Tag Archives: school

The First Grader

This film really spoke to the educator within. Based on a true story: 84-year old Kimani Maruge, who gave up his life fighting for his country’s independence, finds himself being denied the right to quality education. The battles he fights are not only with the administration, but also within himself. The teacher who supported him, Jane Obinchu, is also an inspiration.

This passionately-written post by the actress who played Jane tells of some parts of the filming process and follow-ups. It’s really touching to know that the crew left the community with more improvements than when they first arrived for filming.

“Learn until soil gets into your ears.”
– Kimani Maruge

Saying Goodbye

No one told me leaving would be this hard.

I guess being too caught up with the preparation of everything else overshadowed my actual emotions about leaving the school, the friends, the familiar environment, the sense of togetherness…

And above all, the memories – the walking opposite to get bubble tea, the buying lunches for each other, the long meetings, the early days, the never-ending days, the no-need-to-teach-yay! days, the performances, the music, the words of appreciation, the small successes, the disappointing failures, the what-am-I-doing-this-for days, the I-could-do-this-forever days…

Everything just came together in a flood of memories and emotions. As a colleague very encouragingly put it (while offering me tissue): “It’s been a tough 4 years, but its been fulfilling, hasn’t it?”

“Is it possible? To feel this way? Happy and sad at the same time?” I asked, exasperated at my inability to control my outward display of emotions.

“Yes,” came the reply. “It is possible. And I’m glad you feel sad as well, because if you only felt happy about leaving, that would be really sad!”

I guess it’s also just me being me, rejecting change, yet wishing to embrace new opportunities, leading to such inner conflict and turmoil… and tears. Oh, the tears.

I need to learn to accept change quicker. After all, farewells are part and parcel of life, and change is the only constant. Nothing stays the same forever. People come and go, and to ask for life to stay as we know it would be denying ourselves the opportunities for progress and new experiences.

May I move on. Quicker.

The Age Thing

When I first started teaching, when students asked the usual “how old are you?”, and when I replied with the usual “Guess?”,

The answers I got mainly ranged around 20 – 23, which was quite close to the truth. Some even guessed me to be 18 or 19, which was not necessarily a good thing, because when secondary school kids perceive you as only a few years older than them, things may not always go smoothly.

Then, around the beginning of this year, (only) my 4th year in service, I began to notice things about myself. Things that weren’t so obvious in earlier years.

The tiredness. The fatigue. The eyebags. The lines. Small, but lines, all the same. And the tiredness. The overall tiredness.

I also began to notice that the new batch of students who asked me the same question of me and got the same reply from me would proceed to give me figures that ranged a little higher. Some guessed 25-30. Some said “30+?” hesitantly (sigh). Some said “You can’t be more than 25”, which of course made me relatively happy.

Today, a group of girls in the Sec 2 class expressed such shock and surprise when I told them no, of course I’m not married.

(At the same time I was thinking… Do I need to explain to them what the salutation “MISS” means???)

“But… Cher! Surely you’re engaged?!”


Inside I was sighing, thinking that the years of work must have worn me down so much that I now look like I’m of confirm-marriageable age, and no longer the age of the young and carefree.

“But Cher, you’re so pretty! And nice! Surely you must at least have a boyfriend?!”

“No. But…” a smile crept across my face.

“Thank you for the compliment.”

I know, I am such a vainpot >.<

On Humans and Starfishes

“Those who failed the test must take the re-test on Wednesday afternoon.”

“I can’t. I have to finish my art coursework. I’m very stressed over it. I need to finish it.”

“You can go finish it after the re-test. This isn’t my rule. This is the H* Department’s rule. If you don’t turn up we’ll have to call your parents.”

“Call lor. I’ll tell my parents to write a letter. Ask them to complain.”

And that was the end of that, because I didn’t see why I should continue arguing with her. I walked away, feeling that my day had been somewhat ruined by that short exchange.


On Wednesday afternoon, she came. I greeted her with a smile and spoke to her in a welcoming tone. “I’m glad you came!”

“I just need to finish the questions I failed, then I can go?”

“Yes! Remember not to repeat your mistakes!”


And she did pass, this time.

And then we started talking.

“Why are you so stressed over your Art? Shouldn’t you have finished your coursework in June?”

“It’s because… the new art teacher this year… she wasn’t clear about the deadlines… so we started later. Now I’m stressed I cannot finish in time.”

“I see…”

“Yeah… I’m really scared I’ll do badly for my N Levels.”

“Why would you do badly? You’re not that bad, you’re actually one of my better students.”


“Yes. Just remember that Stalin was from Russia, Hitler from Germany. NOT the other way around.”

She replied with a sheepish grin.

“I don’t even know what course I want to go to after I graduate. I like Psychology, and Design, but I also want to do Early Childhood and become a pre-school teacher. I scared study Design, next time no future. Then I also wanted to go into Law, but that one super hard to get in.”

And on and on she rattled.

I found myself getting to know this girl whom had been nothing but just a face in the classroom, a name on paper. Papers which always produced somewhat decent grades, hiding among the many others as a blur of words and content. That was all I knew about her before she chose to open up.

After discussing with her the pros and cons of studying something which “might not have a future”, I ended by telling her: “Do what will make you happy.”

She seemed to think about that for awhile, and in that moment, we were not teacher and student, pitted against each other by the cruel system, but two humans, sighing and dreaming in the midst of this rat race of life and our search for happiness.

Also a timely reminder that even behind the seemingly worst students, there are fears, hopes, stories and dreams. We just need to take time and effort to reach out to them. And while every starfish you touch may seem insignificant to the world, you may mean the world to that starfish.

star-fishPicture Source

Madam * .

From January to May this year, I was given a Sec 2 class for History. They are a good Express class. Most of them are self-motivated and eager to learn. They are even a little too quiet and reluctant when it comes to group activities. They excelled in their SA1 results.

When Term 3 started in July, this class was given to another teacher, and my periods with them were replaced by periods with a Sec 3 class; I would not be the main teacher, but I was to co-teach and learn from the main teacher. The Boss wants to prepare me for upper sec History next year. (-.-)

Sometimes, when I walk past students of this Sec 2 class, they ask why I don’t teach them anymore. Some of them said they missed me, which was really sweet of them.

Yesterday, a girl from this class approached me. She is from Thailand. As with most international students in my school, she is very diligent and hardworking.

“Cher, can I ask you about History?”

My first thought was, “Why don’t you ask Mdm * ?”

But because it was so sudden, and Mdm * happened to be busy with the O level students, I said… ok.

And that was how, today, we ended up sitting outside the staffroom, with her and her friend asking me what is the format for history essays, why did Malaya not want Merger in the first place, and what were the factors which led to Separation, how do we answer SBQ questions that test on Purpose, etc.

Naturally, I was a little wary that Mdm * would suddenly come out and see us together. Which teacher would like to see her students going to another teacher for help? I worried that she might be offended.




If I were to end this post here, and say that the session ended uneventfully, without Mdm * ever noticing us, it’d be such an anti-climatic ending, wouldn’t it?






From the corner of my eye, I saw her emerging from the staffroom door, my source of fear and worry. Acting cool and ignorant, I continued talking to the girls, explaining why studying from notes might be more beneficial than studying from the textbook. She walked past us. It was obvious. The Sec 2 History textbook was sprawled wide open on the table. I didn’t look up at all. But I saw the sheepish and guilty smiles of the girls, and I knew she had seen us. Even the girls knew they were going behind their teacher’s back!! Mdm * did not stop, she continued on her way to class. But I KNEW she had seen us. She had seen ME.

When the session finally ended a few minutes later, the girl again said:

“Cher, why don’t you teach us anymore? I actually prefer you.”

“Maybe if you choose History next year, I might be teaching you then.” I replied, remembering my Boss’ sinister plans for me.

“Oh I will definitely take History elective! Because I cannot understand anything in Geography at all!” She rattled on in her cute Thai accent.

I smiled and went back to the staffroom.



So, what do you think? What should I think?

It’s probably nothing. Mdm * might probably appreciate the help I was giving to the students. She might come and joke that they miss me too much.

But I also know her well. She’s an easily jealous person. She thinks for her own good. She manipulates to get what she wants. She complains to higher authorities. She can bear grudges. She is one of the few people in the school against which I have not let my guard down. What will she think about her students asking me for help instead of clarifying their doubts with her? Jealousy is a scary thing.


We shall see, won’t we?