Wednesday, 9 December 2020

A Glimpse Into My World

 Recently, Suria TV (a Mediacorp channel) made a short documentary about me. You can watch it below.

Sunday, 4 October 2020

A Reunion With A Student From More Than 2 Decades Ago!

Memory is a strange thing. Although we are the main actors in our recall of the past, all the main actors suffer from selective recall, remembering only a small slice of the past and forgetting the many incidents that are wedged permanently in the minds of some. I suffer from this too, all the time. But this time, I remembered more than some of the other actors. It seems that they have forgotten much.

Only yesterday, some 23, 24 years ago, I was a slim school teacher tutoring a 12-year old boy by the name of CGY (ie. his initials). We reunited today at Fork and Spoon in Toa Payoh. “Wah! You are gemuk (fat)!” Mdm Chua remarked on seeing me. Yes, I am now the no-longer-embarrassed owner of a bulging XXL tummy. Don’t believe I have an XXL tummy? Try sticking your finger into the navel and you might lose your finger in its depth and dirt. 

CGY was a small young boy who was weak in Math. I remember his complaints well. “Teacher, teacher, headache, headache!” This happened whenever I stretched him to the limit. The playful lad had exercised his body with wushu and dragon dance but his mind had lazed around for far too long. And so I pushed him to the limit, making him memorise the timetables until he could regurgitate them within 2 minutes or so, at the speed of 1 time table card per second or two. This was the same boy who could not recite his time tables within 10 long minutes a few months earlier.  

And so I met CGY, and we recalled what we each remembered. I was surprised they could not recall the many glimpses I had stored in my mind. You see, CGY was one of my first Math students whom I had impacted, and in turn, his transformation impacted me. Glimpses of him as my Primary 6 student still dance in my mind. He was able to pursue a 5-year Normal Academic Secondary programme despite studying at the EM3 level (what we call Foundation PSLE programme today) in Primary 6. Few EM3 students made it to the Normal Academic stream. When I looked at him, superimposed over his face was that small, often shirtless boy who loved practising his dragon dance moves. This is not the student that I had taught more than 2 decades ago! The boy that I knew could not speak English well and was not as polite as this associate architect. Indeed time has passed and CGY has blossomed into a caring gentleman. I smiled when 35-year old CGY declared that he had graduated from NUS with a Master Degree in Architecture. 

Towards the end of our reunion, CGY’s mother enquired whether I could teach her niece who was struggling with Math. My first question was - was she failing? Was this a strange question? To make sure they understood my mission, I messaged him - “about tuition…I look at myself as a place of last resort, where hope is given to students and parents who are approaching hopelessness. This makes the work meaningful for me, and I need that - so because of this, the students I take are mostly failing in Math.” I am glad I have defined my work in tuition in this manner because whenever I succeed in my efforts to help a failing or weak child, I make an impact. And this impact is worth more than the dollars that are paid to me. So, with the reunion I had today, and the fact that CGY’s mother wanted to meet me after all these years, deep inside me, I felt something that money could not buy - that warm feeling and assurance that I had played a small role in the journey to success of a human being. It is indeed a joy to meet a soul from the past with whom I had shared a transformative journey. May God bless CGY, his mother and his family with success and truth.

Sunday, 24 May 2020

Teachers Should Ask For Forgiveness

It Is Hari Raya Today! Hari Raya is known as Eid around the world. For those who don’t know, during Hari Raya, we Muslims (especially those in Singapore, Malaysia and Indonesia) ask each other for forgiveness. You see this on Hari Raya e-cards and posters such as the one below.

It reads, “Selamat Hari Raya! Maaf Zahir dan Batin! (Or Maaf Lahir & Batin - Indonesian version).

Translated it means “Happy Hari Raya! Forgiveness upon the  outer things and the inner things; this means that the person saying this to a friend is actually asking forgiveness for all the things he has done wrong which his friend knows of and all the wrong things that his friend does not know of. 

This routine is a mechanism for Muslims to set things aright with their families and friends annually. We need not and should not wait for Eid to ask for forgiveness but to those who are a little too proud, Hari Raya allows them the opportunity to ask forgiveness from those he knows he has caused hurt to. On Hari Raya, you can see children kissing the hands of their parents and asking for forgiveness for whatever they have done wrong. And so do adults towards other adults. Some do it mechanically while others mean what they say. To the persons asking forgiveness and being asked forgiveness, this process is therapeutic – it reduces or removes the pain in the heart. 

This year, some students that I taught 3 years back greeted me with a “Selamat Hari Raya! Maaf Zahir dan Batin!”. Immediately,I was transported back in time.  I was reminded of a lesson when I shouted at the boys. It pains me till today. In my mind are episodes of many, many mistakes I have made in the classroom and many other scenarios. These mistakes remind me to not think too highly of myself. I don't want to forget these tools for the heart.

I messaged, “Selamat Hari Raya, Maaf zahir Dan Batin. Boys, I want to apologize to all of u, especially XXX for the times I misbehaved during the tuition sessions. Do forgive me.” I did not want the mechanical version. I wanted them to know that I am sincerely asking for forgiveness, and so I messaged what I messaged. I was forgiven. Alhamdulilah (God be praised).

To me, asking forgiveness from the students we teach or team members we lead is very important. In a position of power and authority, the teacher or leader is bound to cause hurt, even if he does not intend or know about it. Lurking underneath could be  a pain in the heart of the students or followers. A sincere sorry and asking for forgiveness is what is needed to soothe the hurt and cure the heart. Routinely, I do this at the end of a course taught or at the end of a project. Yes, at the end of the year, I say sorry to my students and ask for forgiveness. Teachers and leaders should do this because it soothes hearts and teaches humility. Unfortunately, this is seen as a weakness by some. Whenever I apologise to students at the end of a course, The children are usually wide-eyed, perhaps they rarely hear this from teachers. O teachers, we make mistakes and so why not remove the pain from the students (even if we do not know we have)? 

I got divorced about 14 years ago, and I know the divorce hurt my 2 sons. Ever since then, I have repeatedly asked for forgiveness. But what is done is done. Time does not flow backwards. What is left is the soothing of hearts. And I am sure this asking-for-forgiveness process helps the healing. I am sure it has for my sons. So when do I stop asking them for forgiveness? Well, even after more than a decade has passed, I do not intend to stop any time soon. Why? The hurt which we divorcee parents had experienced may have disappeared but how sure are we that the hearts of our children are healed? We don’t know. So I carry on.

One may ask - what if my students do not forgive me as a teacher?  Well, that is the risk of being a human being. I have to take that risk. However, in asking for forgiveness, I know I have reduced some pain (if not all) and I have taught my students something very important – it is only human to err and more importantly, those who err should humble themselves by saying sorry sincerely.