing about Vulnerability

Dear Friend,

I am not a big fan of Lady Gaga. But I just watched her peformance for Superbowl and I was mindblown. I have never seen anyone dance, sing and entertain flawlessly. That brought me to her song “Milion Reasons.” If you haven’t listened to it, you should. It’s different. It’s deep. It’s beautiful. Because she decided to be vulnerable.

Speaking of vulnerability, today I made my students present their work in front. I knew they would be scared, but I didn’t expect them to be that scared. They were terrified that they kept pushing everyone in their group to present. They kept bugging each other and I could feel my veins tighten. I took a deep breath and told them “It’s okay. Go and sit back in your places..” I lectured them about teamwork and that regardless of their product everyone should be accountable for it and that includes presenting.

At that moment I realize I fail to understand that this is their first time ever presenting in front. They’re only 13 years old. I can’t remember when I first presented. But I know everytime before I present I’d be shitting bricks. Yeah. even now. Although technically I kinda present everyday. Poor children. I wished I was a little bit more kind today.

I mean, I will be 27 this year. I realize the older I get, the harder is it to put myself in my student’s shoes. And for me to put myself in their shoes requires me to vulnerable. Allowing myself to be vulnerable is not easy. It demands me to break down my walls and dig deep into my fears, convincing myself that I have overcome it. When you’re dealing with children and teenagers, they need to feel safe with you. They need to know you understand. Once you’ve won them, they will bloom like little dasies.

Nevertheless, I have 10 more months to journey with them. I hope to pave a safe path, that they may someday develop skills and confident in speaking in a crowd. I hope they too will learn to be vulnerable. Because the thing about vulnerability, it is a gift. It takes courage to open this gift and skills to stay with it and once you have mastered it, you too can bloom where you’re planted.

Every heartbreak makes it hard to keep the faith
But baby, I just need one good one
Good one, good one, good one, good one, good one

When I bow down to pray
I try to make the worse seem better
Lord, show me the way
To cut through all his worn out leather
I’ve got a hundred million reasons to walk away
But baby, I just need one good one, good one
Tell me that you’ll be the good one, good one
Baby, I just need one good one to stay…

Sad I ams

Dear Friend,

It is still raining. It didn’t stop. I wonder what is troubling the sky..or could it read the sadness on our face that it decided to feel with us too?

Anyway, I made a student cry and another student sad today. If you’re in form 1, you would know the poem ‘Sad I ams.’ The poem is all about sadness. Duh!

So I asked my class, have you been sad? They all replied “Yes.” One particular student replied, “Yes!! Everyday!” Her answer caught my attention. I thought maybe she dislike coming to school. So I probed further. “Why are you sad, everyday?” She replied, “Because of my mother. She doesn’t take care of me.”

There was an akward moment of silent in the whole class. My head warned me “Juan, that is a teritory you’re not capable to enter yet. Back off!” So I did. Usually I’m a rebel. I do everything my head tells me not to do.  This time, I knew it was not the right time.

So I said, “We all face all kinds of sadness. Some of us are sad because our parents don’t care about us. Some of us are sad because our friends always pick on us… but the question is, how do deal with sadness?”

I went on talking about the author of SAD I AMS who channeled his sadness through this poem and used his students as his inspirations.

I showed a video of the poem. As they were watching, I read the poem out loud. When I was done, two students had tears in their eyes. 

That’s when I realized how much I missed poetry. I missed writing poems. I miss listening to people reciting a poem. It’s breathtaking.

Teaching poetry though is not easy but it seems exciting.  My next task is asking them to draw what the poet is saying. 🙂

These are the days where my heart is full. Because I wasn’t teaching knowledge. I allowed my students to explore emotions. When you don’t explore and hold your emotions, you have a tendency to become numb.

Okay! Next Class! 

On rainy days

Dear Friend,

I wanted to tell you that I love the rain. I still do but today, the rain was angry. Probably we didn’t give it much credit, so it said, “naahhh,  maybe now you will appreciate me..” and it poured non-stop from morning till now.

So the first blow for today is, I realized I left both my umbrellas in my car. I hoped the rain would stop by the time I left for school, but nope, it got heavier and heavier. That’s when I realized my room was leaking from the window. Second blow of the day.  I didn’t know if I wanted to laugh or cry, because I already have so much going on on my plate, what’s one more, right?

I snapped a few pics and sent an SOS text to my landlord, hoping the problem can be rectified soon because I need to sleep on a dry bed. 😦

I packed my school bags and opened my front door and saw a stream of water. I already felt drizzles. Just for your information, I am staying at a 12th floor apartment. I took tiny steps hoping not to splash anything on my baju kurung. I Thank God my laptop bag was water proof. Only during these times you appreciate the little things in life.

When I reached the ground floor, my car was parked about 80m away. The rain was heavy. I took a deep breath and while carrying 3 bags with me, I ran in my Baju kurung fiercely. I pictured myself running through life fighting every hurdle. Yes I am dramatic like that.

 I stopped near the management office, realizing this wasn’t the best idea also for a break before I run through the next chapter. Then I ran again. I opened my car door, chucked my bags. My hair was dripping,  my shoes were disgusting to walk in.. and here’s the best part, my car key was missing. 

Lord, what is this? I asked. Some kinda joke? Well it ain’t funny. I talked to myself, frustratingly.

I ransacked my purse, and I was thinking there’s a chance I need this go back up to get it. Well at least my umbrellas are with me, I thought to myself. And I finally I found my keys, stuck in one of the zip. I started my car, and embarked on a journey to safe Malaysia through my classes. :p With all these feminist rally going around, let’s infiltrate the system from within.

My streak of bad luck wasn’t over. I reached my school and for some reason it was so crowded. I went up to my usual parking spot and it was gone. 😦 I drove back down the hill and parked, that means I have to walk back the hill with three backs and an umbrella in the rain.

On my way I saw students all wet. But they were happy. I wondered how come I’m so bitter?  Oh yeah,  because I have to face a total 100 kids today. Being dry helps.

Takeaway: Thank God it’s just rain and not cow dunk. I don’t want to be wet and also stink at the same time.

I have another story to tell you. But I have to stop here, I have to mark books. 

Talk to you later. :*

5 things I learned about being a teacher

Dear Friend,

I want to tell you  so many things but I can’t. Some things are not meant to be said out loud. But it has been 3 weeks since school started, so I’ll take this as my checkpoint to see how am I progressing as a teacher. So here are 5 things that changed, once I became a teacher

  1. I became more organized. This year, files are my best friends. I have 3 files. One file is solely for my class teacher role where I keep attendance, MCs etc. The other file is for more personal documents AND meetings that I have attended and lastly are the files for the classes that I am teaching where I put in my handouts and trackers for each student. Just incase you were wondering, I am probably one of the last person to be organized. Organization cringes my heart. I work best under pressure, under mess. But last yeartaught me, that sometimes being organized helps me stay sane.
  2. I crack more lame jokes. I consider myself as somewhat funny. Sometimes people laugh at the things I say and do and I don’t even know what is so funny. I came to understand that most of the time they’re laughing at me. I take it as a gift, because hey, can you make people laugh by just being you? 😛 But yes, becoming a teacher made it easier to make a fool of myself. I’ll make weird expressions and change my voice to get their attention. When they laugh, I feel like I’ve accomplished something. If they don’t, I feel like I have just made a fool out of myself. But now, I’m totally fine with acting goofy even if no one finds it funny. I’m so fine with embarrassing myself. A huge boost for my self-esteem
  3. Speaking of self-esteem, I think even since I became a teacher, I grew tremendousnly in that area. I have kids calling me all sorts of name. I have kids talking behind my back all the time. I have kids commenting on my colour, body shape, height and the fact that I am Indian and I cannot speak proper tamil. I learned to not take it personally and do more self care. Believe it or not, every morning after my prayers I pat myself by saying, “Juan, I am so proud you. You’ve come so far. You’re amazing in what you do. You’re strong. You’re so worthy and I love you.” Try that every morning and see how you grow in ways you never taught you would.
  4. I learned how to say NO. See, I am the type that can’t say NO. Even now, I can’t say NO. But you wanna know who taught me how to say NO? My kidss!! “Teacher, I want to go fill my bottle.” ……”NO! That should be done during recess”….. “Teacher, I want to be in the same group with C” ……”NO! There is a reason why I placed you in this group, so that you can come out of your comfort zone..” ….. “Teacher, can I get more chocolates…” ……. “NO! These are only for students who answer my question. Answer my questions the next time, I’ll give you one..” Sometimes saying NO shows tough love, it shows that there limits and boundaries and that as a teacher, you are still in charge.
  5. I learn to validate more. Students hunger for validation. Students yearn for someone to say, “I am proud of you..”  I did not use to be the girl who validated often. It’s very hard to get a compliment from me because I had too much pride in me. But becoming a teacher taught me that it’s not about me. It’s about what’s best for them. It’s not about results, its about the effort they put in. Nowadays, you hear me say, “Good job” to my students all the time. I even taught them a chant where we all say to each other, “We are proud of you!!”

I want to write more but I’ll save it for the end of the year.

Have a great weekend!!

Music and Art Therapy in Class

Dear Friend,

I don’t usually blog at this hour. But I am so inspired that I have to share it with someone. Would you care to listen? 

So today I assigned my students to create posters in pair. I assigned them with a student of another race and they have to come up with a New Year Poster. It can be Awal Muharam, Chinese New Year, Indian New Year or the normal New Year.

This morning, I had the inspiration to play music while they are doing their work. I decided to use music to see their behaviour also hoping they would draw some inspiration. 

To my surprise, they were quiet as they did their work (although it was group). They were so calm that I can hear what the teacher from the other class is teaching. 

The music I chose is Disney Piano Classical Music.

Here take a look..

Cheers to music for helping me today.  🙂

Remember, merentas desa?

Dear friend,

Remember merentas desa? Well, I remember. I used to be super competitive because I wanted Red House to win. Strangely 14 years later, I’m exactly where I begun. 

So if you don’t know me that well, I like running.  Running teaches me a lot about life, especially when I feel like giving up. Every step whispers “A little bit more, Juan… you’ve come so far.”

So like last year, I decided to run again with my students for today’s cross country. At the starting point, one of my Chinese remove student  from last year, who is form 1 this year told me, “Teacher, I am going to run with you..”

I told her, “Don’t you want to run with your friends?”

She said, “No, I’ll follow you..”

I replied, “Alright, but don’t wait for me. Just run. Stop, if you’re tired. I will do the same..”

So we started running and running. Whenever I ran, she ran too. And I said, “Let’s run till the van.. ” … Whenever we stopped, I said, “We will walk till that tree, and we will run again..”

Halfway through, another Form 3 Malay student whom I have never taught, decided to follow us too. So the three of us ran through checkpoints, up the hill, down the hill..and towards the end, about 200 meters left, both my students left me and ran till the finish line near the field. I couldn’t keep up. They were fast.

So I made my way to the field and searched for them. They came running to me. One of them got number 24 and the other got number 17. 🙂 
Last year none of them received any number. This year though it was different.

What made the difference? No its not me. It’s them. They decided to leave their friends and join me. Sometimes, when you decide to not follow the crowd and be different, miracles happen.

Top 20 received medals. I couldn’t have been more proud of this girl here, who I journey with last year, who scolded because I might not teach after this year, who’s unique and amazing in every single way…

I was too excited, I didn’t realize my lenses were blocked.

But that is the second biggest take way for today. 

The biggest takeaway for today is that this girl, my Peralihan Chinese student decided to treat the Form 3 Malay student a drink after the run.

When I saw that, I was touched. I was touched because after a long time I see my Chinese student who never hung out with anyone other than her race buy a drink for someone of another race. :’)

Today are one of those days where  I felt like maybe.. just maybe.. I’m made to do this teacher thingy…

Cheers to sports, for bringing us all together. #1malaysia

“Oi Pondann!!”

Dear Friend,

Is okay if I called you friend? It’s a little weird to not address my post to anyone. It’s like I’m talking to the wall or something. Anyway, I am in the midst of reading Anne Frank’s Diary and I feel guilty. She wrote her innermost thoughts in a diary, and I feel I am violating her private space. Yes, it may be a testament, but hey, I would burn all my diaries before I gave you the permission to read it. The words she wrote are hers. It’s sacred. It’s her sacred space. What if she wasn’t okay with sharing it with the whole world? Oh well, it’s a little too late now, cause my heart and soul left me. You can find it in the pages of Anne Frank’s diary.

Back to being a teacher, I would describe today as quite “shaky”. Emotionally, I am not doing too well. So I gathered the little courage I had, to enter in the first class. For some reason though, when I see my form 1 kid’s faces, all ready to study with their English books on their table, I suddenly had an outpouring of the Holy Spirit (It’s a Christian thing), and I taught rather well. In fact, slightly better than the days where I am well. Sometimes, your best teaching days, are when you didn’t plan that much.

Last two periods though, I had an English class with the weakest class in Form 1. I struggle with this class as I have to go really slow. They could barely understand a word I am saying. While I was walking around checking their work and explaining it to each person, I suddenly heard, “Oiii Pondann!” and reply of “Eh Monyet!!” Immediately, I stomped my feet and turned around asked loudly, “Who said that??” The class was pin-drop silent. I asked again, even firm, “Who said that? Stand up now!!” Two boys stood up.

I said outloud, “My third rule for you is ‘Always be kind!’

Of course, they still didn’t get it. So I allowed myself to speak in Malay. I use Malay to nag at them. I need to be sure that they get what I am saying. I lectured saying, “It is not okay for you to call names in my class. I will not tolerate this behaviour. I will write your names on the board. If I see you misbehave one more time, you will have to bear the consequence!” – (If you wonder how I translated all that in Malay.. well my Malay is somewhat better than my English. I spend a whole year teaching four Sejarah classes per week)

After that, the class was silent, but my thoughts weren’t. My conscience shouted out loud, alarming me, of the damage I have caused.

See what I should have done, is called the two boys apart and spoke to them privately. The fact that I called them out in front of everyone can be embarrassing to them. It is damaging to their self-esteem and might increase their “shyness” level. Just for your information, being shy is a social disorder. Introvert-ness and shy are too different things. And yes, I can be very shy in certain situation.

I should have asked them, “Hey can you help me understand what happened?”  I will continue with, “It is not right for you to call anyone names, regardless of who they are and what they did. How will you feel, if I called you with the same names? You will feel hurt and angry. That is the same way, your friend would feel. If you are angry at someone, tell me. I will teach you how to handle your emotions.”

I want to also tell them that this may seem like a small thing, but I have witnessed name calling last year. It hurts the one who is being called. Even sad, the one who is calling it, is also hurting. When you call someone, “gemuk or hitam” or equate them to animal,  you are firstly saying, it is WRONG to be fat or black. Erm, newsflash, I am dark and chubby. I had years to work on my esteem, to be proud of how I look. But what if you do not have the support you need? You will end up being fearful and teach your kids that it is “wrong” to be fat or black.

But the thing with being reflective and asking students to reflect, my kids lack maturity to digest what I’m trying to say. Don’t get me wrong, I am not putting them down. I am being real because I know what works and what wouldn’t. I need to find simpler words. I need most importantly, to lead by example.

Which means, I need to re-order my reflexes. Perhaps, my resolution for this year.

🙂

 

 

 

Letter 1

Sometimes the world seems against you
The journey may leave a scar
But scars can heal and reveal just
Where you are..

The people you love will change you..
The things you have learned will guide you..
And nothing on earth can silence..
The quiet voice still inside you..
And when that voice starts to whisper
You’ve come so far..
Listen..
Do you know who you are?

Dear Juan,

I haven’t written to you in ages. I think we need to have that talk again, where I tell you stuff, and you keep your thoughts to yourself and listen. I know it’s hard because you always have something to say, but hey, remember, silence is powerful. Silence is magical.

You may not know me, but I know you. I watched you grow. I’ve heard and still hearing your lame jokes. I watched you struggle, I was there with you when you did. I watched you voice out your opinion. I watched you embarrassed yourself a million times. I know because I laughed out loud when that happened. I felt your scars and wounds. Infact I help bandaged them. Sometimes I succeed, but most of the time I fail.

I fail because you always stop me. Did you know when you believe in yourself, that is when I am the strongest most? When you believe you’re worthy, I become unstoppable. When you believe you’re enough and important, I take with me my shield and sword for you. When you know you’re beautiful,  I bloom like a morning glory from the depths of your soul.

So can you do me a favour? Can you start believing again? Can you quiet the voices in your head and find the will to listen to the voice within?  Can you don’t hurt me with your words? Can you help me, to help you? Can you love me a little bit more? Only when you love me in all my failures and success, you can learn to love others completely.  Can you be kind to me? Your unkind words are piecing and they hinder me from holding all of your pieces. I might have mispalced a few and I am sorry about that.

I want you to know, that I love you. You have come so far and you will go further. You’re amazing. You’re beautiful. You’re important. You’re enough. I am proud of you. You also have 200+ kids relying on you for love, for care, for validation, for someone to hold them when the whole world is against them. 🙂

They call you..

Love,

The other Juan, the voice within

Who am I?
I am a girl who loves my island
I’m the girl who loves the sea
It calls me
I am the daughter of the village chief
We are descended from voyagers
Who found their way across the world
They call me..

I’ve delivered us to where we are
I have journeyed farther
I am everything I’ve learned and more
Still it calls me..
And the call isn’t out there at all, it’s inside me
It’s like the tide; always falling and rising
I will carry you here in my heart, you’ll remind me
That come what may…
I know the way

Weekend

Missed me?

Its the weekend. Yes, welcome to Johore, where Friday and Saturday are our weekends and we work on Sunday. (Don’t worry, 12 months and I’m still not use to it). I am in the midst of doing my weekly lesson plan, but I thought of clearning my some space in my brain by telling you something that happened this week….

See I am the class teacher of the weakest class in form 2. Now unlike every other class, this particular class is special. Almost 95% of them are the ones I taught last year. 70% of them, I taught for 8 periods a week. (1 period is 30 mins. That means, a total 240 mins per week). Because they know me so well, the “first impression” doesn’t work on them. That means every time I have class with them, I will start perspiring, I will have an increase of heart-rate and I will have to ensure I am emotionally and mentally stable to face them. Now they’re not monsters. They’re sweethearts. But they are all 14 year olds, trying to find a place in this world. They’re confused. They’re struggliing. They are also  loud. LOUD. VERY VERY LOUD.

It was two days ago, where we had our ko-kurikulum registration. I would love to tell you a miracle happened and everyone was obediently seated and listened to me. Nope. It was chaotic. It was a nightmare.

I had their name list prepared. I gave clear instructions. I wrote all the sports and clubs for them choose. In the beggining, it was smooth sailing. Halfway through the storm started. I had at least 8 students crowding around me. Two of them were playing football with a bottle. A group of students at the back almost got into a fight. At the same time I heard about 10 times…

“Cikgu!… Cikgu, saya nak masuk kelab komputer…” ….”Cikguuuu!! Saya nak sama dengan dia!”….. “Cikgu saya nak pergi tandas!!!!” …..”Cikgu,…. baju cikgu tak betul!!!”

I stood up and I wanted to scream at the top of my voice. But nothing came out. I had lost my voice. I ransacked my bag for my bottle. I had a little water left, about 50ml. Finished it and still I couldn’t find my voice. With a cracked voice, and teary eyes (because I was choking out of air), I said, “Saya kira sehingga 10, duduk tempat awak!”… Take note, counting always worked. The scrambled to their seats and I continued, “If I see anyone off their seat, I will find you and I will follow you back to your house today!”…Good thing about being a class teacher, you have their address and their parent’s number.

The class was quiet for about 5 mins. Well that was the longest.

Once I was done, I dismissed them. I sat down. I was exhausted. I was helpless. I said a silent pray,

“Lord, how am I to take care of them for the next 12 months, when I myself am in a mess..”

That was probably the worst day of the week. But hey, don’t worry, we have 50 more weeks to compare it with.

Why did I choose to tell you that? Because I am struggling. I want to record these struggles. It’s how I can grow with my struggles.

Anyway, here are my to-do task for the next two days:

  1. Complete Weekly Lesson Plan
  2. Complete Content for my Lesson Plans
  3. Complete my offer letter and contracts for my kids
  4. Design seating arrangement for my class
  5. Visit HARRIS for Sejarah reference book and more files
  6. Clean my room and the house
  7. Cook for the week
  8. Iron for the week
  9. Spend time with housemates
  10. Visit my happy place
  11. Pray

Have a great weekend!