Sunday, 1 September 2019

Peralihan & Me

Peralihan/Remove class: A one-year transitional class for students who failed their Bahasa Melayu and/or English subject in Primary 6. The purpose of this transitional year class is to help students prepare and catch up with their studies before they proceed to form 1.


Last few days of December 2018..

A message I have been anticipating flashed on the screen of my phone:

"Cikgu2 sekalian...tolong mengambil jadual waktu Januari 2019 ya"
(Teachers, please take your timetable for January 2019"


That was the sound of my heart falling, hitting rock bottom, followed by the swarm of butterflies at the pit of my stomach, fluttering exasperatedly without a sense of direction.

It took me a while to register what was going on.
My schedule for January 2019

I was...gobsmacked. Stupefied. Speechless. Confused. Overwhelmed. Lost. Speechless - Basically caught in a whirlwind of emotions. I wasn't sure whether I wanted to scream, or cry, or laugh, because laughing has always been my coping mechanism when I don't know what to feel. There was this lump in my throat, deterring me from expressing my thoughts.
I name this artwork of mine: "Jia Qi's train of thoughts". Produced using Paint.

After an hour or two, it started to sink in - I will be teaching two peralihan classes, and my schedule will be jam-packed. Like, sardine-in-a-can packed. (Note that Rehat 1 is non-existent and does not apply to me). On top of that, I will be a class teacher too. But what really intimidated me was the thought of teaching peralihan - not just one peralihan class, but two. TWOOOO (2).

I have this negative bias of teaching peralihan, as I've heard plenty of horror stories and I was told that they are one of the toughest class to teach. So I reached out to senior teachers, seeking advice from them. Most of them tell me to just lower my expectations. Here are some of the notable advice I've received:
"Whatever expectations you have...lower them further"
"Try asking them to spell one to ten....don't be surprise if they can't do it!"
Really, it daunted me. I micro-planned my lessons. I went through my "first day of school" routine/rule setting in my head over and over again. I wanted to make sure I was ready. But really, nothing could have prepared me for the first week....

First Day of School

Let's just say I had a major culture shock. I mean, nothing bad happened. Students were cooperative. Micro-planning helped. But tears were already welling up in my eyes as we walked towards our car at the end of the day, and I couldn't wait till we got home where I will be away from the curious eyes of kids to bawl my heart out.

(Wrote about it here.)

Really, it was a huge culture shock, the shift from the morning to the afternoon session. And oh yes, teaching peralihan is a different ball game altogether.

First Week of School

There's this nice novelty of being a new teacher (in the noon session, for my case.) - you can start afresh and build whatever teacher persona you want to. Students are more well-behaved and cautious because they are not sure what you boundaries are.

But that wasn't the case for my peralihan classes.
By the end of week 1, this happened.

Towards the end of week 1, they've already started to show their true colours. I remember vividly, how the class monitor of one of my peralihan class was running towards me, struggling to catch her breath, as she had to inform me that two boys started a fist-fight straight after I left the class. (Which anyway, started because of some misunderstanding, stemmed from language barrier).

I realize that some of them really can't read and write English and/or Malay. Like, absolutely can't.
one of my status as of 8 January 2019

And anyway, I had a blog entry about my first week of school.

Oh, I was definitely "demoralised". And I felt the weight and burden of teaching the peralihan, stemmed from my hopes to try to ease them into secondary school, as well as the feeling that I might not be able to cope teaching the peralihan.

The Transition

I realized that lessons have to be meticulously planned. They needed structure. The needed familiarity. They needed to be reminded that they are no longer in primary school.

I had to get them to be familiar with the books they have...meaning of "short" and "long" by including these slides...

Coming from a Chinese primary school myself, I realized that some of them, they were lost. Everything was done in mandarin in a Chinese-medium primary school - announcements, signboards, classes. And all of a sudden, they were shipped off to a national school, where it is much more diverse and everyone communicate in a different language.

I remember the fear I had while transitioning from a Chinese primary school into a national secondary school. Of course growing up in Subang, where everyone speaks English, it wasn't too big of a transition or shock to me. Despite so, I still had a hard time adjusting to learning Maths and Science in English. It took me quite some time to grasp these subjects, especially when calculating fractions as the way you read a fraction in mandarin is inverted as compared to English. (1/3 is one-third/one per three in English, but read as three per one in mandarin, if you know what I mean)

And it really hit me - how would my peralihan kids feel, when they already have a weak grasp in English and BM language proficiency? How are they coping? I was lost despite being fairly proficient in English and Malay. I imagined myself suddenly being shipped to study in a German National School, without having much prior knowledge in the German language - perhaps that is how they feel.

Perhaps this was why my school assigned me these two peralihan classes. Perhaps they figured that I could relate better to them, to be able to offer more guidance and support to them.

It made sense. And hence, I duly accepted my responsibility to ease their transition. I took it on as my personal mission. I would take some time to explain and translate any important announcements into mandarin, because they really couldn't understand the bulk of it. I even had to translate their timetable for them, because most of them don't know what is "Pendidikan Jasmani" or "Pendidikan Seni". Sometimes during my class, a discipline teacher would scold them in BM and after the scoldings, they would ask me why was that particular teacher angry because they didn't understand a thing....

So yes, for a while, I was motivated. Full of positive energy and spirit to take on the peralihans.

First Month of School

Of course, this is not a fairy tale where you get into a rut, something magical happen, and boom! You live happily ever after. No dear, real life doesn't work that way.

Towards to end of the first month, I went absolutely nuts. (A small snippet on how I was going nuts here.)
A very random photo feat. my house mates and cheesy fries. Thank you guys for keeping me sane. I broke down and cried when my housemates came home that night, and I dragged them out for cheesy fries. Because...well...I needed cheesy fries.

I was struggling in school. It was too much for me to cope. The stress of teaching two peralihan classes was definitely one of the reason why, but there were more to it which I will elaborate in another post perhaps.

It was hard to plan lessons for peralihan. A new syllabus for the peralihan was introduced, yet the new textbook is not available yet. I am still using the old textbook which is...rather outdated. In other words, there isn't much materials and reference point for lesson planning.
The old textbook was published in the some of the content is kinda irrelevant learning about diskets. The kids will probably think it is a "physical save button"

Also, my students proficiency in English was weak. I wasn't sure what to do at first, because everything I tried to teach seemed too high level. On top of that, classes were almost always chaotic. Topsy-turvy. Upside down. Boom. Kapow. Bam.

I cried every single day. I went to the teachers that were in charge of arranging the teacher's timetable and pleaded her to reduce the number of periods I have to teach. Well actually, I specifically asked for one of my peralihan class to be taken away. I cited having to go through practicum as one of my reason.


Long story short, the school took away one of the peralihan class from me, and reduced the number of teaching period I have for my sole peralihan class.


Moving into February...March...April

And ever since then, she lived her life, happily ever after! The End.

And again, life is not a fairy tale. You'd think that oh my lovely life will be taking off after that but nooooo. Life doesn't work that way.

Above pictures depict my initial struggle to try to decipher their handwriting..

I had a lot of expectations for my students - expectations for them to learn how to write neatly, to use a pen instead of a pencil, to consistently write down the day and dates, to listen quietly when I teach, and so on. Eventually, these expectations got shot down, one-by-one.

It was disheartening, because I didn't want to lower my expectations. I know if I persisted and kept pushing them, they can meet my expectations. Holding on to these expectations however, was disheartening. I tried different methods - from being the strict teacher, I shouted and screamed, I introduced a reward system, I tried making classes more fun and interactive....etc. etc. It wasn't really working the way I'd expect. And hence, for the sake of my sanity and personal well-being, I had to let some of it go slowly.

I felt as though my class was going out of control - kids were chattering uncontrollably when I taught. Once, when my LDO observed my class, she had to reprimand a few students for being too noisy, disrupting her observations.
Students...kamehameha-ing each other while I was teaching

Eventually, I got dispirited. Going to my peralihan classes felt like a huge chore. Some of my peralihan students definitely noticed the dampening of my spirit. One of them even asked, “老师,心累啊?”. (Teacher, is your heart tired?) 

(Sorry, that was a direct translation. I can't find a suitable word/phrase for 心累. It directly translates to "tired heart" but it means more than that. Disheartened is the closest I think but there's still more than that, that I can't seem to express in English)

There were so many complaints from teachers towards the peralihan classes, up to the point there was a special PLC meeting for teachers that teaches peralihan. I could write a 400 pages novel about my peralihan class but let me keep it brief. Here are some of the notable moments I had with my peralihan this year that dispirited me:

- a couple of them brought gold fish to class (real gold fish). (God knows why. Up till today I still don't know the reason...)
- a kid threw a huge tantrum in class, refusing to talk or even respond to me because I gave him "too much work" (no one else definitely wasn't too much work...)
- students threw chairs at each other in class
- I found *very detailed* drawings of male's and female's private part..
- a lovely student fiddled around a red marker pen and the ink spilled all over him. He laughed hysterically and shouted that he was bleeding, WHEN I WAS TEACHING.

One incident that particularly affected me was when I had to relief the peralihan class that I no longer taught. One of them shouted that the way I dress was sexy and he wanted to do *censored,rather explicit stuff* with me.

Anyway, I don't really feel like writing down how I felt because it still feels extremely uncomfortable talking about it up till today. Anyway, problem was resolved. One of the discipline teacher assured me that they would try not to give me relief for that class...

Present Time?

These all happened rather gradually -  but eventually, I realized that my shouting and scolding didn't work. And it was taking a toll on me. They are not the type that would be intimidated by teachers. (There are a few male teachers they are afraid of, but for some reasons most female teachers could not get them to quiet down). I tried switching off the fan to get them to quiet down, but it wasn't too effective too.

Gradually, I learnt to...take things a little more lightly. I accepted the fact that they are just talkative, and I had to let go of my expectations for them to be quiet when I teach.

I accepted the fact that there will be that few students that really just can't be bothered to do anything in class. I learnt to not take on the blame when it happens. I'll still try my best to get them to learn, but I (tried to) not take on the blame.

And it made me feel much better, really.

I got closer to a couple of them through MyReaders, an English literacy program. It was funny how this all started. Back in February, two girls from my peralihan class that was taken from me came to me and told me they missed me teaching them because apparently the head of discipline teacher took over my class...long story short, I started MyReaders program for those two girls. We met twice a week, during extra-curricular activity time, and Monday before school.

The two girls asked their friend to join, and a 2019 collab in my school, Salwani, joined force with me, one thing led to another, we started recruiting and trained mentors and got more students to join onboard...and now, we have 12 pairs mentor-mentee. A few of my noisy boys from peralihan too, joined, initially because (I suspect) one of their crush is in the program. But they've been attending really consistently so. Yeah. *gives myself a pat on the shoulders* 

It's been about 5 months, and we've been consistently meeting for 1.5 hours per week out of class for MyReaders. Hence, I somehow got closer to these peralihan students. They got comfortable telling me their daily shenanigans. A little too comfortable. So comfortable, they'd be the ones talking the loudest in class.

But I (gradually) noticed that despite so, these boys actually do listen when I teach. They'd participate in my classroom activities and quizzes, despite being loud and boisterous.

So I learnt to...appreciate their "humours", and reprimand when necessary, rather than expecting complete silence.

Once I let go of the expectation for them to be completely quiet, a lot of burden has been lifted from my shoulders and I had the capacity to notice things I've never noticed before:

"老师~~~!!!!" (lao shi~~ // teacher~~~!)
They'd enthusiastically acknowledged my presence when I enter the class. I never receive any treatments like this in my other classes.
Most of my silly Insta Story updates are courtesy of my peralihan..

I also noticed that I tend to smile a little more when in their class. I actually do find some of the nonsense sprouted from their mouths kinda funny, sometimes. Not all the times. Sometimes.

I'd set aside some time during class to talk to some of them too, to get to know them better.

The girls would ask me about menstruation, something which I admire of them because growing up, I could never talk about this to anyone - not even my closest friends. Heck, even talking about this topic to my mother was suffocating. (Perhaps it was just me). I was afraid of everything. I take it as they trusted me enough to talk to me about it :")

The boys? They'd blabber on about their favourite anime, especially after finding out that I can read and write Japanese.
More peralihan shenanigans

This only occur to me last month (August 2019), but I think my peralihan really grew on me.

Rather than "oh dread, I'm going in my peralihan class now," I now feel "I wonder what sort of nonsense my peralihan will tell me today." So rather than a negative bias, I now go in with...a more neutral sort-of feeling. And sometimes, I actually look forward to it. Sometimes. SOMETIMES (emphasizing this a lot).

Life is not a fairy tale. Yes, I still get disheartened from time to time in my peralihan class, like any other classes. Life is an extreme, unpredictable roller coaster. Sometimes it goes up and up and up, and there are days where it just keeps going down. And you can't foresee what will happen. There are days where they make me feel as though I want to pull out my hair. But they are days where they make my heart melt too.

I feel like my class with the peralihan is the noisiest class in the entire school. But hey, I know that more than half of them are learning from me. And there are quite of few of them trust me. And their nonsense can be quite funny. So I'm okay with it. However, sometimes, it gets so noisy that the discipline teacher would come over lol.

So this post ends in a somewhat happy note.

Don't you wish if every story has a happy ending? I do wish so. However, that isn't always the case, although it's nice to have it. Not every difficult class will end up having a sweet story. My peralihan eventually really grew on me, and I am extremely grateful for it. But that's not the case for every difficult class I have.

But like I said, life is a roller coaster. Maybe soon, all my difficult classes, will somehow grow on me. Maybe. Or maybe not. For now, I'll appreciate this moment while it lasts.

A few more months before I officially step down from my role as a teacher. These kids, they may be the bane of my existence sometimes, but I do love them, a lot.

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