Our First Day as Teachers.
My alarm went off at 5 am on Tuesday. It was a chilly morning, so it only made sense that I snoozed my alarm and curled up under the warmth of my blanket. What I thought was a flimsy piece of mattress the night before felt extra comfortable this morning.
Just when I was about to fall into deep slumber, the alarm rang again and it was already 5.35 in the morning. I was late. I woke up hastily and make my way to the common space where I found Amir performing the final procedures of his Fajr prayer. Amir and I have been designated to wake the Year 6 kids for their 6.20am class. The Charismen appointed us to take up this role because according to them, we look ‘fierce’. Yes, I am as perplexed as you are.
It was pitch dark outside when we were walking towards the hostel. When we reached the dining hall, Amir and I were surprised to find the kids immaculately dressed in their school uniforms. They claimed that they rose at 3 am. This is certainly something that the volunteers could learn from the children as most of us claimed to be night owls.
The hue of the sky turned blue when we were about to start our morning class at 6.20am in the morning. The sky there brightens early because Sabah, Land below the Wind is 8 hours ahead of Greenwich Mean Time(GMT).
All 14 volunteers split into two groups. Group 1 took charge of teaching students of 6 Pintar, while Group 2 was assigned to teach students of 6 Bijak. The previous night, the team leader had the volunteers rank the students based on their proficiency in English and Mathematics. Most of the volunteers were assigned to teach four students. That morning, I observed all the volunteers drilling the kids on their multiplications table. As for volunteers in Group 2, their frustrations were evident because students of 6 Bijak did not memorise the times table.
At about 7 am, we dismissed the class so that the kids could have breakfast. The menu for breakfast was fried rice and Teh ‘O’. Puan Kaitrin; who is also SK Tumunda’s Curriculum Senior Assistant brought us kuih penjaram. Kuih penjaram is a traditional kuih of the Bajau tribe. The kuih; which had a chewy texture and fragrant pandan aroma was made using rice flour. We were pleased by the hospitality that we received from SK Tumunda thus far. We thanked Puan Kaitrin for her thoughtful gesture.
Schooling hours commenced normally. Apart from teaching the Year 6 pupils, SK Tumunda had also assigned us to handle the PdP (Pengajaran dan Pembelajaran) session for the student of other ages. Before recess, Group 2 we assigned to teach 2 Bijak English. Initially, we read story books to them. Towards the second half of the class when it was getting out of hand, we played dumb charades using a list of animals. From my experience of teaching young kids for the first time, I would suggest that teaching early childhood education is not for everyone. One should be tenacious because it takes an enormous measure of patience to teach an active group of young children with short attention span and little self-control. I am sure all the volunteers walked out of 2 Bijak feeling tired that morning.
After recess, Group 2 was assigned to teach science to class 5 Bijak. Our team leader had a fantastic idea of conducting a hands-on activity. During recess, we prepared the model of a volcano using a water bottle, cardboard and sand. When it was time, we gathered the kids at the assembly place to demonstrate the experiment. We used soda bicarbonate, vinegar and some red food colouring to replicate the eruption of a volcano. The kids seemed amused by the demonstration. Upon finishing, we ushered the kids back to the classroom to review the experiment. We taught them the working principle of the display and the eruption of a real volcano. We introduced them to new terms often associated with volcanoes such as lava, ‘lahar’, ‘lingkaran api Pasifik’ etc. We also taught them that volcanoes do not always cause destruction as they are commonly thought. Overall, I would say that the lesson was an insightful one because the kids learned a lot.
I assumed that we used plenty of energy that morning because when afternoon come rolling, our stomach was already growling.
Lunch was a typical Malay meal; rice, Masak lemak pucuk manis with sweet potato, sambal ikan, stir-fried winged beans and fried chicken. For dessert, we were each given a crispy Red Delicious apple variant. It was certainly a hearty lunch. Most volunteers got their cravings for a Malay meal fixed. We had an hour to lay back before conducting the afternoon class for Year 6.
At 2 pm, volunteers were already in the classrooms. We sat down with the kids that have been assigned to us. We were determined to teach the kids simple ways of memorising the times table. The multiplication table is the most fundamental aspect of UPSR mathematics, so it is imperative that these children learn their ‘sifir’ by heart. I felt as if time slowed down that afternoon. The kids seemed lethargic and were half-awake. I infer that the kids were tired from their normal schooling hours. They barely got enough sleep the night before as they were wide awake at three in the morning. Their habit of rising at three in the morning is commendable, but I am concerned that these kids do not get enough rest from sleep. After all, sleep is important for the body and mind to function well. Keeping the fact that the students were sleep-deprived, the volunteers chose not to raise their voice whenever they answered questions wrongly.
At 4 pm, the kids were in high spirit to do outdoor activities. The children were disappointed when we told them that we are not playing sports that day. The volunteers had other plans for them that evening. The previous day, when some of the volunteers used the hostel’s washroom, they were extremely disappointed at its sanitary condition. Thus, that evening, we decided to have the kids to do ‘gotong royong’ to clean the toilets and dormitory. The children were divided into groups of two according to their gender, and the cleaning commenced. The volunteers also gave the kids some tit-bits as to why cleanliness of the toilet is important. Once the state of the toilets was satisfactory, we let the kids off to unwind and get ready for dinner.
We gathered at the dining hall at 6 pm for dinner. We were served rice, fried sawi, beef Tom Yum and watermelon. Night class commenced an hour later. Volunteers of Group 2 decided that we were going to teach them English. Most of us taught vocabulary and basic grammar. It was evident that a lot of work must be done. The only thing we wished these kids have, was a sound basis of English when they were younger. Now that they have passed these years, all the volunteers could do is to help them gain confidence to converse in English.
The night class came to an end at 9 pm. We dismissed the class to let the kids have supper, prep and go to bed. As for the volunteers, some went home to take a shower while the remaining went to the dining hall to spend more time with the kids.
Our final agenda that night was to have a reflection session. All fourteen of us sat in a circle in the common room and shared our thoughts. We discussed the kids’ strengths and weaknesses. Everyone had their own goals as to what they want the kids to achieve by the end of the project. After about an hour, we went to bed. There was a long day ahead of us tomorrow. Despite being exhausted, we were glad that our first day as teachers in SK Tumunda was a memorable one.