“Miss! Miss! I have something for you!” One of my star students comes into my office and hands me a fresh sleeve of name brand Oreos. “For me? Really? Thank you! Why?” “I don’t know, teacher! Haha!” An excellent start to the day. Next, a group of girl students comes in, “Miss Christy! Good mooooooorning! Come! Come!” They motion me outside the office. “What is happening? Do you have a secret?” “Miss we have something for you!” They present me with a little pink plastic bag with a blue, plastic spoon tied-up with it. Inside is a tiny plastic contained with a little red note carefully taped to the top. “Teacher, teacher, it is blueberry cheesecake!” “You make this?” “Yes, miss, we make!”
Later at kantin I sit down and get into a conversation with a teacher who studied in Ireland for three years during university. She told me how much she wanted to fit in. She was the only Malaysian and one of only a handful of Muslims in her class. She took every chance she could to socialize with the other students. They wanted to be considerate of her, so they would say “Oh, she is coming with us today, so let’s not go to the pub, we should go to the café instead!” “No, no!” She would say, “the pub is just fine with me! Don’t worry!”
“Christy, I wanted them to understand that maybe I will not have alcohol, I will instead have water or soda, but for me it is just a place, the same as any other place. I am fine to go there”
“You must have experienced so many interesting things while living there for three years. What was it like? Did your family visit?
“No, they could not visit. I just went back to Malaysia one time in three years. Yes, yes I learned so many things there. It has made me the person I am today. The way I raise my children is also different because of when I lived in Ireland. I learned so much about tolerance. You know tolerance, right? You must not judge other people. You must accept them for who they are, even when they are quite different from you. I always try to teach this to my children now.”
“What was it like not eating Malaysian food for so long? Was it very hard?”
“No, not too bad! You know sometimes it is hard, but actually I like to cook, so I went to the grocery store and tried to find ingredients for my dishes. Some things they do not have, like coconut milk, so we just use regular milk instead. Not the same, but still quite good! But that was many years ago, so now there are many more Asian people and Asian food in Ireland I think.”
That afternoon I taught the Form 2D class about past tense verbs for the first time. To my knowledge they had ever learned them. They had really never learned them, because you do not conjugate past tense verbs in Bahasa Melayu. It felt like a special moment. So much of the wonder of learning comes from never having thought of something before and then leaving a class or closing a book feeling like a new world has opened to you. So much of that wonder is lost when topics are never properly introduced and are repeated until they are no longer interesting or exciting. My teaching is often plagued by not knowing what the students have already been taught. It felt so good to start at the beginning. I motivated them with candy and made them dance the disco in class, so by the end everyone was happy and cheering.
After school I lead a “speaking workshop,” a requirement for every Fulbright ETA in Malaysia. This particular speaking workshop meets every Tuesday and is for my Form 2A class. They’re like non-angsty, very energetic 8th or 9th graders. The theme of the workshop is storytelling. They’re waiting outside the room when I arrive. “Teacher! We can get milkshakes before we start? It is okay?” “Yes, go get milkshakes!” The students knew I was hungry, so they gifted me a piece of delicious spicy fried chicken on a stick that they bought across the street. We danced to “Work” by Rihanna and “Wiggle” by Jason Derulo for a while to let off steam and then got down to the storytelling. I wrote a bunch of categories on the board, like “smell,” “mode of transportation,” “famous person,” and “animal.” Then they shouted out a few examples of each. “Motorbike! Helicopter! Raccoon! Michelle Obama! Fried chicken! Kim Kardashian!” Then they each had to write a short story that incorporated at least one element from each category and started with the sentence, “It was a dark and stormy night…”
Below are some choice excerpts:
“It was a dark and stormy night…Camila Cabello [current pop star] and michelle obama go to Texas. Raccoon attacks them and michelle obama screams. Camila Cabello Takes to go hospital. mather and father Camila Cabello to caming [come] to hospital because of the raccoon bite. camila cabello and michelle go to restourane and eating frog soup. Then you [thank you].”
“It was a dark and stormy night…Michelle Obama and Camila Cabello were in the car. They stop the car at the narrow street and get out from the car. They saw a group of Camel. After that they smell a fart!!. Maybe that’s Shawn Mendes [another current pop star] are walking around they…Shawn Mendes Fart!! After that they walked along the narrow street to see…Fifth Harmony [current hugely popular girl-band] concert….yeay!!
One student appointed himself MC and called other students up to the “stage” to read their stories. It was all very theatrical and after each story I would hand the MC one piece of “Fruit Plus” strawberry candy and he would award it to the participant.
I’m walking to my car after and hear “Miss, miss!” Three of my students from the storytelling workshop roll up on a motorcycle, clutching milkshakes. “Bye, miss! See you tomorrowwwww!”