This morning I set off for the Sekolah Demai, the ‘School of Peace’, on my bike. As a moderate disciple of mustachianism, I figured there was no time like the present to be badass and bike to ‘work’. It was still dark, so DH made sure I was well lit up with a helmet light and backpack light. He loves me. 50 minutes later, I arrived. Not a bad commute!
About ten kids oohed and ahhed at my bike and asked me where I’d biked from.
“Oh that’s far!”
“No – not that far!” I said. We live on an island that’s 80km around. It’s ruled by scooters. Just as in the US – bikers bike for recreation – not for getting to work or to run errands. So we bike commuters are a novelty.
Upstairs, I donated a fresh soap and roll of toilet paper to the restroom. Then I locked the door and showered off. The shower head sprayed the entire room. Here in Malaysia, hosing down the entire bathroom is common practice, so no one was going to care. Even so, the shower head was super leaky. After a few minutes I realized my backpack had been drenched in the path of one particularly strong and errant stream of water. Oops. Luckily, the toilet paper narrowly escaped a soaking.
Note to self: in addition to buying white-board markers and erasers for the school, I think I’ll bring in a new shower head so I can shower without soaking all four walls all the way up to the ceiling.
As I got dressed and then waited for Zu to arrive, I thought about yesterday. One of the more precocious kids had interrogated me during a break. “Are you Islam?” he asked.
“No,” I answered.
“Are you Christian?” he asked.
“No,” I answered.
“Ahh,” he shook his head and laughed, as if I was pulling his leg. I wasn’t.
Later, talking with Mr. Anwar over lunch, I recalled this exchange. He shook his head in disappointment. I assured him the questions didn’t bother me. “No,” he said, “the questions are okay, but I don’t think it should matter. Christian, Muslim, any religion, we are all brothers and sisters and human. We are one people. We don’t need to call out our religions. We should all be for peace.”
I wonder if Mr. Anwar named the school.
Zu arrived around 8:30am. She started her class downstairs. Thirty or forty kids followed her instruction as she balanced a ten month old baby on her hip. What is this woman’s story? Why is she here? She’s amazing!
I took my ten ‘advanced’ class students upstairs. After writing all of their names on the white board, we started with English. I opened English for the Thoughtful Child, a book I brought from home. I’d previously used this book to teach my son. I like it because it engages thinking, versus rote parroting.
We started with a lesson where we look at a picture and the kids answer questions. Like yesterday, it quickly became clear that some know only a few words of English. Others know much more.
“What are the children looking at?” I pointed to the children in the picture, and pantomimed ‘looking’ by holding up my hands like binoculars to my eyes. Then I shrugged as if asking ‘What?’.
“A rabbit!” one of the better English speakers exclaimed.
“Yes! A rabbit!” I wiggled my nose and stuck out buck teeth like a rabbit, then drew a very lame picture of a rabbit on the board. The girls in the back of the class giggled.
This class, just like yesterday’s, divided themselves into a boy’s table and a girl’s table. Sigh. As a westerner, I don’t like it. But I’ll let it go for now.
We carried on with questions and answers like that until ten o’clock, when it was time for our mid-morning break. I holed myself into an empty room and vegetated on my iPhone as I ate a peanut butter and jelly sandwich. I needed a time-out. The precocious kid from yesterday’s class peeked in. “Teacher? Hello!” he announced. He looked over my English book and beamed a big smile. What a cutie. “Okay, now go away kid, I need a break,” I thought. He seemed to read my thoughts and ran downstairs to play with his friends.
With fifteen minutes left in the break I headed back to the classroom. I encountered Sally, a British woman I’d met the other day in Mr. Anwar’s office. She runs a home for illegal immigrant maids who’ve escaped abusive situations at their host family homes. Ugh. The whole situation with Filipino maids here is tragic. They’ve very few rights and their dire economic situations are exploited full-tilt. Malaysian law is stacked against them, and it’s one of the main reasons Malaysia is considered a ‘tier 3’ country by the US State Department for human trafficking. This rating means that the national government is doing very little to comply with international standards for countering human trafficking. It’s a shame, because what I know of Malaysians – Indian Malay, Chinese Malay and Malay Malay alike – is that they’re warm and generous and friendly. They could totally dial in an anti-human-trafficking effort and make it to Tier-1 lickety-split. In the meantime, foreign workers suffer. I’ve met women who live-in with their host families as maids for 51 weeks out of the year, and fly home to the Philipines for only a week to see their children and families. They make *maybe* $1.50 an hour, and send much of it back to their families. They are almost like prisoners here. And those are the lucky people. Others come here and get sold like chattel.
In retrospect, I should have just said ‘hello,’ to Sally. For some reason I asked what she was doing at the School of Peace today. “Well,” she replied, “a woman showed up this morning with a dead baby and I’m helping to sort out what to do.”
Oh my God. “Uh, okay, I’ll let you get back to that.” I said and returned to class. She didn’t need my chit-chat.
Back in the classroom, I found the kids communicating by slapping each other. Ugh. At 10:30, I went to the board and wrote at the top, “Class Rules.” I asked the 15 year old kid who speaks fairly well to translate ‘Rules’ into Rohingya. Then I asked the kids to list the rules they thought we should abide by. They came up with 1-5:
1. One person talks only.
2. English only.
3. No noisy in class.
4. No playing in class.
5. We learning in class.
6. Make teacher happy! (my contribution)
7. Keep hands to yourselves / no hitting / use your words not your hands (again – my contribution).
In my experience, buy-in is much easier to achieve when people make up their own rules. So, five of the class rules are the kids. Hopefully they’ll follow them next week!. Next time I teach this crew, I’m going to recruit the two boys who speak fairly well to be my teaching assistants. Maybe we can break into groups and play games to demonstrate the language.
The kids wanted to continue with English lessons, but I said, “let’s do a little math!” After all, even when I’m teaching math I’m talking in English, so it is somewhat an English/Math class.
I posed the same question as yesterday:
The kids scribbled in their notebooks. They started guessing. “9500?” “2000”? I said, “don’t guess, tell me the right answer. ” It quickly turned into a competition between the girl’s and the boy’s tables. It was hard for me to not go up to the board and lead them into a quick grouping answer. Instead, I gave them a time limit. “You have five minutes,” I said.
A boy said something to the girls and their eyes widened. I believe he translated ‘five minutes’.
After time was up, I announced, “Time! You should be done by now.” One of the girls looked up and pleaded, “Five minutes?” Well look at that, she learned some English during math class!
“Okay,” I said.
I waited a five minutes more. In all, they’d been working on the problem for fifteen minutes – first guessing, then by employing brute force methods. I was about to call time when the eldest girl motioned me over and pointed to her paper. They had added all of the numbers by hand – in very orderly penmanship – and there was the answer: 5050.
“DING DING DING!” I shouted. “That’s right!”
Just then a boy called me over. They had the answer too: 5050. “DING DING DING!” I said. “Of course, the girls won!”
The girls were thrilled. But the boys were happy too. Then I spent some time explaining how they could do math the brute force hard way, or take a step back, and come up with a way to solve a problem that’s the easy way. I asked a couple students to come up to the board and explain the grouping technique. They were a little sketchy. So we went over it again, and everyone seemed to get it. I’m thinking that next time, I’ll give them the same problem but to 1000. There’s no doing the brute force math on that equation, right?
Just like yesterday, I was happy when 1pm rolled around. I was tuckered out – mentally and physically. The girls called me over. One girl held a notepad to her chest so that no one could see what she’d written. Then she let me peek at it. A couple boys tried to see, but I asked them to continue tidying up, and they did. I peeked at the paper and this is what I read,
Teacher Laura, we no speak English. We love you. Is ok?