More pictures here!
It’s almost been 6 months since I moved back to Singapore- boy does time FLY. And that’s also how long since I’ve written an update. You see, coming home never seems as exciting as living in Mexico or traveling. But I’ve been re-discovering my country, the old haunts and the new. I’ve started dancing again, gotten involved in the latino community here and been relishing in the glorious quaint cafes and restaurants. Being with the family has been the best. Last year, we went to Myanmar, Thailand and Malaysia and that was really special. These past 6 months I’ve been so challenged yet grateful. I spent a few months testing and figuring out how to make tutoría work in schools and I’m now at a local secondary school, Shuqun Secondary, bringing tutoría to the Math and Art classroom here. The kids are slowly getting into the groove of it and so are the teachers. Sometimes it’s hard to stay focused on the big picture when I feel stuck or squashed in the giant system. I forget to fall in love. So thank you to all of you who have kept me grounded and inspired – I owe it you guys who’ve kept me going. I especially wanted to remember you on my birthday this year. As I drove into the Shuqun school building, I saw red letters tucked under the wing on the left. I couldn’t quite make them out from afar but as I got closer, I smiled. They read: Touching Hearts, Inspiring Learning. Those four words caught my eye and I thought to myself, that’s a high call. From Mexico, I knew how powerful inspiring learning can be but also how tough it is to achieve. Touching lives was already difficult but to inspire learning in a climate of tough competition, exam stress and homework and more homework, inspiring learning is often only a faraway dream that just sounds good.
However, within Shuqun’s walls, I found a team that truly wanted their students to love to learn. I saw a deep consciousness and hunger to be better, to learn more, to inspire. I saw a longing to bringing learning from good to great. At the start of Jan 2013, we set out on this common vision to see how we could inspire learning at Shuqun in the Math and Art lessons for students in the Normal Technical (NT) steam.
We tried this in Fractions in Math and Sculpture in Art and personally, I didn’t know what to expect. Many asked, why don’t I do this with the higher-ability students? Why am I trying to change such a rigid system? How are you going to control and discipline the class? I felt in a constant tussle with all these ideas but I knew I would always be surprised by the abilities of our students when we give them a real opportunity to teach and when we truly believe they can.
This week, to be honest was a lot of ups and downs, trying to modify the lessons as we go, provisioning materials, trying to get students used to the idea of tutoring, guiding them and learning a lot myself. Our second day working in this method, students were slowly adapting to their new role as tutors in class and two examples come to mind and keep me energized as a vision for what is possible.
The first was a student Swee Kiang (not his real name) who was bright but lazy, a little sluggish in his work and responsibilities. He adapted only a little to it and found writing down and explaining his work tedious. He finished quickly and when he was done, sat next to another student, Darren (not his real name) who was a little slower than him. Darren was still stuck on the concept of equivalent fractions. What are equivalent fractions? I prodded. Don’t know. Suddenly Swee Kiang’s eyes lighted up. Ms Meixi, can I give him some examples to help him? I was astounded. Yes, of course. I let Swee Kiang take over. That was a –WOW moment for me as I saw the students thinking differently, being conscious of the other, sharing knowledge and taking initiative – that’s a beautiful classroom.
The second story is about another student Zima (not her real name) who was conceptually weak in Mathematics, very quiet, always seemingly lost in class. Zima, at the thought of tutoring someone else, was a little nervous and afraid. However one of the other teachers guided her along her role as a tutor and slowly she began to open up. I saw her and her tutee from across the room and that was a snapshot moment for me. She became a different person, was patient, was conscious of everything her tutee was doing and I think in that lesson, grew more confident of her own abilities as a student.
That’s the kind of change I believe is possible for our students, that they are inspired to think critically and develop a hunger and curiosity to learn, that through learning how to learn, self-direct their learning process for life. Learning is driven from within the classroom as the joy of discovering fractions and sculpturing in art and responsibility to learn for not just themselves but their fellow classmates are placed in their hands. We create a different fabric in the classrooms, a different kind of relationship where students begin to be concerned for the other, where competition is replaced with collaboration, a new social order where it is in sharing that we improve and excel. Of course, we still have a lot to learn, refining our work each time but the teachers and students here at Shuqun have given me a new vision of what is possible in education in Singapore and in the world, and I do believe we are slowly getting there.
This birthday I realize that what’s most important is falling in love. My role as a teacher and person is to get others to fall in love with learning and with life. That’s the legacy I want to leave.
For this birthday please don’t get me any gifts BUT if you’d like to support this work in transforming schools in Singapore and Southeast Asia, I would so so so grateful. Please just write back to me at firstname.lastname@example.org and I’ll be so honored if you’d join me in this cause.