Monthly Archives: May 2015

Corporate training

When I was seriously considering an offer to teach in a junior college several years ago, my family (of teachers) was against it. Said my mum, sister, husband, in no particular order:

“A new teacher will have to pull longer hours. You will have less flexibility than a reporting job.”

“The holidays are not worth it; you don’t get to enjoy the full holidays anyway.”

“Interaction with students is over-rated, many don’t appreciate what their teachers do for them.”

I took in their comments and remained as a reporter for several more years.

But since I left ST, I’ve taken on a couple of teaching stints. I’ve taught secondary/JC students short media courses, I’ve taken a class of journalism undergraduates for one semester, and I’ve also done some corporate training – teaching English to adults in a corporate setting.

The corporate training stint was something I thought long and hard about before taking up. I’ve not been formally trained to teach English but had to come up with my own training syllabus based on the organisation’s needs. I was most stressed out about this job before the lessons started and almost regretted taking it up. It has meant week after week of lesson preparation. It has meant I’ve blogged less in the last few months. But four months later, I can safely say, this has been my favourite stint so far.

This group of employees from the organisation’s quality management unit deal with complaints from the public. A LOT of complaints. On all sorts of issues. Their job is to reply emails and take calls politely. Some of them have been with the organisation for many years, and some do not have a good grasp of Grammar or know how to write succinct replies. So in the last four months, we have focused on Grammar rules, using Public Relations skills in replies, as well as going through each of the replies to see how they can be improved.

The group of them in their 30s to 50s, are down-to-earth, enthusiastic, and appreciative of the lessons. They had asked their management for lessons so as to better do their job. I found them very quiet in the first few lessons, and started to think of ways and topics to draw them out. I’m happy to say that by the last lesson, all would frequently volunteer their answers, argue cheerfully with one another about the correct use of Grammar, and confidently question me about things they did not quite understand.

I conducted the last lesson a week ago. I came away with a newfound respect for people who handle public complaints, some of which are rude or downright unreasonable. I admire how they stay calm on the phone with people shouting at them. I take my hat off how they politely reply to each email, even apologising for issues they are not directly responsible for. Their English may not be perfect but you can’t fault them on their professionalism.

Best of all, they’re appreciative of the lessons. I realise it takes very little to make a teacher’s day. A word of thanks, a note about how it is useful to their daily work, and a comment about how they have started using some templates we came up with together. These are all it takes to put a smile on my face. Thank you.

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The over-scheduled child

For the last two weeks, Jason led the life of an over-scheduled child.

Ironically it happened after exams ended because of a post-exam activity we signed him up for – Conversational Malay lessons offered by the school, conducted after school every day for two weeks. It’s a new language to him, it’s free, it’s useful in Singapore and Malaysia, so why not?

So for the last fortnight, his schedule looked something like this:

Mon: School, Malay, Soccer (ends at 6pm)

Tue: School, Malay (ends at 4pm)

Wed: School, Malay, Soccer (ends at 6pm)

Thurs: School, Malay, Piano (ends at 5pm)

Friday: School, Malay (ends at 3.30pm)

The timing of the lessons vary but he generally ends at 4pm or 6pm most days, instead of 1.30pm or 12.30pm. It has meant that I have had a chance to finish up freelance work, arrange lunches with friends and had more me-time generally.

It has also meant that he is tired, cranky, has little to no time for homework, reading, soccer with the neighbours, playing, doing nothing at home, and so on. I felt sorry for him. The protected time he has to play is lost. So are our after school chats over lunch. He is so tired after Malay or soccer, I get mostly one-word replies. Yucks.

The good thing is there is no homework for this class. It’s purely learning the spoken language, and any work given is done within class time. He has also picked up and taught me several phrases which will come in useful when we travel to Malaysia.

Today is the last day of his Malay lessons. While I enjoyed the greater amount of “freedom” the last two weeks, I’m kind of looking forward to having lunch together and spending afternoons with him. I’m also glad we have managed to keep weekends free of classes for him.

While learning something new is a good reason to go for class, you can have too much of a good thing. Thankfully this is just a two-week programme. It is a good reminder not to over-schedule him. At least not now. I’m told such a timetable is the norm for a pupil in Primary 5 and 6. Sigh.

A Math Lesson

This mid-year exams hasn’t been much different from last year’s. In terms of enthusiasm, mine is still higher than Jason’s. So exam revision is still largely me prodding, him plodding. It has reached a point where I tell him what I think he should do to revise, and whether or not he does it, is up to him. There is only that much hand-holding I can and want to do. He’s already in Primary 3, he has to know the consequences of not studying at some point, and better now than later, I figure.

But because he understands his lessons fairly quickly, he is lazy, and thinks he can get away with it.

“Try some of these questions from the Math assessment book,” I tell him.

“I already know how to do them,” he claims.

I left him alone for math, and concentrated on getting him to revise Chinese and Science. Chinese being the subject he struggles with the most, and science being the new subject this year. English is left aside because there simply isn’t enough time to work on it. His love for reading will have to translate magically into decent scores in exams.

The result? Decent scores in English, Science and even Chinese. The shocker came in mathematics. He scored some 15 marks lower than his previous exams. I was surprised; he was shocked. He never expected to get those marks. It’s the first time since he started school that he broke down and cried over academics.

I was pragmatic rather than angry – and took the chance to repeat all I have said to him: You reap what you sow, hard work gets you everywhere etc. I thought if this lesson hit home hard enough, and became a wake-up call for him, it could well be a blessing in disguise.

Until I saw the exam paper, and saw how his carelessness(2069 became 2096 in his working), over-confidence (not drawing diagram which would have helped) and lack of practice (’nuff said) contributed to his scores. Then I got mad.

I wrangled a tearful agreement from him to work harder the next time round, do some work during the June holidays, and left it as that. That was two weeks ago.

His papa got him a math assessment book from Popular and I suggested he attempt some questions in there yesterday.

“Why must I do it?” was his immediate reply, although he did do the sums in the end.

So now I’m not sure if he’s really learnt his lesson.

Happy Mother’s Day!

I don’t usually plan things way ahead, but three months ago, we planned for an extended family gathering at my place. We set the date on May 10 because my cousin, Kevin, who now lives in Switzerland, would be back with his wife, Steffi, for a week. I had been meaning to invite my grandma and other relatives over so it was a good chance for everyone to gather.

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Only in recent weeks did I realise Mother’s Day falls on May 10!

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As it turned out, Mother’s Day was perfect for a family gathering, where we honoured all the mothers in the family. (Photobombed by Shannon)

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We had a lovely evening catching up over yummy food. I’m not sure how Shannon got herself in so many pictures when she spent a good part of the evening playing outside with our neighbours…

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The kids wondered how our little flat could fit 20 relatives.

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A good dessert by Jason capped off the evening – he made all (20!) of us baked pear, served with ice-cream. It went from the oven to our stomachs in 10 minutes and I have no pictures to show for it, unfortunately. Next time!

A group picture to remember the evening by!

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It was a weekend of celebration. On Saturday, we celebrated at my Mother-in-law’s. Food was yummy and we forgot to take a picture! Kids with their Ah ma below.

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On Sunday evening, my aunt said to me, “So sorry you had to spend Mother’s Day cooking for us!”

“It’s my pleasure,” I said. And it is. My sister helped to cook some food and we bought the rest. What is a day’s food preparation compared to the daily lunches and dinners that grandma cooked during my school days when she lived with us?

Or the hours grandma spent, bent over a charcoal stove to make her signature cabbage duck stew every Chinese New Year – which no one else in the family has been able to replicate as yet.

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Hope you had a good Mother’s Day too!

Reconnecting with a teacher

I didn’t set out to be a journalist. When I was in the communications school in NTU, we had to decide which division to go to in our third year. We got a taste of the four divisions (then) in our first two years in school. I wasn’t interested in communications research or public relations. Between broadcast and journalism, broadcast seemed more fun. For some reason, the broadcast division was oversubscribed that year. The lecturers must have done such a great job, we all wanted to go in there.

Then I had a chat with Mr Tan Lai Kim who taught me a news writing module. I think the lecturers were asked to even out the spread of students. He spoke to me about considering journalism since I did well in the module. I can’t remember exactly what he said, but he managed to persuade me to change my mind. I’ve not looked back since. I’ve never regretted not going into the broadcast division.  I went on to join the campus newspaper Nanyang Chronicle where I met my husband. Not long after graduation, I joined ST and spent 12 years there.

I lost touch with Mr Tan after graduation. In the last 16 years, I’ve thought about the man who steered me on the path of journalism. For some reason, I remembered him saying he would go back to the US to retire on a farm. He’s not of retirement age though. I thought that must be where he went. I thought wrong. An ex-colleague, Chin Hon, shared an article this week, by an editor with the Boston Globe – and there it was, written by L. Kim Tan.

I dropped him an email to say hi, to say a long overdue word of thanks. And he replied. It’s so nice to be reconnected, to finally be able to thank someone so instrumental in my choice of a career.

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