Teachers' Day Cards

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During my secondary school years, a Teachers' Day was a special occasion which called for glue and glitter. I would sit around, creating cards and handicrafts from pieces of construction paper, sensitive to how I couldn't afford gifts. Other students would buy chocolates and sea salt and miniature soft toys and roses. I could only make cards, wishing that these flimsy papers were enough.

Now that I am a teacher, I realise that my secondary school teachers weren't lying. Everyone appreciates handwritten notes over chocolates (which they could have bought themselves). 

My students don't understand how much energy it takes to care for them, to discipline them. The truth is that I get so worked up sometimes that I can't sleep and eat properly. It's decorum and dignity and life skills and values that I'm teaching. They, in their youthful bubble of invincibility, can't appreciate how draining it is to guide them on the proper path.

Not only do teachers have to deal with students, they have to deal with parents as well. I have parents who told me to control their children, who hinted that they have degrees and not to lie to them, who insinuated that I'm not fit to care for their children.

It's hard - impossible, sometimes - to remember that there is a purpose to the daily frenzy. Rushing from corner to corner, answering calls from different mothers, finding that one form for that one student who manages to lose everything. The truth is that we are teachers but many students treat us as maids. It's not possible to be a maid to 160+++ students at one go.

It is with much gratitude that I read the following poems and notes from lovely, lovely students.

It's selfish and unprofessional and irrational, but how I wish that every day can be a Teachers' Day.



There are words and there are words. There are moments when words aren't enough. I am still thinking about a published poem which feels incomplete.

A piece - which I worked on since 2013 - has finally found a home in Unhomed, a collection of prose and poetry by Ethosbooks. 

I kept revisiting this poem, condensing it from a narrative form of around two hundred words to this eventual distillate.

How do I put it?

It is one of those life experiences that writing is supposed to absolve (and naturally doesn't).

It is about abuse, based on an experience with a child who lived a five minute walk away. The boy, with his collection of bruises, had shocked the teenage me. Sheltered in school and confronted with the dreaded O levels and puzzled by the reluctance of adults to do anything, I had avoided the child.

Every now and then, I would take a detour to see if he was still living there. About three years ago, his home was redeveloped.

As a civil servant embedded in the public education system and an adult (?), I have grown to understand that there are many just don't care simply because they have too many problems of their own to care about others' problems.

There are parents who fulfilled their reproductive potential and pretty much did nothing else. There are some who keep having children whom they will not look after.

A recent outing reminded me that I used to dream about pursuing art. A bitter aftertaste, this realisation that I have somehow stopped at some point without even realising so.

Do I feel regret though? At least I am where I am needed and my work, while draining (always) and frustrating (almost always), is meaningful.

After the Home Visit

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It has been a long day today. Work review - lesson observation - level meeting - CCA visit to a home for the elderly. The assault of activities was so draining that, by evening, my mind was like a fat cat that refused to roll over.

At the home, cadets enjoyed themselves while interacting with the elderly. They conversed, played games and sang songs. After these activities, we bid farewell.

The moment we reached school, I went oh-oh-oh. Where was my backpack?

Answer: It was in a corner of the hall in the elderlies' home at a different part of Singapore. What should I do? Okay, there are some valuables within (but nothing as valuable as my lovely students). Maybe one hundred dollars worth of cash? What a wretched thing to happen, just when I was ready to head back to school, tidy up the various administrative loose ends before collapsing in a heap at home.  

Had a student left his belongings behind, I would have been visibly and thoroughly crossed. Writing this now, I can imagine how I would chastise him - perhaps a lecture on the importance of taking care of one's belonging and how no one could be responsible for us but ourselves.

"Excuse me, I am a teacher of the school who just visited. A student left his bag behind. A blue bag with a green water bottle. Is it possible to see if it is still in the hall?" I was too embarrassed to admit that I was the one who forgot his belonging.

"Sorry, what's your name?"

"Mr Tan."

"Your handphone number?"


"Okay, we will call you back if there's anything."

A few minutes later, my phone rang.

"Is it your bag?"

From the identification card in my wallet, they realised that it was not a student who forgot his bag, It was the teacher who forgot.

It was mortifying, how easily my face-saving gesture was exposed.  

Things to be happy about

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These few days, I have been thinking about why I teach. There are many students, all with unique quirks, who don't fit neatly into the architecture of a public school. They rage - at times with quiet stabs at question papers, at times with hysteria along walkways.

Perhaps it's because of their intrinsic nature, perhaps it's because of their upbringing, perhaps it's because of peer influence, perhaps it's because of their hormones... but it is evident that an ordered educational experience does not serve their needs.

That's the problem with any public system, be it the healthcare system or transport system or voting system or educational system. It caters to the masses, the averages, sometimes to the expense of a significant group of individuals.

I just look at so many children and know that my ranting and raving will not save many of them. My patience and persistence is recognised but that's all. It is recognised but not reciprocated. The fact of the matter is that children have to save themselves. As the saying goes, you can lead a horse to the stream but you cannot force it to drink. This saying has lost the ring of truth from endless repetition but it remains true nevertheless.

Being a player in this system requires a recognition of one's limits - how to direct resources to serve the most number of students in a limited space and within an allocated period. There are just too many students who need help that only others can offer.

Because today was a particularly tough day with spectacularly misbehaving charges - think water jambu flying towards the fan and a vice-principal who happens to walk past - I feel the need to list down some things that I should be happy about:

1) A colleague who offers support to students with special needs tells me that one student told her that I did not give up on a classmate.

2) Three different sets of parents gave encouraging feedback.

3) A child said thank-you when I placed a consent form on his table. (I think it is the first time I have heard someone expressing gratitude for receiving a X-country consent form.)

It is easy to be engulfed - defeated even - by sheer hopelessness at how powerful and gormless the system is. Credit for any form of success, no matter how trivial, will be usurped while fault, taichied around to the least powerful. Yet, it does us good to remember that there are silvers of hope and sometimes, it is all we have and must make do with.

English MCQs with Answers: Short Passages

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The following document is useful for foreign students attempting to gain admission to a Singapore school through the AEIS exams. It is also useful for students who wish to gain deeper understanding of the English language.