Sunday, 17 December 2017

KemSkorlah 2017: Cringy Scrump-tee-ious

Time flies when you're having a good time - this resonates with me so well it is electrifying.

I've just completed my seven weeks Pre-Service-Programme (PSP) with Teach For Malaysia (TFM). As cliché as it sounds, but it seems like it was only yesterday that we started the programme!
Class photo with the students of 4 Coconut and my two colabs, Hisyam and Hazwani

Our training was carried out in two phases - the first phase, Akademi, our theoretical training part, was held at Kuala Lumpur for four weeks. The second phase was our three weeks teacher practicum training, KemSkorlah, carried out at Johor. KemSkorlah was the highlight of my PSP journey as it was where we get our hands dirty, and apply the skills and knowledge we have been equipped during Akademi, on real students. Just a little background info, KemSkorlah is a holiday English camp, and students' participation are entirely optional.

I can still vividly remember the trains of thoughts I had prior to KemSkorlah: -
Are the kids going to love me? 
Will the students think that I am lame?
Can I really teach? 
Are the students being forced to join KemSkorlah? What if they all just want to go home and sleep? It is their holidays after all.
How is the students' English proficiency? Should I lower my expectation?
What is going to be served for lunch in the school canteen?

These questions and self-doubts floated in my head as if it was a song playing on auto-loop. Luckily for me, the students assigned to my class were the sweetest and dedicated bunch - most of them opted to join KemSkorlah even though they were having their school holidays. They have a strong desire to learn, and are willing to wake up early on a school holiday just to attend this English camp. Something which I am not willing do if I am still a student. And oh, lunch at the school canteen was really decent too.
The three teachers of 4 Coconuts

Being a total novice in teaching, I'd say things went on smoothly - attributed to the fact that the students we got were really cooperative (but mischievous at times too, I must add on!).

On the first day of class, I asked a few students for their names. A boy cheekily covered his name tag with both his hands, and was reluctant to share his name (in an impish manner). Infected by the cheekiness, I labelled him as Coconut1, and his other friend as Coconut2, and gave myself the nickname 'BOSS'. And boy, these nicknames became really sticky among the more mischievous boys throughout KemSkorlah. "Teacher! Coconut1 is late!", "Boss, I don't understand this question!"...Boss this boss that...which sometimes makes me feel like someone working in a mamak. Reminder to self to pick a better nickname the next time I enter a school.

Syok Sendiri

Things went smoothly for week one, except for a few hiccups on the first day where we severely went over time. We missed a full one-hour lesson on day one because of time-mismanagement. Thanks to my colabs, we rectified the problem by assigning time keepers, and found our footing after one or two days.

A few students did drop out a few days later - some due to work commitment, and some, well I don't really know the reason why, which raises a few questions and self-doubt. A new set of questions looped in my head:

Am I challenging my students enough?
Are my classes fun enough? Or do they feel bored?
Are the activities in my class interactive enough?
Wait, or is it way too interactive and my students are tired of "active learning"? Should I do more "chalk-and-talk"
Can all the students follow through what I just said? Are they just pretending to understand whatever I just said?
KemSkorlah is only a three weeks program, are they really learning something? Or are they wasting their time?

And the list goes on and on.

Jogging down memory lane, the perception/image I had of a teacher, as a student, was always a perfect one - a teacher should always know what he or she wants to say. Whatever he or she says is absolute, thou shall not challenge that.

If you've read so far, you must be wondering what is the correlation between "scrump-tee-ious" and this post.

Once in class I made a silly mistake, pronouncing "scrumptious" as "scrump-tee-ious"
Writing about this sends goosebumps all over me!
Perfect depiction of how I felt at that moment

Of course, on the very next day, I openly admitted my mistakes to the class, taught them the correct way of pronouncing it, and apologized to the class. My students shouted, "It's okay teacher thank you teacher!" amidst all the cheeky laughter. Well, that wasn't too bad!

After a few days, I was having a conversation with one student in my class and he said, "Cikgu, I have a fear of speaking on the stage. I am afraid what others think about me....I am afraid of making mistakes."

"Do you remember when was the last time teacher said something wrong or made a mistake in class?" I asked

"Yes yes I know it was.....wait let me think for a bit.....tak ingatlah cikgu!"

"So there you have it. You don't remember what mistake was it right?"


"Yes. It does feels like the end of the world when we make mistakes. Our mind will go 'OH NO NOW THEY ARE GOING TO REMEMBER THIS FOR THE REST OF THEIR LIFE AND LAUGH AT ME WHENEVER THEY SEE US' but the actual reality is, people really do not think a lot about us. We think more about our own self."

"One of the biggest and silliest mistake teacher feel like I have done is that time when I pronounced 'scrumptious' as "SCRUMP-TEE-IOUS". I admit, it really felt like the end of the world at that time. But you see, no one really remembers the mistakes you commit for long."

"I understand that this doesn't happen overnight - you won't wake up the next day thinking 'YOU KNOW WHAT I WON'T BE WORRYING WHAT EVERYONE ELSE THINKS ABOUT ME I WILL BE SPEAKING CONFIDENTLY EVERY DAY'. Teacher must admit, even now, I get cold feets when I walk into class, I doubt myself a lot sometimes, worrying if I am a good teacher, whether the students really understand what I just taught...and so on. Teacher just have to constantly remind myself that I am human, and not to be afraid of mistakes - learn from your mistakes, rather than dodging mistakes."

And yes, this is one of those kinds of post with a happy ending because I censored out some other mistakes I made in class but hey focus on learning from mistakes tee-hee. My doubts were cleared during the last few days of KemSkorlah during a diversity lesson, where the summary of the story is as below:

The students were above and beyond sweet. There was one day where I was feeling lethargic, mistakenly called a student "Halim" when in actual fact there isn't even a Halim in class. I openly admitted to my class that I was feeling really tired on that day, and apologize for not being able to deliver a quality lesson. But what happened on that day really was out my expectation. The students were extra cooperative, and one student just took charge controlling the class, signalling and gesturing the students to be quiet when needed. T_T

Of course, I won't expect my two years fellowship to be as smooth sailing. This does not reflect how my two years fellowship journey will go. However, these three weeks of KemSkorlah gave me confidence and a clearer picture of being a teacher. No doubt that I still have a lot of room for improvement to work on. Watching my own teaching videos shed lights on areas of improvement I have that I never ever noticed before, like starting a sentence with "so....." excessively.

Being a teacher is humbling - being a teacher reminded myself that we are all humans - we all make mistakes.  Thinking back about that experience, it was funny how I could give that advice to my student, when I had been suffering from the same self-doubt! With that in mind, I hope this scrump-tee-ious story will serve as a reminder to myself, and also anyone out there, that we are all human :)

Thank you students, for the confidence booster, for teaching me how to be a better teacher, and a better person, and for prepping me to be a teacher.

*Actual conversation may vary as I do not have photographic memory and hey we all make mistakes!

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