Friday, July 29, 2005

Dress [with no] sense

One of the things they will keep hammering into you at Nie is the dress code. All over campus, you will see a sign like this:

[Click on photo to see full size image]

The first time I saw the sign I almost laughed. My general line of thinking is that surely at our age, we would already have an idea of how to dress at school, as a student, and at school, as a teacher.

[This is excepting the diehard rebels who know the rules and who delight in flouting it. But then again, in order to flout the rules, you have to know what they are in the first place. So even for the rebels, you can't claim that you have to keep reminding them, because they already know of the rules.]

So why all the incessant brainwashing about "you must dress correctly, you must dress correctly"? It's become almost like a mantra in Nie around the entire campus. Everyone pushes the line that:

"Since you are paid employees of Moe, you are expected to dress appropriately and exhibit the proper image of a teacher"

I have a few doubts about this stance. For one, does that mean that ALL law students should therefore go around NUS in full lawyer gear and wigs? Or wear starched-collar shirts with black bottoms and carry briefcases and large piles of paper? Since that's the image that everyone has of a lawyer, and being in the Law faculty, they are naturally embodiments of the legal system in Singapore, even if they aren't being paid?

Or should it mean that ALL nurses should go around in nurses' uniforms, whether in school, or at home? And that if you have a scholarship from one of the major hospitals, you have to set an example by doing so?

I'm pretty sure that most law students and nurses would disagree with me on the above points. For one, it's blardy crazy to walk around campus in full lawyer's gown and starched wig. If the laughter from the other students don't kill you already, the heat generated by walking around in billowy gowns surely will. And let's not start on the nurses' uniforms.

So why do we have to dress in 'teacher-appropriate' attire even when we're in school?

This is a point that will be driven home to all trainee teachers, and even those already teaching. Unfortunately, we are in a vocation where we are expected to set examples to the children. Whether we like it or not, children will definitely look up to us, and follow our lead. We're almost like surrogate parents to them, and thus, people expect us to set examples for their children to follow. If you're a parent, and you wouldn't want your kid to smoke, you wouldn't be smoking in front of them, would you? And you wouldn't want them to see their teacher smoking right?

However, my opinion is that rather than apply a standard wardrobe to all teachers ['teachers must always dress like that in school'] wouldn't it be more useful to stress appropriateness? As in 'Teachers must dress appropriate to the occassion'.

THEN it makes a lot more sense. You are allowed to dress like a student, [spaghetti and all] so long as you are in NIE/NTU. However, during working hours in school, you should dress as a teacher should. Which means ditch the tubes and the spaghettis for after-hours.

[Note the similiarities between this and the Speak English campaign. Remember how they tried to wipe out the usage of Singlish, and then later changed their stance to using a language appropriate to the occassion? NIE might take some hints from that...]

However, I did note a few interesting points about this dress code in school:

1) The word 'appropriately' apparently has several meanings in school.

Just last Friday, there was a formal welcoming ceremony for all the trainee teachers, and one of the segments included a 'fashion parade', which AGAIN stressed the dress code [as if we hadn't heard it a thousand times already] and had a few 'models' parading on stage, to show what was considered appropriate attire in school.

When the first female model came on stage, the entire assembly burst out in raucous laughter. The model was wearing a 'smart white-collared shirt with long sleeves, a long black skirt, set off by diamante high heels and a stunning diamond belt'.

For blardy sake! No sensible female teacher is EVER going to wear something like that in school! Considering that most schools in Singapore still rely on the 2 ceiling fans in each classroom, the heat from the shirt will kill you and cause massive sweat stains all over your smart, crisp shirt. The high heels will give you arthritis in less than 3 months, after walking all over school in them, and up and down the stairs to your classrooms, and the students will be too mesmerized by your diamond belt to listen to your lesson!

Can you almost see how comical it all is?

2) Appropriate attire doesn't always include good taste.

During the ceremony, I noticed one woman sitting in the audience, somewhere near the Director, which meant that she was probably Nie staff. So she has to dress 'appropriately' to show an example to us, right?

Well, let me describe her outfit. She was wearing a long sleeved lime green shirt, which had crumples all over the front [deliberately designed, I think] a knee-length hippie skirt, and calf-high boots. And I'm being as objective as possible here, cos frankly, I think her outfit looked awful, but that's just my opinion.

Then I thought of some of the [stereotypical] old Chinese teachers in schools all over. The same image of permed hair, thick spectacles, and the same 'aunty' clothing.

My conclusion: You can dress with as much bad taste as you want, as long as it's 'appropriate'.

In other words, if I decide to wear a bright red dress with white polka dots, that has large puffy sleeves, and reaches to my ankles, and tie my hair up with a huge pink ribbon, does that mean that Moe can't object to my dressing, since:

1. It is not a sleeveless top
2. It is not exposing an indecent amount of cleavage or leg
3. It has no offensive logos, or slogans, or vulgarities

Maybe such repetitive reminders just don't work on people like me. They just make us want to rebel, even when we don't. :p

Tuesday, July 26, 2005

Learning to Teach... In the Jungle...

So what better way to get inspiration for a blog on [mis]education, than to sit in the very heart of education and learning, the computer lab at NIE?

Well, actually I can think of tons of better places, but since my laptop is not hooked up to the Internet yet, this will have to do. :p

Yes, it is the first week of school already, and from [trying to] teaching in one, I've now gone to [trying to] learn to teach in other schools. :S

Not that lessons have actually started though. This week is still considered Orientation week, so it's still mainly briefings, briefings and briefings on other future briefings. As opposed to work, work, and mind-numbing, suicide-inducing work, so I'm not complaining.

But first time visitors to NTU/NIE be warned though: The physical geography of the place takes some getting used to.

Already, I commited a big boo-boo by taking the wrong bus from Boon Lay interchange. Which landed me waaaaaay on the other side of campus from where my hall was, and earned me one lonely, long walk at night, only seeing the occassional passing jogger, [hall people are capable of jogging at weird hours of the night. I can barely bring myself up 6 flights of stairs to my room] and the sound of rifles punctuating the night.

Whenever I take a bus in, I'm always looking into the bushes to see whether I can see one very lost NS man sticking his camoulflaged head out of the jungle.

Not only that, but unlike NUSSUX, NIE and NTU tend to be built, er, long. THe buildings of NIE itself are built in one straight row. Getting from one end of the campus to the other is basically a long distance straight lined walk. And so is getting from NIE to NTU, and the computer shop. In order to find the computer shop, GTS and I walked along both spines of NTU [North and South] before we got to where the laptops were being sold.

Most appropriately, in the middle of the computer engineering faculty, it seemed. What, the rest of the campus didn't need computer stuff?

So now, at least, we know how to get from Hall to Various Parts of Campus without getting too lost. Simply walk. In one very straight line.

Friday, July 15, 2005

Teacher Answers Your Questions

Like in any class, the Teacher likes it when students ask questions, or raise [intelligent] comments. Here are the Teacher's responses to some of the comments:

Petals gives other suggestions, like:

"1] to give them a piece of assignment and tell them tis a test"
~ A variation of this, is to tell them that they MUST hand it in by this period or there will be bloodshed.

"2] threaten to detain them during recess or after school"
~ It can work. There's no thought more dismaying than the one that you have to stay in this hellhole of a school longer than you have to. But newbies be warned: If you detain them during the whole recess, you are depriving them of time to eat, and go to the toilet. If you detail them after school, there is the risk they may not catch the schoolbus in time to go home, and you may face some very angry parent complaints.

However, my experience today showed me that it's quite an effective threat. I sat in front of the class and duly stated that "No one goes home until I'm satisfied you can stay silent for 10 seconds." Most of the class became extremely silent, and even scolded off those errant boys who still wanted to 'strike pose' in front of me. Peer pressure at its most effective.

"3] switching off all the fans in the class to reinstate order if they go crazy but this can get rather unbearable for the RT him/herself "
I agree. :S This one may not be worth the pain to yourself.

Someone said:
"while there are some useful tips on relief-teaching mentioned, like always be firm, the general approach advocated in this blog seems overly totalitarian. From experience, a warm demeanor from any teacher will certainly bring many happy acknowledgements from students as he/she walks past the schools' corridors. "

And ningx seems to agree:
"I dislike teachers like that!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!No offence but as a secondary school student, I like teachers that come in and make small talk with us.About the no permission thing, I once had a teacher who forbidden water drinking.I hated her. "

Erm, can I state for the record first, that I always allow my students to drink water in class? :P Water deprivation seems too close to being an infringement of human rights.

And next is my disclaimer: Everything in this blog is strictly tongue-in-cheek. [If you don't know what that means, go ask your teachers, or ex-teachers.]

I cannot stress or bold that sentence enough. I advocate firmness with students, because there is no way I can teach a class, if everyone ignores me/shouts back at me/defies me/or tries to make small talk with me. Again, in a class, I am outnumbered. I need to make the students respect me, and possibly, fear me. [And I especially believe this, having relieved what was possibly the rowdiest class in all of Neko Primary.]

BUT I am not encouraging others to become a semi-Hitler in their classes. Being firm is fine. Being a total dictator is another. Maybe it was not clear in the tongue-in-cheek way I wrote it [it was supposed to make you laugh. Ha. Ha.] but now I'm stating it clearly in bold.

Once again, I'm just a trainee teacher with about 2.5 weeks of teaching experience, and I write mostly for humourous [and the occassional stress] relief.

Don't take this blog too seriously.

And I'll show that to any principal who claims my blog turns his teachers into sadists.

From, I've also found a funny entry on Yao guai's blog about Teaching as a Performance Art, and Teaching and Dungeons and Dragons. The one I can't figure out is how a magical elf becomes a teacher.......... ??????

Anyway, check out his blog here.

Thanks for sharing your comments with the Teacher!

Reflections with relief...

AKi: It's been about 3 weeks since I started at Neko Primary, and already I have only one more week in the school, before I head to Nie. (!)

Was that fast or what? It's funny that the Enhanced Schools Experience (ESE) only lasted such a short time, and yet is supposed to help us decide whether a teaching career is suitable for us. :S So how do we decide based on such a short period of time?

I have a feeling most graduate trainees would not be able to experience the full workload of a teacher. What is the point in asking someone to sit on a committee, for an event happening next term, if the person is leaving in a month's time? And how much teaching can you entrust to an untrained teacher?

So most of us probably did a lot of relief, with some light teaching work, and then not much else.

But has it helped? From a friend of mine, it's certainly helped him to decide that teaching was NOT for him. :S The combined trauma of lesson planning and standing in front of a class of 40 little darlings was just one more straw on the camel's back and he's decided to leave.

For me.... I feel I can go on. But I'm not sure.

Because after all, I know that what I'm going through now is definitely not the full duties of a teacher. And even if I can take it all now, I don't know for sure that I can take it in the future, when the full load crashes upon me.

And there are times, like today, when I feel that the class is spiralling out of control, that my nerves are feeling extremely frazzled, and when I feel utterly helpless in front of the 38-40 boys who refuse to listen to me.

Sometimes it's not just a matter of being fierce or being firm. It's being able to MAKE them even notice you in the first place. And THEN you can be fierce.

Most people don't get this. They think that all you have to do is to be fierce to the kids, and they will listen. Which will work for 1 or 2 kids at a time, but when 40 of them resolutely ignore you, is much harder to accomplish.

And you can scream all you want, but you will never be able to outscream 40 voices in unison.

So how do I get by? I come home, dump my workbag on the floor and change into my comfortable home clothes.

I turn on the radio to some soothing jazz.

I step into a shower, and let the warm water spray all over me.

And with it all the knots of the day are unravelled........

Here's to the next 4 years......

Monday, July 11, 2005

Tips for First Time Relief Teachers

Breathe. Breathe. Breathe.

Inhale. Exhale.


Whoever said being a relief teacher was an easy job with easy pay? Smack the bugger in the face right now... it's NOT that easy...

Ok, it's definitely better than being a regular teacher, but it still isn't that easy all the time.

Here then, are some tips [and shocks] for aspiring relief teachers. Add this onto all those simple info like "show up at school at 730am" and "Just get them to do some worksheets" that the school will tell you.


Being relief, you will have no choice in what kind of class you will be teaching. If you're lucky, you will have a relatively well-behaved class, and this is what will happen the minute you walk in:

"Class, stand!" Everyone stands up, and greets "Good morning, teacher." and sits down again, looking at you with curious eyes, wondering what happened to their regular teacher.

If you're unlucky enough, and the class you're relieving happens to be one of the 'bottom' ones:

"RAHAHAHAHAEHEHEHEHCHERCOMELIAO!!!!HAHAHAHA" and other classroom gibberish. One or two boys will be running around the classroom, despite your fervent attempts to catch them and bring them to their seats, another group in the corner will be blatantly ignoring you, and playing their own games, and when you try to speak, a chorus of childish voices will totally drown you, and leave you to die.

And all this while their teacher is either a) at home trying to recover from the high blood pressure and heart failure his kids have induced in him or b) happily out shopping because her relative's a doctor and she got a free MC, while you desperately try to control her class.


This means never smile, never joke, never play games, never let them do their own thing, never talk to them, never reply their inane questions, never back down on anything you say, never show weakness, never show hesitation.

In other words, switch off the humanity and act like your old, grumpy Chinese teacher with the bad dress sense and the perpetual PMS.

This is vitally IMPORTANT if you ever want the class to do what you want. Because the moment you let slip your guard, and they know that you are human and therefore FALLIBLE, you are so doomed. They will run circles around you like dogs in heat.

Some people may say, "Oh, but that's so fierce! What if I scare the little darlings?" and I say, "[insert name of animal faeces]" remember that you are outnumbered 40 to 1 in a classroom, and that if they were to suddenly realise that they could all scream, shout or run out of the class and you wouldn't be able to stop them all, you are so screwed.

If you were outnumbered 40 to 1 by a gang of ferocious hounds, would you go, "Oh lookit the cute little doggies!" and try to pet them? Same concept.


No one goes to the toilet without your permission. No one goes to the bookshelf without your permission. No one drinks water without your permission. No one talks without your permission. No one even lies on the table to sleep without your permission.

This is now part of classroom discipline. Establish yourself as Most Revered And To Be Obeyed Leader of the Pack. This is once again important, in order to get the class to listen to you. If they feel that you can't lead, they will never listen to you.

And if you survived your relief teaching, and you're out of class, you may do the last thing, which is:


Shop. Eat. Drink. Chat. SMS. Become human again, and shed off the Dictator For Life persona you were carrying in the classroom. For one, it will endear you to your peers a whole lot more.