Friday, February 24, 2012

Contemplation and Comedy

I started my teaching career way back in August 2001. I was very young (and looked even younger) and inexperienced, and the students knew it. In fact, quite a number of them were the same age as me, and some others older than me. I remember how nervous I was the morning of the very first lecture - such that I had my colleague, Mr Kopi, accompany me to class. He stayed with me until the first students started walking in (for which I will be forever grateful!).

That class, I remember, had some nasty troublemakers. There was this boy who sat at the back of the class and deliberately disturbed the lectures by chatting away, yawning very audibly, and on several occasions, announcing loudly "This is so boring! So boring!" The last time he did, I chided him. The discourse went more or less like this:

"This is the syllabus that I have to teach."
"What do you expect me to do? Sing and dance?"
"Yeah! That's good, do that!"
"If you really like that, you're in the wrong major. You should go and do Performing Arts instead."

He had no witty comeback (not that any of his antics and rebuttals were witty in the first place) so he was silenced. He did not give me any more trouble for the rest of the semester, but he did lead a group of the naughtiest in the class to bully one of my other colleagues (who was also a first-time lecturer) into tears. There was also this girl who loved to ask questions and/or request that I repeat certain parts of the lecture, but when I gave her answers or repeated stuff as per her request, she would be busy playing with her phone and not listening. Every single time. No, I'm not joking.

In those early days, I often thought of my favourite teachers and lecturers, and thought about the qualities in them that made me love them so much. Dedication. Passion. Genuine concern for their students. Teaching with the earnest aim to educate would, usually, result in developing a good teaching style. That much, I believe. I tried, so very hard, all through the years, to continuously improve my style. I figured out the best way to deliver difficult lessons, the best way to explain difficult concepts, the best way to illustrate the abstract. Above all, I tried to instill the love of learning in my students - I tried to encourage them to be inquisitive. I often asked them to ask questions. I often said, upon having presented a point or a solution, "Don't you want to know why?" Asking "why" is important. I tried so very hard to teach that. So very hard.

Reader, you could perhaps have sense the heavy tone of resignation by now.

For, an education isn't what they really want. They don't care that I put so much effort and energy into delivering the lessons in ways best suited for their level of understanding. They don't like it when I criticize their shoddy work, and they don't like it when I refuse to waste my time listening to excuses. They say that I'm harsh, that I don't give them the chance to "explain", that I set the standards too high, and that I shouldn't even be a lecturer. They don't like it when I check their bad manners, and they don't like it that I don't spoon-feed them and expect them to take some responsibility in their own learning. They say that I should calm myself down, that I should understand that the subject is "very difficult", and even that I have failed in my attempt to "teach" them self-learning.

Maybe it is true that I have failed, or that I am indeed not suited for this lowly-paid (but highly-intellectually-demanding) occupation. Don't get me wrong - I am way past the era of being hurt at ridiculous comments thrown at me. At first, I was just really sad that this generation has degraded to such new lows - the mentality they showcased is beyond shameful. At first. After seconds and thirds... I got used to it. I constantly remind myself that no matter how the majority wouldn't know good teaching if it came up to them and spat them in the face, there are always a few who would truly appreciate the way I put my heart into their education. Even if there is ONE, out of a hundred, my efforts would not be in vain.

I don't know where the comedy is in all of these... perhaps it is in reading a report and finding this statement: "The best way to make full step is to make two half steps."

Or getting the answer, "Lagrangian tree is a tree", for a question asking the definition of the said term.

Or looking at a program for controlling traffic lights at a cross junction that is written such that all the lights will turn green at the same time.

Or getting a signal-to-noise-ratio with the unit of Hz in an exam script.

Or this:

Ahhh, how I love Academia! Truly!


Anonymous said...

Hello there!

You sound quite tormented by poor students! Let me applaud you for striving for ideals; in this world, there are increasingly less of you...

It is certainly easy to say, "if you can't beat'em, join'em!", but I think you should continue to maintain your standards, stick to your convictions, and someday, somehow, people will recognise and respect you for it.


neil said...

Thank you, Anon, for your very kind words. Cheers to you too! =)