Time is flying by at an alarming rate. My last post was Thailand, which was over a month ago, and now I’m only a month away from being HALFWAY through my grant. My time spent here has changed things. My house is now a humble abode, my school is a canvas where I am creating my masterpiece, and Malaysia is a home away from home. I’ve settled into a consistent routine that allows me to spend as much time with students as possible without getting burnt out. I usually arrive at school a tad before 7:30am so I can be visible at the morning announcements. I try to greet as many students as possible every day and always ask them “How are you?” They know now Mr. Matt expects an answer other than “I’m fine.” Afterwards I usually have a morning tea with some of the teachers in the canteen. This is the first of at least three times a day where I have to decline sugar being added to my beverage. Most of the time I sit with the male teachers but I like to switch it up every once in a while and sit with the females. I explained to the teachers how in America this segregation is nonexistent and that I would like to get to know all of my co-workers equally. With some Malay translation this point was understood and accepted.
Each day I usually have between two and four classes. The classes are each forty minutes in length. The ages of the students I am teaching range between twelve and seventeen. Malaysia also organizes each grade (form) by ability. We have five forms in the school each with an A (Sina) B (Ibnu Khaldun) and C (Al Razi) class. I’ve found that for the English subject these labels don’t necessarily apply and it is more of a free-for-all, student by student basis in terms of ability. I teach a wide variety of lessons. The more advanced lessons include some grammar instruction and then an activity or game that reinforces what was just learned. It is all about repetition and practice. One of my goals for class everyday is to have every student speak in English at least once. This disintegrates shyness, builds confidence, and bolsters the students’ English together, as a unit. For the lower level classes I mostly use games. Anything else won’t hold their attention. They simply won’t understand what I’m saying (Tak faham = don’t understand). Games always bring excitement, and even a little learning without them even knowing.
At 10:20 every day the students have a half hour break called rehat (rest). They are free to wander around the school with friends, but most choose to have a snack in the canteen or buy something from the school store (koperasi). I make a point of going to the canteen every day during this time. It is another opportunity for me to speak informally with students. I can see almost every one of the 300 students and I use that time to continue learning names, practice my malay, and try to encourage any English speaking that I can. Most importantly I build relationships with my students. On a side note, this is also a great time to hear about their ‘relationships’. Boyfriends and girlfriends have an entirely different meaning in an Islamic culture- but that’s a topic for another post. I want to be seen as a teacher and a friend. I’m at the point now where I’m starting to get invited places after school with my students.
My after school activities vary by day, week and month. I’m involved with the uniform group scouts, which is kind of like boy scouts, but they practice marching. To be honest, I joined because I heard they go on a camping trip at some point in the year. I’m also a part of the English Language Society, which I have nicknamed the English Language So-Shy-ity because it is comprised of some of the most reluctant speakers in the school. I also am helping out with the chorisical group which is like choral speaking in the States. Finally, I play sports whenever possible. The way it works in Malaysia is a team will practice for a few weeks, have a tournament with the other schools in the district, and then a new team will start practicing. So far I have helped out with handball, bocce ball, track and field, and football (soccer).
On the weekends it is currently English camp season. All of the ETAs in their respective placements and schools are trying to host their first of two English camps. We all travel to each others’ locations to help out with these camps. They are an enormous amount of fun mostly involving games and other enjoyable activities. They are very informal and aim to encourage English speaking and expose the students to other Americans (especially the opposite gender of their ETA), and inspire the creativity that is constantly stifled by the exam-first mentality in Malaysia— take notes American education system! My first camp was supposed to be cooking themed and we were going to make pizzas but that idea was squashed when I saw the price of mozzarella cheese in Malaysia. Mahal! (Expensive!) Instead I am doing an American summer camp theme with tie-dye t-shirts and various other crafts.
Hope this post isn’t too long. I’m grateful for everyone that takes the time to read my posts and I will try to stay at this pace of one every three weeks. Miss and love you all.
Upcoming trips: Singapore (April 30th- May 3rd), Thailand (weekend of May 15th for a friend’s birthday celebration), and Cambodia and Vietnam (May 28th- June 13th).