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Coming full circle

“Something about teaching makes me feel more alive. Maybe it’s because I’m dealing with younger boys in whom I see a little of a younger and more playful me. Maybe it’s just the informal atmosphere.”

Photo stolen from Clement Kweh!

Photo stolen from Clement Kweh!

8 years ago, I started out as a wide-eyed Sec 1 kid, both intrigued and intimidated by the enormity of Raffles Institution. I would never have guessed that 8 years on, I would walk into Raffles Institution apprehensively once again, but this time anointed as a teacher.

I got recommended to the job by accident. Heard of the vacancy from a friend without giving it much thought at first. After my last internship with UOB I was barely 2 months away from college. Like most of my peers, I was hoping to go wild and enjoy my last days of unshackled fun.

And for a while, I did. I caught up with friends over lunch, found time to hang out at malls and spend some of that hard earned money from my summer job. Yet just 2 weeks into my newfound freedom, the emotional void of joblessness caught up with me. Life didn’t feel like an endless roller coaster of fun; it merely felt empty as hours stretched into days of twiddling my thumbs.

Coming back to RI to teach reminds me so much about myself. Around school, I see the same teachers, same buildings, and same classrooms. In class, I spy the same old tricks that I once used to circumvent school rules. Pulling on a jacket to get away with a missing school badge. Secretly unfastening the top button under the school tie for air. Sneaking into the Raja Block lift when it looks like there are no teachers around.

Something about teaching makes me feel more alive. Maybe it’s because I’m dealing with younger boys in whom I see a little of a younger and more playful me. Maybe it’s just the informal atmosphere. I was never too fond of stuffy, professional settings.

I don’t know how much you learnt from me in the short few weeks I’ve been with your class. It certainly was nowhere near long enough to let me boast about making a difference to your grades during PTM. But I know that the past few weeks been the most meaningful days in my working life. It’s a wonderful feeling to know that I’ll be missed by all of you (I hope). Especially 1B boys who invited me down for soccer and basketball on my last day!

There are neither beginnings nor endings in a circle. I don’t want to think of this as an ending, but I simply can’t imagine teaching such a fun bunch of students again. This — what we had — was golden.

Circle or no circle, I’ll never be 21 again. I can never go back to being a prospective undergrad (who ORDed a year ago) with nothing on my hands except my classes, to whom I can devote all my time and energy; to whom I can relate because… hey I’m not that much older after all!

So thank you for being an extraordinary part of the fabric of my memories — my final memories of the carefree and awesome blast I’ve had before embarking on my studies in New York all over again after a 3 year hiatus.

Yet another circle. Albeit one I’d gladly not have to go through ><

Worst enemies

Dylan and I were the worst of enemies. It all started about a month ago when we had an argument over a small matter… He retaliated by telling everyone in class about the secret crush I had on Emily, the quiet girl who sat in front of me. I was mortified by his betrayal. This betrayal especially stung because I had hitherto considered him one of my closest friends whom I trusted completely. How could he? We have known each other since we were little!

From that day on, I refused to even make eye contact with him, let alone speak with him.

On my way home from school after CCA, I heard a loud commotion. Out of a morbid curiosity, I hunted for the source and it didn’t take me long to figure out where the noise was coming from. As I rounded a corner, I was confronted by the sight of the three notorious bullies in school. They were tall and scary Secondary four students who blatantly flouted school rules and loved to pick on younger boys for sport. Everyone avoided them at school.

By the time I arrived, a small crowd had already gathered nearby to watch the spectacle. I wrestled my way to the front to get a closer look at their victim this time. To my horror, I instantly recognized Dylan.

He was furiously trying to reach for his phone, but the trio refused to let him have his phone back, holding it just high enough to be beyond his reach. Humiliated, Dylan kept jumping up and down in vain while they cruelly mocked his futile efforts. I couldn’t help but feel sorry for him despite the animosity between us.

All of a sudden, Dylan exploded with anger. He took a deep breath, gathered his strength, and charged at the boy who was holding his phone in the air. Taken entirely by surprise, the boy dropped Dylan’s phone while trying to regain his balance. Dylan scurried over to his phone and deftly scooped it up, turning to flee. But the trio were way too fast for him. They rushed towards Dylan and surrounded him, cutting off his escape route. Angered by his audacity to attack one of them, they roughly pinned him to the ground and tried to wrestle his phone from his hands.

Dylan, however, refused to let go, maintaining a vice-like grip on his phone. But when he looked up, I could see the fear in his eyes. Tears streamed down and mixed with the blood from his bloodied nose. Whimpers escaped his lips despite the brave front he was trying to put up.

I couldn’t believe my eyes. Not one person had the courage to stand up to the bullies! Seeing Dylan pinned down sent me over the edge. There was no way I would let my childhood playmate – my best friend of 13 years – get bullied while I stood by and did nothing.

I threw down my school bag and rushed forward to shield Dylan with my body. Blow upon blow rained down on me and it was all I could do to not flinch. I just squeezed Dylan’s hand tightly and he looked into my eyes with that pained expression. Not pain from his physical bruises, but from regret at having carelessly betrayed my trust.

The rest of the incident was a blur. I vaguely recall a few teachers arriving at the scene after what seemed like eons. Eventually the trio were subdued by the teachers, arms flailing, and forcibly separated from us. I was trotted into the Principal’s office to give my account of what had transpired while Dylan was whisked off to the hospital to mend his broken nose.

It was a long time before we next met. Dylan’s outward injuries were fading by the time he returned to school some weeks later. Mom had freaked out when she heard of the incident and grounded me for a whole month so I couldn’t visit Dylan at his home. He greeted me with his usual thump on my back and we walked up the steps to class together. He didn’t need to say anything – all was forgiven.

As we walked through school, we got weird looks and stares from the other kids. Mostly they just avoided us. It almost seemed as if it was just us against the world. Navigating the nasty gossip mongers and rumor mills was going to be challenging, but at least I knew that there was one person whom I could count on!

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