The Hardest Thing to Give is Yourself

I had a good first week of University after the long awaited recess week. Now that that’s over, here we are again, in the depths of week 8, where assignments have been pouring in like sweets into a halloween basket. Stress is what I need at this point, to really function at a 100% and force myself to do some useful work. Other than that all has been good. Sometimes it’s better if life is boring.

I was at a gathering for my school newsletter on Friday. We were just lounging around, having some drinks and snacks and talking about random things regarding ourselves, when the topic of relationships came up. It all started when one of the sophomores leaped into the room wearing a t-shirt with a pie chart labelled “things I look for in my lover” or something along those lines. It was colourful and had silly expectations like “will watch my favourite movies with me” and other trivial comforts. We took this as a prompt, and went around asking each other what we each desired from our hypothetical significant others. A lot of matters concerning love for the outdoors, compassion, admirability, insane intelligence and “good taste” came up. Basically, we listed the attributes that 99% of us covet but 99% of us fall short of possessing. Ideals can be a bitch.

The sophomore with the t-shirt (that particular t-shirt, to be clear), the one who started the entire conversation then came up with her own rendition of her ideal significant other. “I just feel like…a lot of people out there have so much talent, and they invest so much in themselves to become the perfect person, so much so that they don’t have a piece of themselves to give anyone. You know what I mean?”

I knew what she meant. I guess what she said really hit the spot because for many years now I’ve been feeling like this is what has become of me. I’ve become hyper obsessed with being a good version of myself. I wouldn’t go as far as to say the best version of myself but a lot of what I’ve been doing has been very focused on me. It’s very easy to defend this way of life. As a young person finding himself it’s incredibly easy to feel lonely in a world so deceptively interconnected. The more you seem to be comfortable with being on your own, the more you seem to have it together. Taking long walks by myself, finding time to sit down and write, sit down and read, lie down and listen to music, jog around campus, sit down and write again; almost everything I’ve done that has made me feel incredible, I’ve done on my own. And I’ve never really questioned why this was the case. If you’re feeling good, you’re not supposed to question it, you’re just supposed to feel good. It’s just so hard to admit to yourself that maybe, just maybe, you might need something more, someone more in your life.

Otherwise, to know if you’re really shut off from letting anyone in is a tall order; the whole notion of emotional aloofness can be made up by being more open to possibilities, giving yourself chances. But of course, I know to be careful, there is a fine line between openness and sheer desperation. And then who’s to say that someone who is closed off to possibilities will always be that way? Perhaps they just haven’t found someone that they have been truly interested in or who they feel is finally “worth it”. Maybe a lot of us don’t allow our hearts to bleed unless it’s for an extremely important occasion. Maybe extremely important occasions only come by once in a long while. It’s all so cringe worthy, but like it or not a lot of us do think that way. We wait tirelessly for the right moment to the point where we question whether the right moment even noticed us whilst we were standing so still, camouflaged amongst the leaves.

So I’ve been thinking lately, heading into 2016: what do I really want for myself? Do I want to always be this way, or do I want to take some chances? I might have reflected upon this before and I feel like this is a recurring desire in my life; one that prods at me and continues to challenge me like a teacher seeing his student get complacent. What should I do from here? I really have no idea.

The hardest thing to give someone is yourself, but hey, it may very well be the best gift.

The Arts Student’s CNY Cheat Sheet

A relative walks up. You hand him two imperfect oranges. He is an uncle, twice removed. You and him will shake hands. He will hand you a red packet, and you will say thank you as you hesitate between nodding and bowing, and end up doing a little of both.

And then he will ask: “what are you studying now?”

You can predict the entire conversation before it happens. Your cousins are all around, varying slightly in age but all on the same path towards adulthood. You almost forget the answer.

“I’m studying the arts.” You blurt out. Brace yourself.

“Oh,” he begins. “So…what do you want to do in the future?” Bingo.

“I may want to be a teacher. Maybe a journalist? See how it goes lor.” You don’t even know what you’re saying at this point. Your uncertainty is exposed.

“So basically, you don’t really know what you want to do yet.” He is almost barking now, like a detection dog sniffing a drug-trafficker’s ass.

Your eyes shift. Your cousin at the next table is in law school, her brother beside her from business. They are speaking comfortably to an aunt, about their plans for the future, telling her how the stocks are volatile, how an internship at a law firm went stupendously well. How they have a good shot of earning big bucks in the future. The aunt wears a smile that resembles the infinity pool on top of Marina Bay Sands. Prosperity, good fortune and wealth. Everything that embodies Chinese New Year resonates in the flow of the conversation.

But back at your conversation, the water is still. You don’t know what you want to do, but your uncle expects you to. He doesn’t actually care if you succeed or fail, he just expects you to have a plan for the future to facilitate the continuation of the small talk. But there is no plan. He holds the oranges behind his back, adjusts his collar to deal with the heat. “At least you enjoy what you do,” he adds. Wait, what did he mean by at least?

By now you realize you need to say something, but how does one even begin? Alright, let’s give this a shot.

You start by telling him that you accepted an education in the arts based on your interests. Perhaps you were fascinated by certain historical facts, philosophical viewpoints, and geographical occurrences. You loved a nice novel, appreciated the art house films all your friends hated and didn’t mind observing human behaviour for hours at a time. These were things that you wanted to explore and wanted to do, even if it was only the tiniest of inclinations. You chose this path, not because you had nowhere else to go or that it was a safety net. This is a path you actively want to pursue.

Something about the arts had you gravitating towards it, but why was that so? You learned about the exploits of Alexander the Great and wrote a 3000-word paper on cognitive biases. You studied different modules unrelated to your major, wrote countless papers and swore that you were not writing another paragraph again after submitting your final essays. Through that you found out exactly why you took up arts in the first place. It was a humbling journey about what it means to be human. Alexander the Great conquered empires but was defeated by a fever. You now know that our minds are consistently biased no matter how we choose to tweak our rationality. You learned, after all, what it meant to be an emotional being and that it was ok for you to feel vulnerable and small once in a while.

Best of all, the arts taught you to imagine, to think further than what you saw and trust in how you felt. You pined over the deaths of your favourite characters in your literature texts, wrote about a walk down Orchard Road for your creative writing module. You discovered so much about the world without actually seeing as much; surprised yourself by feeling so richly in a city so dull.

And from that imagination, you learned to create. You drew the historical narratives of civilisations long gone, filling in the cracks between excavated relics, piecing together incomplete stories. You wriggled your way through an argument to make your own stand. You interviewed the elderly, construction workers, professors, students and hawker stall owners. It started out as a school project but halfway you realised you were creating a conversation that would otherwise never have happened. You wrote these transcripts at two in the morning, and felt like you were talking to these people for the second time. That didn’t bother you in the least.

The ability to create will get you far. You will chart your own path. You know that money is essential for basic survival but have the courage to assert that your happiness will not be dependent on it. You will do much more than that. In the future you will open a bookstore, write plays, get published, act, dance. Sing. You will give a lecture on post-colonial art forms and your future students will be mesmerised by your words, your readers will love your articles and firms will value your unadulterated creativity.

Being in an arts course is nothing to be ashamed about, after all. You hope that your relatives will understand this by the end of the conversation; that you made a choice to do something you wanted, and that they will have no right to impose their preconceived notions and dictate what you should want from your life. Don’t be shy to share your dreams. At least you enjoy what you do? No. Enjoying what you do is the one thing you should fight for in this life. Start believing that, then perhaps they can begin to understand why you chose to pursue the arts.

Yes, this is what you will say.

Think of the Love that was Found

Think of the love that was found, and how many people wander about their entire lives, never quite finding such love, never fully delving in such throes of passion. Think about how the entire year had gone by and this love only grew. Think about that for a while.

Be happy for this, not scared. You’re about to embark on deeper commitments that of which will test your discipline and daily mettle. How much do you really want this? Ask yourself this question everyday; when classes end, before you sleep, before you embark on yet another chapter. Keep asking yourself: what is it you’re writing for, and maybe the answer will creep up on you when you least expect it.

Think about love that was lost, love put on hold, passions that had no follow up. Think about how action need not equate to intention, that acts of love need not equate to love itself, that love may just be much more than what you do, but sometimes manifests in the things you don’t. Don’t think of failure as the affirmation that love is beyond you. Think of failure as love that overflowed and underwhelmed all at once, that gave evidence of feelings, albeit stuck in the wrong places, like fine wine downed by an alcoholic or fluffy tiramisu put into jars (I hate cakes in general).

Think about those who want to love but are unable to. You know how that feels, so feel that again, and in feeling the emptiness, learn to appreciate all that is whole in your life. You know you haven’t been doing that lately so learn to. Maybe just this once, before you forget.

Think again of the love that was found. From the quiet nights after 2 am to the surge of passion on the bus ride from Toa Payoh to Clementi. Know that this desire will follow you. It will leave its scent on the nape of your collar, the stench of its intimate parts deep within the roots of your hair. You will get lost in a metaphor and play with the similes. You will find out new things everyday, search deeper, feel more and explore what it is that makes you love. This is the closest you’ll come to being yourself, and the funny thing is you don’t even believe this as you type.

But one day you will believe. I believe that one day you will believe. It’s a convoluted faith, but since when was anything convoluted necessarily something to abhor? You love the convolutions, the pain, the dilemmas and the misery. You want nothing but to dive headlong into trouble. But when you come up for air, I want you to remember that you are a lucky man, lucky to have found what you love. A lucky man indeed, even though that doesn’t sound convincing to you just yet.

Life’s Too Short for the In-Betweens

What defines our worth, and what makes us tick? I’ve been thinking about this for a few weeks now, and I’ve come to the conclusion that to fight for what you love is one of the most complex things to undertake. To try to understand this better, I’ve thought of four testimonies from four imaginary individuals. By and large, these individuals are a combination of the people I’ve talked to or observed, and the stories I’ve weaved are an amalgamation of the stories they hold dear to them. And so like most fictional work, this is a mere reallocation of fact into more digestible chunks. I hope you will find some meaning in them. 

* * *

“This all started the moment I saw this small puppy on the sidewalk. It was about three years ago, and I was walking home from work when I saw her. Her hind legs had no fur on them and there were large abrasions running down the entire length of her tigh. She was gasping for breath and her dark brown fur was moist from the morning dew. Clearly, she had been abandoned either by her owner or her mother. Either way, she would have died from exposure had I not seen her. Carefully, I scooped her up; her small body fit snugly in my cupped palms. She showed no fear at all as I held her, and I figured that at the brink of death, all fear must have been stripped away. Walking into the veterinary centre, I presented the puppy to the counter woman, and she brought the poor thing into the vet’s office immediately. I immediately took the day off work and sat at the waiting area, hoping for a miracle; hoping for anything that would save the poor puppy.

This whole episode was a turning point in my life. In the few months that followed, I quit my office job and opened an animal rescue centre. It sounds really simple when I state it out, but the first few months were hell, and it was really difficult getting any support. Many of the animals that came in were too injured or sick and it broke our hearts to put them down. My family and friends did not support any of it at first, and the whole idea that I was getting my salary based on charity was unthinkable to them. But after all this time, they’re starting to figure out that this is a job that was meant just for me. To save one animal was a triumph in itself, and it brings me a joy that I’m still coming to terms with. Right now, things are stable, and at the entrance of the rescue centre is a small grave for the puppy that started this whole thing. We call her Inuka, and I hope she’s happy where she is, and in the difference she has made.”

* * *

“I like to run. I don’t know how I could have envisioned my life doing any other sport. Back in Primary school I was never the sporty kind. I joined the chess club (not that there is anything wrong with chess, except that I was horrible at it) while all my other friends went on to play soccer, basketball, hockey. I never felt envious per se, but part of me knew that I wanted to do some sort of sport. I was an active kid who just couldn’t find his outlet.

I joined running in secondary one not because it interested me, but because there was nothing else to join. I just figured out that running wasn’t the hardest thing to do. How could I possibly mess up? During the first training I discovered just how bad I was at this “simple sport”. After one warm up jog I already felt faint and my chest hurt. After the whole training session was over, I felt physically depleted, and worst of all, felt a strong sense of self loathing. How did I get myself into such a state? This was a question I asked myself training session after training session.

Time passed, and I watched while groups of students joined and left the CCA, joining other sports like hockey, rugby, soccer. I stayed. I stayed not in spite of the pain, but because of it. The pain and exhaustion bit at me so hard that I had no choice but to bite back harder at it. There was no other way, and such a struggle within my head made me feel like after all this time, I was finally proving something to myself. 9 years have passed, and when people ask me what sport I play, I answer proudly, “I am a runner.””

* * *

“There is no way to describe how happy I feel right now, but I know with all this happiness comes the possibility of tremendous disappointment. It’s as if I’ve got exactly what I wanted when I wasn’t looking for it. I didn’t even have to find it, but somehow this person just appeared in my life. Yes. He just appeared, and the best thing was that he didn’t even try. With everyone before it was as if something was being forced, some game was being played or some objective was being conquered. With him it just feels effortless, it feels…right. Sometimes a glance feels like an hour-long probe into my soul yet with the things he says, we can talk for hours without it even feeling like hours. Time either stands stock still or rushes past when he’s around, and I don’t know if this reality even holds any weight anymore.

He’s leaving for the states tomorrow, and I don’t know how to feel about it. Sadness would be a good option, but I know that’s not what he’d want me to feel, so I have to force myself not to show it. We had one last walk together yesterday, and I asked him if he was willing to try. All he could tell me was that he didn’t want to hold me down. I guess I have made my own plans and he has made his, and there’s nothing we can really do to change that. What I do know is that I am willing to try. Life is too short for the in-betweens, don’t you think? Perhaps this is silly and I may get hurt really, really badly, but this little voice in my head is telling me that this might just be worth it.”

* * *

“For the past few years I have been raised single-handedly by my dad. I wouldn’t say that my childhood was abject misery, but through my formative years I’ve witnessed some things and felt certain emotions that no kid should ever have to go through. All I know is that through all this, I’ve had nothing but respect for him. That, and a love deeper than I’d like to admit. Though he’d never feel this way, I’d like to think that he was my very own superhero through these years. My friends all had other idols and heroes that were physically superior and much easier on the eyes, but as long as my dad could carry my weight I’d always feel that that was enough. More than enough, in fact. And that was our biggest difference: my dad never felt like he was good enough. He always apologised for not being there for me, for falling asleep on the couch before I came back home, for the late shifts that meant he couldn’t see me off to school the next day. I saw him once when I woke up to visit the toilet. He was hunched over the book cabinet at four in the morning, reaching deep in to repair a loose hinge, his legs skinny and back full of sweat. That was when I realised how tough it must have been for him all along, that when grief rendered me insular that I never considered that somebody was up at 4 am trying so hard to fix our lives again. I just want to take this chance to say thank you, Dad. You never gave up on us, so there will never be a reason for me to give up on you. You have been and will always be the greatest superhero in my life.”

* * *

To fight for what you love is a complex thing, but like the examples above show, we owe it to ourselves to give it a shot. A famous author once said that we only get two or three chances of finding true happiness in our lives, and in the light of that we have to grasp at any opportunity we’ve got at finding it. I believe that our passions have a higher function; not just to make us happy, but also to mould who we are as people; to define our very being. We are but the sum of our life choices, and many of these choices are inextricably linked to the things we love and hold dear to us. In that respect, there is no time for any half-assed attempts at what we truly desire and long for. The struggles that are borne out of these passions eventually make for a life worth living, or at least a life you can be happy with. This privilege is not to be trifled with, and I hope the above examples have encapsulated such a sentiment. 

What do You Want to be when You Grow Up?

We’re at this point in our lives where people around us like to ask this peculiar question, that is, “what do you want to be when you grow up?” I think people treat this more as an ice breaker question; no one really cares about what you want to be (except maybe your parents but sometimes their concern takes a trajectory independent of your passions). Perhaps we’re too caught up with our own lives to really care.

But what do you know? After a while, this question does get annoying. It creeps into your head and before you know it, you’re asking yourself the very same question. Except, for this once, you actually care. What do I want to be when I grow up? Geez, get your act together, you how old already?

It was on a cool, quiet night when this question presented itself. I was walking with my friends, down a secluded street in Potong Pasir in the dead of night. It was so quiet that I swore I heard the traffic light click as the light changed from green to red. It was then that one of my friends turned to me when we were lagging behind, and asked the question. “What do you want to be when you grow up?” It was as abrupt as a dense cloud on a sunny day.

I wouldn’t tell most people what I want to be when I grow up. But you can sort of infer what kind of job suits me, as have I. I didn’t do all this writing for fun, and I’ve decided I sort of love it. And with that little passion arose certain dreams and what not. But look, lets be realistic. We’re in Singapore, and every Chinese New Year I’m rudely reminded of the harsh reality of what the future holds. My relatives are very realistic people. Money and success is as scarce as colourful butterflies and being mediocre as common as the soldier ant.

But strangely enough, on that cool night, I told him. I could have made up something like editor, or teacher, and those aren’t bad jobs. It just wasn’t something I really wanted to be. So in the end I just told him what I truly dreamed to be, along with all the doubts that surrounded such a dream. He looked at me, a large, indian fella probably twice my girth and maybe twice my weight as well. He has been through a lot in his life, I grant you that. But then at that moment his gaze softened up, and he spoke in absolute sincerity, “never underestimate yourself.”

Now I’m not the kind that’s easily inspired. It takes a lot to inspire me and run of the mill stock phrases like “don’t give up” and “every failure is a lesson” inadvertently makes me feel uncomfortable. But at that moment, with the cool night air and the absolute quiet, those words really meant a lot. It was like a thick blanket on a cold day. Never underestimate yourself. I couldn’t have said it better myself.

Ultimately, it was a reminder to have courage. Perhaps we don’t like risks. We’d rather take a safer path than bash through the bushes for a shortcut. We plot everything out predictably and sensibly. But look. This is the rest of our lives! We owe it to ourselves to have a shot at greatness, and we owe it to ourselves, especially, to do things with a big heart and approach every challenge with oomph and sincerity. That’s what it means to do what you love, to know deep within yourself that it’s worth fighting for. And yes, it makes sense. In the pursuit of this ideal image, you cannot, for one moment, underestimate yourself.

And at the same time, it reminded me of the beauty of words. It was uncanny that three simple words like that could draw out such vivid, coherent thoughts given the right situation and delivered with the right emotion.

It was like a baseball bat striking the baseball dead centre. It’s the same sort of feeling. Those words really hit home.

If I ever end up doing what I love as a living, I’d think back to that cool night walking through the quiet streets of Potong Pasir and the words that were given to me. I will think back to that time when it was so quiet you could swear you heard the click of the traffic light as it turned from red to green. You can bet I will.

10 Annoying Questions that Every Runner Hates

I’m a semi serious runner, or at least I will be once my injured leg heals (faster heal lah I’m sick of waiting) and I also reside in Singapore so yes, it’s hot here, really hot and humid and life here moves along pretty fast and a lot of us have a lot to do and very little time for sports. So when you choose running as your main sport or if you show a vague interest in running, you’re sure to be bombarded by these really annoying questions by all the non-runners out there. So here goes…

“Huh not tiring ah?”

Yeah I think we are well aware of how tiring running is because we actually do the running so when you tell us that it is tiring it’s not going to make any sense to us nor will your opinion be of any value. Yes, running is tiring. But we love it for that.

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Of course it’s tiring…

“Not hot ah?”

It’s hot alright. The temperature here soars to a sweltering 35 °C every now and then and even at night it can be a staggering 31 °C. But look at it this way: the faster you run, the more air resistance, the more the wind cools your face and it’s actually not too bad when you get into the rhythm. If you just walk? Then yeah, no wonder it’s hot.

“Not boring ah?”

If the scenery and the cars and the random passersby and the possible contact with nature isn’t enough, the pain you feel towards the end of your run should excite you a bit. If it doesn’t, then run faster. More scenery passes by and there’s more pain. Not boring at all, trust me.

“You siao ah?”

Yeah we’re crazy but you’re lazy.

“Where you find the time to run ah?”

We find it where you find time watching TV, using Facebook stalking your crush or playing street soccer. We find it when we most want it. YES! We actually want to run and if you want to do something you wont ever NOT have time for it.

“How you even breathe after you run so far ?”

Breathing is really simple you just breathe and like even when you’re running breathing is still breathing and it’s really the same process. Bet you didn’t know!

Eh did you sign up for the 10km marathon?”

I need to make this very clear. A marathon is 42.195 km and it’s a tribute to that messenger who sacrificed his life running so far. Hence a 10 km, at best, can only qualify as a “quarter marathon” while 21 km is called a “half marathon”. Anything more than a marathon is automatically called an “ultramarathon” so don’t just bunch every distance as a marathon. By right, anything less is just called a “run”.

“Why you don’t cycle or swim?”

Yeah we get it! Cycling is faster and there’s more wind and more classy cos the bikes can be branded and swimming is cooling. We totally understand but sometimes in life the best option isn’t always the most suitable one. We realise that running can bring us a certain kind of joy that cannot really be rationalised. Can you understand that?

“Got win the race?”

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I don’t know why people think that running is like the world cup finals where one team wins and the other loses. In actual fact there can be as many as 16 to 7000 runners in any long distance event. So to answer your question, no. No one’s going to win unless you’re lucky enough to ask that one guy who probably runs so much even I’d ask him the above questions.

“Never win the race ah….but you cannot just run a bit faster meh?

If I could I would. Seriously. Running isn’t very complicated. It isn’t like soccer or poker where bad decisions on the day itself can cause you to lose spectacularly. In the running world it all comes down to training and consistency. It’s not some last minute bankai kind of thing that people think it is, so STOP asking if we could have been faster. We love our sport and giving any less than our best is the ultimate disrespect to the running gods.

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It’s a passion, you love it more and more with every step you take 🙂

Teaching, Part III: 3 Things I’ve Learnt

Why do all good things come to an end? Back in 2007, Nelly Furtado posed this question in her hit single, and back in 2007 I was supposed to be a secondary one kid in St. Andrew’s Secondary School (SASS). I was in Perth, Western Australia for the whole of 07’ and I came back in 2008 as a Sec 2 kid to the open arms of SASS. It was the beginning of a long and fruitful journey that led me back to where I started. And so it was, that on January 2nd, 2015, I returned as a relief teacher to the very same school that raised me. Two and a half months passed, and on a warm Friday morning I stepped into St Andrew’s Secondary School as a teacher for the last time.

Before I start going full sentimental with the goodbyes, I’d just like to keep composed, and touch on three key takeaways from my experience as a relief teacher.

  1. Teachers sacrifice a lot

You always hear awesome things about being a teacher; that they end work at 2pm and that civil servant pay is actually pretty decent and they have one month of holiday in June and another month in December and oh my gosh that’s not fair everyone in the corporate world only gets 14 days and it’s just kids how tough can it be? Yeah, you get the sensing, that teaching is quite the “easy” and undervalued job. I believe many people choose not to be teachers because they feel they are “better than that”, that they could probably take on a bigger challenge in life and make a “bigger impact to society”. Well, mud to them, because let me tell you straight out: teaching is tough shit. In the world of teaching, there are a lot of variables that play out in the background that society is blissfully unaware of.

Most of the teachers end their regular timetables at 1:45 PM, but I always observe a bunch of teachers spread out at the wooden tables outside the staffroom after school. They are crowded around by a group of students, giving consults that last till as late as 4. Teachers sacrifice their own time to give these consults, and on paper, they have no obligation to do so. I myself have given some consults, but not nearly as many as the full-timers. Consults are pretty interesting because you actually have a smaller audience so you feel like you’re teaching more effectively. But at the same time, it’s draining to put in this extra effort after the entire morning of slogging it out. But they’d gladly do it, because after all, they still care for their students.

Besides these extra consults, there is at least one after-school staff meeting (if you’re lucky) and two CCA training days per week (again, if you’re lucky. The school Rugby team trains at least 5 times a week, even on weekends). So with all these considerations, ending work early is really an illusion. Most teachers only have one day in the week that they can leave school early, and even then, an avalanche of marking greets them at home.

Holidays aren’t as festive as you might think either. Teachers are at home (or even in school) making long-term lesson plans, goal setting, crafting worksheets and marking the worksheets they created last term. In my opinion, the effort and sacrifice more than justifies this “decent civil servant salary”. Other jobs may be tough, but teaching is certainly no less tough.
 

  1. Teaching is not a one-man show.

 I used to think that teaching was like hosting the Ellen Show, you just step on up, do that cute little dance, crack a few jokes, make the entire world interested, and then step on down. Well, it isn’t. Teaching is an insane balance of everything and anything. What do I mean by that?

Firstly, you have to balance between micro and macro management. One minute you’re giving out general instruction, and the next minute you are scuttling about, answering the specific questions of individual students. It takes tremendous skill to vacillate between both roles so your class knows exactly what you want. And that is assuming you have an attentive class. If you have a noisy class that throws things around and threatens to get into a fight every five minutes, then it’s a whole new ball game.

Which is the second challenge: discipline. To maintain some classroom decorum, you have to bargain with the students and make sense to them throughout the lesson. They will bargain for second chances, ask if they can eat in class, and give a myriad of excuses to get out of line. There is no one minute you can take your eyes off them, no moment in time you can fully turn your back to them. Between the bargaining you have to manage your volume effectively, and more importantly manage the way you punish them. You cannot be too lenient to the point where they crawl over your head, nor can you be too strict to a point were they lose all respect for you. It all hinges upon the right balance of attention and discipline, and from that, you get effective teacher-student communication.

As you can already guess, teaching is nothing like hosting your own stand up comedy. It took quite a few lessons to understand this, and after two months, my classroom management is still an area that is sorely lacking. I wish I could be more versatile and adapt faster, but I don’t blame myself. I believe that most teachers take years of experience to master this, and even then, it is never truly perfect.

  1. Teachers need constant encouragement and support.

Teaching is one hell of a demanding job. Outside lessons, they are juggling a thousand matters to do with admin, marking and parents. During lessons they are juggling forty-odd students. Anything can go wrong at anytime. We have a lot to think about, and when something goes wrong, we often blame ourselves.

We partly blame ourselves for all sorts of things like poor test results, parent complains, and even when our students are late for class. We are expected to have some control over the class, so when there is a slip, we feel bad.

For instance, I once had a class where one student lost his temper and injured another student. This happened in the split second when my back was turned to the class. It was total chaos, and after the lesson, I had to make an incident report and do a bunch of things to ensure that punishment was meted out and that things were settled properly. At the end of it, I felt terrible. I tried very hard to rationalize, that it was too sudden, that things like that just happen, that boys will be boys. But like how water tends to flow to the lowest point, the blame always led back to me.

We will never admit it, but through all this negativity, we desperately need the assurance that we’re not screwing everything up for the kids. It may be that some experienced teachers have seen a lot through the years and so manage to hold their own, but either way, some sort of doubt does creep in. I was fortunate that I got the assurance from my colleagues that this sort of experience is inevitable. There were tough times but we’d talk it out. There were even meetings that targeted problem students and in the aftermath, no one was left alone. They knew I was new to all this, and whenever I helped out with their lessons or marking they’d occasionally place throat remedies and fruit juices on my desk. Sometimes I would even find lunch on my desk. We helped each other out, and I was taken aback by how immensely kind and supportive they were.

The only thing possibly better than support from my colleagues is support from my students. Sometimes after lesson they’d tell me how engaging it was, and that my style of teaching is refreshing even though I was shaky and uncertain during the lesson. Even the small gestures like the casual hello and a simple “how was your day?” can really make you feel a lot better amidst the everyday pressure. Sure, the students can turn into devils mid-lesson, but as I discovered early on, their childlike innocence never fails to reveal itself now and then. It makes you feel like for all your efforts, there is some positive result reflected off their care and concern. That in itself makes a lot of things seem worth it.

Ultimately, saying goodbye has been made very hard because of the above. All the encouragement and support, all the smiles and benign gestures have all melted down to harried goodbyes, a few thank you notes and nice firm handshakes. No, it hasn’t always been rainbows and butterflies, and yes, I’ve had my lows even within two short months. But within these trails hid important lessons, and with these lessons I have found some purpose in my life.

Every experience has taught me a lot, but what will truly stick with me is the kindness of both my colleagues and students. I hold them in such high esteem, and if my path ever takes me back, it is to be part of this family again.