Month: March 2008

My teacher, my friend


I’d like to introduce to you a very dear friend of mine. His name is Gerald Jordan, and he was my History professor in the University. Even while he was teaching me I felt a great deal of affection for this sweet and caring gentleman. He came for many of my dance performances, let me use his phone to call my boyfriend, provided a shoulder to cry on during a very difficult period of my life, and was a very engaging teacher. During my first tutorial with him, he asked us a question, and said that everyone had to try to answer it. One guy tried to be smart, and said, “Professor Jordan has asked us a very interesting question.” Gerry folded his arms and looked at him for a while, and then asked, “Well are you going to try to answer it?” It would have sounded sarcastic coming from anyone else, but coming from Gerry, with his blue eyes twinkling, you just knew that he was getting a big kick out of the exchange.

His wife Gail is just as special, because she is his anchor. She is his intellectual match and they support each other. When they are together they are a powerful mixture of compassion and good humour, with a combined wisdom that is truly an insiration. In an age when marriages fall apart at the drop of a hat, this wonderful couple in their golden years provide hope and stability. They joke about each other’s weaknesses with the complete confidence of two people who truly value and respect each other.

But above all what I love about Gerry is his ability to spread his network of love and friendship. It has been almost 20 years since he was my teacher but we have kept in touch and through him I have met many other wonderful people. All of us are connected by our love for this kindliest of professors.

When Gerry and Gail, who live in Canada, visited Singapore in February this year, they stayed in my house. They were hardly there- so busy was their social schedule- but we managed to squeeze in some time together in between their lunch and dinner appointments. The house felt empty after they left, and I hope to be able to go to Canada next year to see them again.

For a long time after he stopped teaching me, I kept referring to him as “Professor Jordan”. He was very amused by my inability to call him by his first name. But as I explained to him, in Asian culture, it is considered disrespectful to refer to your elders by name. Eventually though, as I grew closer to him and Gail, I dropped the formality.

Gerry is so much more than a teacher to me. He is one of my dearest and most special friends.


Semi-finals of inter-class debates


The posters are up in your classrooms, but just in case you haven’t had time to read them, here are the fixtures for the semi-final round next week.

Debate 1: 3E4 (P) vs 3E3 (O) on  Friday 4th April at 8:40am in the library

Debate 2: 3E5 (P) vs 3E1 (O) on Friday 4th April at 10:40 am in the library

I just want to explain the timing- for the first debate there is no problem because both classes have English at the same time. It is the second debate where we have an issue. 3E5’s Math teacher has very kindly agreed to switch lessons with me, so that she gives me her Math period on Friday in exchange for my English period on Wednesday. The downside is that both 3E1 and 3E5 end up having to skip recess. Perhaps we can solve this by starting the debate a little later, to give you time to have a quick snack. I will address this on Monday. Be sure to remind me about it as soon as I step into your classroom.

The motion is that capital punishment should be abolished in Singapore. If you search the archives for the posts in the ‘Speaker’s Corner and Debates’ category, you will see that one class has a group that has debated a similar motion. The main points can be found in that post, but I am sure you will want to find something extra- to give your team an edge over the others.

I look forward to hearing some excellent arguments, backed up substantially by relevant research and delivered confidently in flawless English! Do remember that while your objective is to win, it should not be through aggressive conduct that you beat your opponent down, but through the force of your arguments. Be assertive, by all means, but be courteous.


Expository writing


There are 2 objectives for this post:

  1. A summary of the lessons we have had on expository writing
  2. A place for you to post your paragraphs about the causes and effects of crime

I have made the point numerous times that the reason we are covering expository writing in so much detail is that this is a text type that you use in almost all subjects, and also the one that you will be using most often after you leave school. Think of your literature/ history/ geography/ social studies papers. Expository writing required? Definitely. Look at your textbooks- again, all written in an expository style.

The three types of exposition we have covered are compare and contrast, classification and cause and effect. These are beautifully explained in Just Write chapter 7. If you have not read the chapter yet, I urge you to do so as soon as possible. It is important for you to be able to decide which type of writing is required when you look at the essay topic. If you would like some examples, there are excellent sample essays in Just Write. You might also like to refer to the upper secondary essays in Slices of Life. I notice many of you do not even read this collection, which is a shame, because it provides examples for you of exactly the types of essays that will get you good marks. When you look at the sample essays in both books, focus on

  1. the essay questions
  2. the type of expository writing used in the answers
  3. the basis for comparison/ contrast (if it is a compare/contrast type of essay), or the basis for classification (if it a classification type of essay)
  4. the transitional words used

There is no shame in learning from those who have come before us. Why reinvent the wheel? Read what your seniors have written and then build on it.

And now for your paragraphs. I am interested to see what you are able to come up with. Just type in the comment box.  


We Didn’t Start The Fire

You listened to this song in class today. I played it for no other reason than that I liked it and wanted to share it with you. The lyrics cover all the major events and icons of Billy Joel’s life, and you may not recognize many of them, but I guarantee that if you trace each one of them you will learn a lot about American history by the time you reach the end of the song.

Most of you have heard Hosan Leong’s parody of this song, and say that you identify with it because it deals with concepts and events that you are familiar with. This is understandable, especially since Leong’s version is humorous, while Joel’s original is serious and makes a very strong statement.

My personal observation is that in Singapore we tend to use humour as our main form of expression- defence, stress-relief, self-expression and even political viewpoints. I am not sure why this is, or how it evolved, but I think at the root of the phenomenon may be the general lack of language ability of Singaporeans. There are a few people with a good command of English, but the vast majority do not achieve any significant level of intellectual competence in the language. (Note- I am not referring to fluency, which many do have.) This naturally limits the ways in which ideas can be conveyed by them and to them.

Here is a link that you can check out to find out more about Billy Joel’s song:


There is even a list of parodies of the song, and Leong’s ‘We Live in Singapura’ is listed there. I guess it is true then- imitation must be the sincerest form of flattery. The fact that so many have copied the style and tune of ‘We Didn’t Start The Fire’ is testimony to the universality of the song. Perhaps one day, instead of just parodying and copying other people’s work, Singaporeans will be able to produce something original. Maybe one of you… 😛

The Black Swan


I talked about this book in class today. It is by Nassim Nicholas Taleb, and deals with the idea of improbable events having the greatest impact. To be specific, Taleb defines a Black Swan as a large-impact, hard-to-predict and rare event beyond the realm of normal expectations. For a long time in the West, the belief was held that all swans are white. Thus when someone wanted to refer to something that he felt could not exist, or would never happen, he would use the term ‘black swan’. But when real black swans were discovered in the 17th century in Australia, the whole concept of the ‘black swan’ was turned on its head. Now, a ‘black swan’ refers to an event or an object that was previously thought to be impossible, but has now been proven to actually exist.

Look up for more details, if this is something that interests you. What makes the book interesting to me is not only the actual idea, but the conviction and confidence with which Taleb writes about it.

I first heard of the book when some of my classmates on the Master’s course that I am doing brought it up. We were discussing the idea that when you conduct a sociological observation, sometimes you are tempted to build an explanation based only on what you see. However there is the possibility that the real picture is something completely different, because there are so many factors that do not immediately present themselves. And these may be the factors that actually have the greatest impact.  

taleb.jpg  A picture of the author

The Sunday Night Blues


Note: This poem was written tongue in cheek. And should be read in the same vein. Life is meaningless if we can’t have some fun, and humour is a great way to deal with the stuff that comes our way. I love teaching and I enjoy the time I have with my students. They keep me young.  

It’s Sunday night

I feel the blues

Don’t want to hear

The awful news

School starts tomorrow

I want to cry:

Do you hate me?

Why, God, why?

I’m a good person

A decent one

Who deserves to have

A life of fun

Not students who

Forget to do

The work that they’re

Supposed to do

And leave their files

And books at home

Their shirts untucked

Their hair uncombed

Yes well I know

That there exist

The few who try

To make the list

But why are there

So many more

Who persistently

My pleas ignore

To pay attention

Speak up when

They’re asked a question

Then again

To simmer down

And listen out

For antidotes

To cure all doubt

Ah me I sigh

in desperation

mired in


filled with damning


Have you heard the awful news?

School starts tomorrow

Let’s sing the blues.

To Kill A Mockingbird

 atticus-finch-and-tom-robinson.jpg  Atticus Finch and Tom Robinson in the courtroom

atticus-finch-making-his-speech.jpg   Atticus making his courtroom speech

We have listened to Gregory Peck in the role of Atticus Finch making his famous courtroom speech in defence of Tom Robinson. Some of you managed to pick out the range of tones that he covered, as well as the techniques used in the speech that helped to create these tones.

At a later date, I will upload a detailed answer key explaining the different tones used, but for now I would like you to try to piece it all together on your own.

Here is the audio recording of the speech, so that you can listen to it again if you would like to.