Month: August 2008

Those who can, teach!

An infamous saying goes “Those who can, do. Those who can’t, teach.”  I am not sure how this came about, but it refers to the long-held misconception that if you were good at doing something you would go out and do it, instead of just talking about it in the classroom. But of course, this begs the question: is it just talk that goes on in the classroom? I would add even more questions: what is being talked about? Who is doing the talking? How is the talk taking place? What is it achieving? How far is the impact of all the talk-related activity going to go?

These are important questions, which have no definite answers because they depend so much on a plethora of variables- the subject, the classroom layout and facilities, the students, their interests and backgrounds, current beliefs and events, and also- the teacher. But asking the questions is still very important, because it is in this way that we force people who claim to believe in the above saying to eat their words.

Teaching is not an easy job. And in Singapore, I am glad to say that very few people think it is. It has been well documented how many things teachers have to do. Committees, CCAs, performance reviews, action research… and I haven’t even started on the actual teaching yet! Apart from putting resources together, marking students’ work (ugh), setting exam papers and so on, there is the one aspect that people take for granted, but on which so much of the teacher’s self-esteem depends.

I am talking about actually facing a class of students. You put yourself out there hour after hour, day after day. It is a huge investment of your emotions. And you deal with your students’ emotions as well, because you know that there is no way that 40 kids are all thinking the same thing at the same time. That is why teachers feel so drained at the end of the day. Hey- being nice to so many people can be a big strain! 🙂

That is why I say- teaching is not a job for the faint hearted. Those who can reach out to other people, those who can manage their own emotions, those who can take something difficult and explain it in such a way that anyone can understand it, those who can lead and yet teach others to lead as well, those who can give up the chance to be in the limelight so that the light may shine on others, those who can think, feel and understand, those who can open their minds to allow others inside, those who can take something boring and make it fascinating.. those who can do all this and more, these are the ones who teach.

This teachers’ day, I would like to thank my students, not only for the little notes and gifts and smiles, but for the glow of understanding on their faces, their effort to learn what I have to teach them and their willingness to share themselves with me. I thank them because they are cheerful, tireless and inspiring. I also want to thank all the teachers I have had in my life, in school as well as out of it.

But I think that most of all, I would like to thank my fellow teachers, who have stuck it out in the profession despite all the late nights, rowdy classes, endless meetings, repetitive marking, inexplicable computer systems, inhumane deadlines and sore feet. They don’t teach because they can’t. They teach because they can.


Where is Matt?

You will notice I have left two words out of the title- those of you who were paying attention in class will know why! If I did not play this video in your class on Thursday I am so sorry- either there was no time or technology let me down. Just to reiterate: this is one of my favourite videos. My friend sent me the link one day and I have been sharing it with everyone I know ever since. It makes me so happy to see this, and I think that the music, more than anything else, lifts my spirits sky high.

Here is the link:

Enjoy- and dance along!

Situational Writing- reports and proposals

This is a link to a post on this blog that I made last year. Here are the best essays from SA2 2007, and among them are a few of the situational writing pieces. I thought this would be useful for you because you can have a look at what makes a good situational writing piece. Plus, you would have tried this question yourself by now, so you are familiar with the challenges involved.

Just to summarize, here are some of the main points we went through in the text book:

  1. What is the difference between a report and a proposal? Generally, reports and proposals are very similar in the way they are written. Reports tend to provide information and proposals tend to be for the purpose of seeking approval. But we have seen that there are often overlaps between these two. For the purpose of your exam, just use whatever term is stated in the question.
  2. How do you achieve the desired level of formality? You can do this through the vocabulary- remember we looked at how ‘premises’ was used instead of ‘place’? You can also do this through structure- for example, using noun phrases and the passive form are two ways to sound more formal.
  3. What is the right format to use? When you have to write a real report or proposal someday, you will find that every organization has its own preferred format. There is a range of formats to choose from. Generally, though, there are certain basic elements that need to occupy a prominent position such as the name and position of the person you are writing to, your own name and position, the date… The point is that you need to decide, based on the task, what information you need to provide. For reports and proposals, do include a title that summarizes what the document is about.

Do let me know if I have left anything out. I will add more points as they come up in class.

Vocabulary exercises

These are the answers to the two vocabulary worksheets I gave you at the beginning of the term:

A Better Word than Nice

1.               warm

2.               thrilling

3.               tasty

4.               well-behaved

5.               polite

6.               smart

7.               interesting

8.               jolly

9.               lively

10.            pleasant

11.            comfortable

12.            delicate

13.            fine

14.            kind

15.            striking

16.            exciting

17.            gentle

18.            good

19.            delicious

20.            satisfying

21.            entertaining

22.            cheerful

23.            welcome

24.            restful

25.            happy

Ways of Walking

1.               limped

2.               strode

3.               paced

4.               toddled

5.               plodded

6.               prowled

7.               shuffled

8.               rambled

9.               sauntered

10.            strolled

11.            tramped

12.            stamped

13.            marched

14.            sneaked

15.            strutted

16.            hobbled

Please check your answers. If you want to disagree with any of the answers just write in.

Contents page for semester 2

Here is the page I told you about. I will be checking your files next week. Don’t worry- the page will be printed for you. The copy here is just so that you can refer to it while you are putting your file in order.

As I explained in class, I need you to have 2 dividers in your file- one to divide semester 1 from semester 2, and the other to be placed within semester 2 to divide composition and comprehension. Each section in semester 2 will have its own contents page. Madam Choo will probably give you hers later on.

Please ensure that your corrections are done and that there are no blank worksheets. I hope to see that any notes you have been given are personalized for your learning style with important points highlighted and notes written in the margins.

If there is work I have not returned to you yet, please be patient. It takes a long time to get through 235 compositions and I am only human.

Contents page for 2008 Semester 2: contents-page_term3_2008

Tears of victory

 Truly, the Olympics are more moving than any cinematic tragedy, more gripping than any thriller, more filled with twists and turns than any soap opera. Cielo of Brazil won the gold medal for the men’s 50 metres freestyle today, and he was in tears from the moment he realised what had happened. So overwhelmed was he that when he stood on the winners’ podium, he held the tears back with difficulty. There was something very touching about this very powerful swimmer gulping hard to keep his emotions under control. But when they palyed his country’s national anthem, I think it was just too much for him to take. His face crumpled and his hand went up to wipe his drenced cheeks. In the end, the two medallists from France standing on either side of him on the podium had to lean over to comfort him, even though they had lost the gold medal to him. I think the reason this was so touching to watch was because I have been used to seeing Michael Phelps on the winners’ podium, and while you can’t say he is unmoved by each victory, certainly he has the composure you expect of the Greatest Olympian in the world.

Well done, Cielo. I am sure your country is very proud of you.

And of course we here in Singapore are proud of our own Olympic medallists- the table tennis women’s team. I can’t say I like the sport very much, but a medal is a medal, and it’s about time we had ourselves one of those!

 As an aside- don’t you think it is sweet how Michael Phelps always walks up to his mother and tosses her his bouquet after receiving his medal?

Happy Independence Day, India!

Today is India’s Independence Day. It marks the day that India gained freedom from British rule in 1947. I am not an Indian citizen now, but I was one until I turned 21. I have many family members who live in India, and I have always felt like I belonged to two countries. I am a proud Singaporean who has a soft corner for the country of my parents’ birth, and my eyes fill up with as many tears of pride when I hear ‘Jana Gana Mana’ as they do when I hear ‘Majulah Singapura’. India is a great nation- not without its problems of course (which country is?)- and it is rich with the history of the ages that sustains its people.

Here is the text of the speech made by Jawaharlal Nehru, the first Prime Minister of independent India, close to midnight on the 14th of August.

Long years ago we made a tryst with destiny, and now the time comes when we shall redeem our pledge, not wholly or in full measure, but very substantially. At the stroke of the midnight hour, when the world sleeps, India will awake to life and freedom. A moment comes, which comes but rarely in history, when we step out from the old to the new, when an age ends, and when the soul of a nation, long suppressed, finds utterance. It is fitting that at this solemn moment we take the pledge of dedication to the service of India and her people and to the still larger cause of humanity.

At the dawn of history India started on her unending quest, and trackless centuries are filled with her striving and the grandeur of her success and her failures. Through good and ill fortune alike she has never lost sight of that quest or forgotten the ideals which gave her strength. We end today a period of ill fortune and India discovers herself again. The achievement we celebrate today is but a step, an opening of opportunity, to the greater triumphs and achievements that await us. Are we brave enough and wise enough to grasp this opportunity and accept the challenge of the future?
That future is not one of ease or resting but of incessant striving so that we may fulfil the pledges we have so often taken and the one we shall take today. The service of India means the service of the millions who suffer. It means the ending of poverty and ignorance and disease and inequality of opportunity. The ambition of the greatest man of our generation has been to wipe every tear from every eye. That may be beyond us, but as long as there are tears and suffering, so long our work will not be over.

And so we have to labour and to work, and work hard, to give reality to our dreams. Those dreams are for India, but they are also for the world, for all the nations and peoples are too closely knit together today for any one of them to imagine that it can live apart Peace has been said to be indivisible; so is freedom, so is prosperity now, and so also is disaster in this One World that can no longer be split into isolated fragments.
We have to build the noble mansion of free India where all her children may dwell. The appointed day has come-the day appointed by destiny-and India stands forth again, after long slumber and struggle, awake, vital, free and independent. The past clings on to us still in some measure and we have to do much before we redeem the pledges we have so often taken. Yet the turning-point is past, and history begins anew for us, the history which we shall live and act and others will write about.

It is a fateful moment for us in India, A new star rises, the star of freedom in the East, a new hope comes into being, a vision long cherished materializes. May the star never set and that hope never be betrayed! We rejoice in that freedom,
The future beckons to us. Whither do we go and what shall be our endeavour? To bring freedom and opportunity to the common man, to the peasants and workers of India; to fight and end poverty and ignorance and disease; to build up a prosperous, democratic and progressive nation, and to create social, economic and political institutions which will ensure justice and fullness of life to every man and woman.

We have hard work ahead. There is no resting for any one of us till we redeem our pledge in full, till we make all the people of India what destiny intended them to be. We are citizens of a great country on the verge of bold advance, and we have to live up to that high standard. All of us, to whatever religion we may belong, are equally the children of India with equal rights, privileges and obligations. We cannot encourage communalism or narrow-mindedness, for no nation can be great whose people are narrow in thought or in action.


To the nations and peoples of the world send greetings and pledge ourselves to cooperate with them in furthering peace, freedom and democracy. And to India, our much-loved motherland, the ancient, the eternal and the ever-new, we pay our reverent homage and we bind ourselves afresh to her service. Jai Hind.


To India and all her people- whether they actually live there at the moment or not, whether they bear her passport or not- I say: JAI HIND.