English: There, here and over there. Basically, in a sense, to mean restless. A collection of thoughts, musings and ramblings...

Thursday, October 21, 2010

My Teaching life

I am so relieved that it is finally the end of my first teaching year. When I first accepted the job, I hadn't actual considered the workload that comes with a teaching job. Especially the administrative work, the time taken to prepare exam questions (and the solutions!), the time to mark the answers to the exam, invigilating duties and the sudden requirement to achieve a teaching qualification from Australia. It almost has felt like I haven't had a proper break for the last 11 months, what with the overlapping semesters and multiple programmes.

So why go into teaching? For one thing, I have a masters degree, and working in a typical day-to-day office job is not going to be enough to fully utilise the knowledge and skills I have gained from that qualification. I know that too well, after working as an accounting executive and my boss basically expected me to do a lot of bookkeeping, which frankly could have been done by any diploma student. Depressing! Secondly, I actually do love accounting, the theories and ideas involved, the concepts from the very first day I had my first class at university (I never studied accounting throughout my school years). It made a lot of sense for me. These are the sort of things that are not fully explored in a typical desk-bound job. Who cares about the definition of an asset? Why do we even need to know? Just key in the numbers into the right columns!

I also found out after many years of working that my personality does not match those of a typical accountant. I love to socialise, sitting down quietly for too long depresses me. It was after my first few tries at organising events and projects that I realised, 'Yes! I am meant to do much more than what I am doing now. I am good at inspiring people. I have also proved that leading people is no big deal' And it helps that I am a geek too anyway - loving libraries, books, papers and writing essays. Just being in the academic world thrills me.

Since joining the academics, I would say that one thing should be made available: a real 'how-to' or guide for new lecturers. For a complete newbie like myself, I was lost in a completely new world of classrooms, timetables, exam drafts,tests, attendance lists and certain expectations. There were lots of unspoken and unwritten rules and procedures. We focus so much on the students that we forget the people who makes a great contribution to the learning process - the lecturers/teachers. And yes, we do get lost and confused as much as everybody else. A week of learning methods training did not really prepare us for what was ahead.

I remember the very first few days I stepped into a classroom. After an entire month of doing nothing much (I started work in December), January rolled by and thus began the teaching year. For my first class, I got lost. Luckily, no one was in the class, and it was about half an hour later that 2 students came to my classroom. I later found out it is a 'normal' routine for a new year. 'No one teaches on the first week' they said, despite what we were taught during the training session - that we always start on the first day to break the cycle. Well, that is just fine with me, I need time to get settled in, get to know my students, overcome my fear of being the centre of attention. We started by introducing ourselves, talking about course structures and writing short essays so I could evaluate their level of English communication.

The first few times that I stood in front of a class and taught, I started sweating profusely. I keep worrying that I was going to slip up and students are going to look at me and say 'Doh! She doesn't know anything at all!!' I didn't even know how to prepare enough teaching materials to last for the 2 hours I was supposed to have! And the thing about being a lecturer is that you yourself are constantly learning and studying yourselves. The management just hands you your course structure and expects you to prepare everything from scratch from the books that you can get from the library. There is no set course materials. And you don't always get to teach the subjects you know the most. The management decides. I always thought that a lecturer specialises in two or three subjects the most and builds on this knowledge so that they can improve their teaching for the following semesters better. Boy, was I so wrong! Every semester lecturers are expect to teach one new subject. Or in my case, 4 new subjects. This year alone I have taught at least 9 different subjects. Is this to keep me on my toes? Or maybe this is some 'kiasu' mentality.

I also had a problem with adjusting to the students expectations of a lecturer here. Where in my uni years, we were expected to buy books and do a lot of studying ourselves. Lecturers were a last resort, if we really couldn't cope. Here it is different. Students study only what they have been given in notes and exercises. And there is always the expectation that lecturers are always ready there, nothing to do, but service at their beck and call. When students don't study, or fail, it is the lecturer's fault. We are the bad people here. I am just trying to imagine what happens to these students in the real working world. I am not saying all students are bad, just that some of them are a little spoilt at an age where they are already supposed to be adults. Adult enough to know their responsibilities and be independent. I am trying to think back, were we so different then? I could continue judging them, but I decided to step into their shoes and see the world at their level. Maybe it is because of the private college setting. It is just like any other business where the customer is always right. The emphasis is no longer on gaining knowledge and skills. You pay this much and expect results (a diploma or degree at the end).

Well, almost an entire year has passed since I first stepped into a classroom. I can feel the difference. Where once I had high expectations and got stressed about what learning standards are to me, I have now decided to adjust and face reality instead. They are, and never will be me and the student I once was. Everyone has a different way of learning. And the students here learn best from someone who they can relate and talk to. So I show them that teachers are humans too, with a wide range of interests beyond the books. What I try now is to be a facilitator of learning and most important, a friend, rather than a figure that spouts knowledge at the whiteboard. . Now that I have adjusted my expectations, I realised that it's not that hard to connect with students afterall. Less stressful too :)


Tuesday, October 19, 2010

My most frugal buy ever!

Very happy with the dress... there was a crazy sale at the department store in the very same building as the hotel I was staying at in Miri. The original tag said RM 119, but they must be joking right?? From that much to just RM10? Well, a good excuse to whip out my purse :-p Wish I had more money to spend on more RM10 clothes, but alas... It does look good right? A wrap dress, fits perfectly, and I got compliments all day about it at work :) RM10 well spent!

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Sunday, October 17, 2010

My speech for the contest at ANC: Let Us Be The Change

I like to scuba dive. But did you know that nearly 80 percent of all marine debris is plastic? In some parts of the ocean plastic outweighs plankton 6:1. Now that's a lot of plastic!

When I was 16 or 17, all I wanted to do was to ‘Save the World’. My greatest ambition was to go off to study Environmental Science in university and then go off to work in environmental groups such as WWF, or Greenpeace. Back then, the issues most hotly debated were about deforestation, the hole in the ozone layer, animal extinction, recycling waste and reducing the use of plastic bags. Well, my dream career never happened, I did a 180 degree turn and studied accountancy instead. Don’t know if it is a good thing or a bad thing, but it sure was a big difference. From wanting to be an activist venturing through jungles to becoming a desk-bound accountant!

I mean, come on, have you heard the joke about the accountant? An accountant visited the Natural History museum. While standing near the dinosaur he said to his neighbor: “This dinosaur is two billion years and ten months old”. “Where did you get this exact information?” “I was here ten months ago, and the guide told me that the dinosaur is two billion years old.”
Anyway, many years have passed since I left my greenie dream behind. Now, 15 years later, the issues most hotly debated were about deforestation, the hole in the ozone layer, animal extinction, recycling waste and reducing the use of plastic bags….. Hey, hang on a second! Has 15 years really passed? How is it that we still remain stagnant?

Some parts of the ‘Save the World’ sentiment still remains with me. I join environmental causes, like PADI Project AWARE where we dive for a cause - to pick up rubbish & marine debris on the reefs. I just participated in my 3rd project about 3 weeks ago, and wow, is 3rd time always “lucky”? Even though underwater visibility was poor on that day, along with 2 other divers, we managed to fill up 3 large mesh bags within an hour. Mostly I collected loads of plastic wrappings & bottles. Strangest thing collected - a pair of white & blue shorts. Most disgusting? Used sanitary napkins!! Eww! Another diver even found a helmet. At the end of 2 dives we had the rubbish weighed… and ta-daaah! We have managed to collect a total of 129kg despite this being the second clean up dive in 2 weeks! Plastic bags and wrappings, like those you get from keropok and nescafe 3-in-1s weighed a whopping 60kg. Plastic bottles, 16kg. And those numbers will just keep piling up if people are not educated to recycle. And Malaysia is not exactly technologically advanced or particularly concerned about recycling and waste management compared to the likes of say, Australia or even our neighbour, Singapore. So what are we going to do? Just keep quiet about it and hope that the government will soon come to their senses and do something about it? Right… and that would be… another 15 years? Why don’t we start the recycling revolution now? Educate and create awareness.

A journey of a thousand miles begins with a single step ~ Lao Tzu. Too often, we sit back and just complain because it is the easiest thing to do. Why can’t we be the change makers? We don’t have to be loud, but we do need to be committed. We are all here in JCI to be leaders. So why not lead by example and be the first to move? The first step is always the hardest, but once you start you gain momentum. As Rosanne Cash, country singer-songwriter said, “The key to change….. is to let go of fear”.

We should all take personal responsibility in initiating the change we want to see in the world. Never think "it's not my job”, "What can I do, I'm only one person", you will just be one of the millions of the other people on planet Earth. So when will change ever start? Be different, say YES, I can lead the change for a start! Do it and the rest will follow. You don't need everyone's cooperation or anyone's permission to make changes. Just say "If it's to be, it's up to me”.
I would now like to leave you with a quote from one of my favourite artists, Jack Johnson. “An individual action, multiplied by millions, creates global change.

I have taken the first steps in making change. Have you?

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