This year my job title is “English Teaching Assistant.” That means I assist the English teacher, the English teacher assists me, or we co-teach. I’ve only been at SMK Selising a few weeks now, so I’ve done mostly co-teaching. But for the first time the other day, I was assigned to be the head teacher of my own class. “Form 2A,” meaning the 8th grade class that did well on their exams last year. 50% of their English instruction is in my hands for the next year. All I’m told is:

“You will have the class for 80 minutes every Sunday. You don’t need to follow any curriculum.” (Weekends here are Friday and Saturday).

“What time is the class meeting on Sunday?”

“We don’t know. Maybe we tell you on Sunday?”

Saturday night I prepare a lesson plan, loosely based on a chapter in the textbook about the environment. I look up some translations of environment-ish words in Bahasa Melayu (BM). I cut the pictures out of a calendar of nature scenes from Massachusetts my mom had gotten for me before I left.

I walk in the classroom. (In Malaysia, students stay in one room and teachers rotate.) The students stand, and in one resounding chorus belt “Good MOOooorning, teach-ERRR.” They pray. They’re seated.

I have all year with these students. If I’m trying to teach them about the environment, pollution, recycling, burning trash, etc., it makes sense to start simple. The lesson is called Menghargai bumi kita, “Appreciate our Earth.”

I tape the Massachusetts calendar pictures on the board and separate the class into teams. They choose excellent team names such as, “Tiger Star” and “Shawn Mendes.” Each team gets a marker and has to run up to the board and write as many words as they can about each picture. The students at first are shy to go up. Many Malaysian students are hesitant to participate in class, and because of this their English level often seems much lower than it is. But the shyness can’t last too long. A frenetic mass of energy forms at the white board, producing long lists of words.IMG_9923

“Woods, beautiful, snow, trees, green, gold, mountain, blue, sky…good job! Lots of good words! What other words can we think of?

“Teacher! Teacher! F-E-R-N. Fern!”

“Yes! Great word!”

“Teacher! Teacher! Essss-Chooo-airy!”

“Yes! Wow, estuary(!!!!!!!)”

“Lake? Is this a lake? What do you call that body of water that goes WHOOOSSSSSHHH and is long and skinny…”

“Oh! Teacher! River River! No, Stream!”

“I see you wrote mountains…what is the name of when you have the little tiny mountains…?”

“Hill, teacher! Hills!”

Now it’s time for the students to write 4 line poems (faintly haiku-ish) inspired by the pictures, using the words on the board. No excuses, kids! You just told me these words, I know you know ‘em!

Twenty minutes later some students had full poems, some had one line. Some had intricately written their name. Several had exceptionally advanced poems with perfect rhyme and meter copied directly from their “Form 2 nature poetry” book.

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I am wearing a Baju Kurong, translated literally it means “clothing cage.” It’s a traditional style in Malaysia, one that all professional women are expected to wear. I now own many!

Class went by fast, it was only 40 minutes. The students cheered and clapped at the end. We took pictures together. I left with a helpful entourage carrying all my teaching supplies back to the office.

One student walks next to me, “Teacher, your game is BEST!”

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