Monday, 29 August 2011

You are my Inspiration

A Teacher-Aid colleague has recently left us for better prospects.

She had been working in her previous company that manufactures crocodile-skin bags for 14 years. I had no doubt about it when she claimed that she was the right-hand woman of her boss. She was always enthusiastic about her work, no matter how small her jobs were, always positive, always had something good to say about everything, except the workload of teachers.

She left her previous employer because there was a conflict between her Buddhist or Vegetarian belief. She felt that she was ordering for lives to be taken whenever she had to make order for crocodile skin.

She decided that she wanted to try teaching, so she took up a 2-year contract as a Teacher-Aid.

After about 6 months into the job, she decided that teaching was not for her. She felt that teachers were not doing what they were supposed to do ie. teaching, but rather, everything else that had little to do with teaching.

She left recently to prepare for her business venture - a vegan handbag boutique.

For the person that she is, her attitude, her encouragement, she has left a deep impact on me.

She said that even at 40, she felt that we still have a long way to go, and we could start afresh in a career if we should choose to. I was intrigued that someone would think that way. Most people would think that we should settle in a job for the rest of our lives at late twenties! It jolted me: yeah, why should we feel trapped in a job that we don't like?

When I confided in her that I was not confident in taking pictures for friends or people who enquired about being photographed, she said the problem could be solved by going for a course.
I am so inspired by her optimistic personality that I have signed up for two courses: flash photography and basic photoshop course, simultaneously!

Despite having to travel all the way to town area, I realised that she was right: you won't feel tired if you are doing something that you like!

For so long, I thought tiredness has to do with age. But she's so darn right. After the lessons, I didn't feel tired. On the contrary, I felt refreshed and energised after the lessons. I feel empowered that I am learning new things, and things that I like!

Like I said in my previous post, I am sent for workshops by my school constantly, but 80 to 90 percent of the time, I feel that the workshops are not useful, and everybody in the workshops is always watching the clock! After the workshops, I always feel extremely tired.

But when you go for courses that you are interested in, oh my, what a difference it makes!

I am eager to try out what I have been taught. In fact, I have tried at least a function I asked the flash photography teacher about. And I am trying out the 'camera raw' function from the photoshop class. And I am enjoying every bit of it!

I even hope that I could learn more from each lesson, and look forward to every lesson!

Of course, there's no free lunch in Singapore. I pay for them out of my own pocket.

As I was trying out the features of camera raw, my all-time favourite quote came to my mind:

If you think education is expensive, try ignorance.

I had an ex-colleague who loved photography and tinkling with photo-editing software. After looking at  his pictures from his cousin's wedding, edited and unedited, I realised that photography skill is not as important as photo-editing skills. An underexposed picture shot by the window in an HDB flat could look like it was shot in a studio environment after editing ie. bright, cropped, colour enhanced.

I have tried to play around with the features of Photoshop during my free time, but being the techno-idiot that I am, progress is painful and slow. I saved many youtube videos about Photoshop tutorials but have never gone back to them. I bought a Photoshop book but I hardly flip it, and I only pick up bits and pieces of the how-tos here and there.

I had gone for a business-sharing session and remembered what the photographer said,"I wanted to save on courses and learnt on my own, but I realised that courses make my learning curve so much gentler."

So I took the dive.

I tried the very fundamental techniques I was taught in my first photoshop lesson:

The raw picture
The edited picture

Very cool huh? Go pick up Photoshop or Lightroom if you like photography. It makes a big difference to your pics!

Thursday, 25 August 2011

After 4 years ...

Today is the last day to apply for a transfer to a new environment.

I was in a dilemma. There were factors to consider:

For staying

1) The colleagues are probably the nicest I have ever come across.
They are helpful, approachable and friendly almost all the time. I am not sure about how much politics there are because as far as I am concerned, I don't think there is any.

2) The middle management think well of me.
They spoke up for me when I was attacked by the bitch. They think that I have the skills to handle upper-level children.

3) The First and Second Bosses are nice to me.

4) The bitch is leaving.
I won't have to be afraid of anyone attacking me maliciously at the ranking session.

5) The distance of the school is just nice.
It's not too near to my home, so I don't have to be conscious of my dressing, behaviour in my own neighbourhood, or hide at home for the whole day when I take an MC. It's walkable from the MRT station so I don't have to go through the gruelling and stressful experience of waiting for a bus every day.

For leaving

1) I am tired of the apathetic attitude of the children towards their own studies.
Most of them are satisfied with a 'Pass' and are not affected even if they fail. The place is a feeder for Normal Academic students for the neighbourhood schools.

I can't give homework to the children, because I end up spending more time chasing after the homework! And if I can't get the worksheets back, guess who has to do the photocopying for the children? We do have book- and file-checks by the middle managers. It's our fault if the children's files are not complete with worksheets.

2) The long working hours
The last straw came when I received an email about a workshop that falls on Teachers' Day Celebration, and it would start at 3.30pm! I can assure you the workshop will last till at least 6pm or 6.30pm. What kind of Teachers' Day is that?!!

It reminded me of the meaningless stays in school week after week. That was the decision-breaker.

When the ministry stipulated that schools would end at 10am on National Day Eve, I had to stay back for a 3.5 hour meeting to do up a stupid lesson plan!

I decided I have had it with this school.

I am scared of the unknown. Who knows what kinda people and workload I would face out there? But I really don't want to complain no end about the school when I can do something about it. If I have always thought that there is no place that can be worse than here, then what am I doing?

3) The inefficient systems in place.

a) Worksheet-printing

In my previous school, we just have to send in the worksheets to the printing lady and it's none of our business anymore.

But here, before you send in the worksheets for printing, you should negotiate a comfortable deadline with the printing lady. Sometimes your printing is rejected (!!!) because she feels that it's too much for her. Although the First Boss had stipulated that we should send the worksheets in 3 days before we need it, the printing lady could reject printing your worksheets even if you send in one or two weeks before, depending on how much she has to print! After successfully sending in the worksheets for printing, you need to check with the printing lady if your worksheets are ready. If they are ready, you have to carry the whole level of worksheets up to the staffroom to distribute them to the teachers in charge of different classes!

In my previous school, we had a class pigeon hole which the printing lady would place the printed worksheets, individually in the classes' pigeon holes. The teachers or monitors could collect them and go.

Worse still, in this school, you have to sort out the number of worksheets yourself as the printing lady does not print according to the number of students in the classes. I could spend one hour just sorting out the worksheets for distribution!

b) Printers

We have only 1 black-and-white printer and 1 colour printer serving the whole staffroom of about sixty teachers.

The default setting for the printers is 'Letter' for paper type. Each time you want to send jobs for printing, you have to change the setting on your laptop so that the printing do not have to be 'press the button one time to get one piece of paper printed', especially the colour printer. In the end, everybody uses the black-and-white printer.

Some selfish idiots would put used papers as printing papers so that when you clicked 'print' on your laptop and walk a mile to the printer, you find your jobs printed on used papers and you have to reprint the jobs. It's simply frustrating!

We only have one photocopying machine serving the whole strength as well.

When it breaks down and the admin manager has to call in a technician, she gets very upset because she feels that teachers vandalise the photocopying machine on purpose - because the technician says that the breakdown was due to human faults!

Hello! It's 1 pathetic photocopying machine! If one person photocopies one sheet of paper every day which is pathetically ridiculous, the copier would have been used 60 times a day, 300 times a week, 1,200 times a month! You think the machine is a teacher ah? No need to rest.

And if the machine had been user-friendly, why would anyone need to pull the handle so hard to put papers in?

c) Doing meaningless work

Why should 5 or 6 teachers sit together to look at a test paper for hours when it should be the middle managers who do just that?

And the worse thing is, the person who did the paper had to do a major overhaul because every single question and MCQ option is being edited!

We might as well sit together and create the paper from scratch!

We are often sent for workshops. I don't even get to choose to attend the courses I want. I am just asked to go. And the workshops often run for weeks, after school, till 5.30pm.

It's no wonder no teacher wants to stay back in school further. Even if students from my class need help at the general office and I am about to leave, I don't want to ask them what the matter is, simply because I don't want to have to stay back for a minute more.

4) The suffer-in-silence culture

The teachers here are nice. Too nice sometimes.

The culture is such that we take what we are given - the work, I mean.

Whether it makes sense doing it - doesn't matter. The boss says - I do.

We did up lesson plans after lesson plans for the whole level of teachers. Who follow the lesson plans? God knows! Even we ourselves don't!

We have meetings after meetings, and type minutes after minutes, and endeavour to rack our brain to fill up at least one A4 sized of paper for the minutes!

Then we file the soft copies of lesson plans and minutes in different folders. After that, we print out the hard copies of lesson plans and minutes to file them up in files that only one or two persons would check - all for the sake of looking like we are doing our work.

One word ... STUPID.

Something that pushed me towards applying for a transfer happened yesterday. A teacher-aid said that she was asked to attend a rehearsal.

I asked her,"For what? We are in charge of the decoration. How would being at the rehearsal help us decorate?"

She was shocked and said,"The middle manager asked me to attend the rehearsal! I am not going to ask him for what!"

I was ... stunned on the inside - isn't this how we are like in this school? 'I am not going to ask why I have to do this! The managers ask me to do, so I do!'

I want to get out of such a culture.

5) I am sick of feeling lousy.

A parent was extremely upset when she was asked to fetch her daughter from school earlier than the stated time at 9.20pm after the NE Show.

Despite being surrounded by 7 teachers who listened to her ranting quietly, she said this,"I know that this school is the lousiest school in this area."

I have always thought that parents don't know the lousiness of the school and that's why they send their children here, but I was shocked to know that the parents were aware, and yet still send their children here. I can't help but feel that the parent seem to think that she has the right to abuse us just because we are teachers - in a lousy school at that.

And why is the school lousy?

Would your child have performed well if the school set high-standard or difficult papers?

Would your child have been able to learn anything at all if she were taught at a higher-level?

I feel my self-worth depreciating the longer I stay in this school.

On my mind

I am worried, and afraid, that the new environment would not be as kind.

I am worried about the workload. I don't know if it really could be worse.

I am worried about the distance I have to travel.

But I need to take the risk. If not, I would despise myself even more for not even having the courage to leave a place I feel trapped in.

Sunday, 21 August 2011

The First Mega-Stress of the Sacred Parenthood

The news of Zoe Tay not getting a place in her school of choice despite completing 80 hours of volunteer work has gone around town.

I do not have anything against her apart from being insanely jealous of her good luck in shooting to local stardom from the 80s to 90s.

But I have to admit that I do gloat a little over her 'misfortune'. I call it the 'loser mentality': for all the riches and fame you have, you have not succeeded in commanding all to work in your favour.

Incidentally, a few days before the news broke, I was just feeling indignant over the inequality and unfairness that the rich and famous got to be parent volunteers in Coco's school, and subsequently successfully enrol their children at Phase 2B under the Parent Volunteer scheme. Even LKY himself who was not affiliated to the school in any way, got to enrol his sons into the school. Is there a phase for the Prime Minister or Members of Parliament? Or is it a hidden phase that is only known to certain people?

Alongside with the news of parents shifting near popular schools and did not get a place for their children, were some suggestions on how P1 registration process could be made simpler or less stressful.

I could not help but laughed at the suggestions. Apparently, these people did not use their brain enough before verbalising their ideas:

1) Introduce a nationwide online registration exercise that allows parents to list their top five choices of primary schools. If their children fail to get a place in any of the five choices, they should be posted to a school near their home which still has vacancies.

This idea probably comes from the joint admission exercise for 'O' level students.

Most parents actually only have one choice. I would think it even more stressful to rack my brain for 4 other choices and to try gauging which are the schools that we stand a better chance at enroling the child in.

And the idiot who suggested this probably doesn't realise that there are about 50, 000 children to allocate places to each year. I cannot imagine the amount of work the staff at the ministry have to do just to place the children.

2) Remove all the different phases and adopt an open balloting system.

William says that if this really happens, nobody will register at a school like mine, which is true. And you are talking about 50, 000 balloting lots. Of course, not one school would receive all 50, 000 lots, but I can foresee that the number of balloting lots each popular school would get would be many many times more than what they are getting right now.

It does not make sense logistically or administratively.

3) Give priority to active alumni only. Places should only be given to old boys or girls who are active in contributing to the school.

I am more inclined to agree with this one, even though William was not active in the alumni. I could still recall how apprehensive I was at the P1 registration booth, worrying that having William being an old boy would not suffice. I found it hard to believe, but was nevertheless glad, that my child could get into the school just based on a twenty-year-old report book.

But I am not complaining if I am benefiting from it.
4) Give Singaporeans priority, before the Permanent Residents.

I am surprised to read this, as I have thought that PRs do come after the locals. All my siblings and I were distributed all over the eastern part of Singapore when we were studying in primary schools because no priority was given to PRs. By the time my parents could register us for P1 places, all the places were already taken up and thus we went to six different primary schools! There were times when my father went to three different schools to pick us up after school. A check with the MOE website confirms that PRs can register for P1 places at the same phases. That leaves me wonder if my father was ill-informed about the phases.

Pro-PR argument includes 'we pay taxes too so why should we not be given the same chances as locals?' Pro-local argument would go 'we are citizens so we should be given priority.'

It's a case of 公说公有理,婆说婆有理.

5) Allocate the number of vacancies according to household income so that children from low-income family (less than $10, 000 of total monthly household income) could have a chance to attend the elite schools.

Truth is, children from low-income family would feel like misfits in these schools. As it is, Coco is one out of the two children in her class who lives in an HDB flat. She was even given a financial-assistance application form for which we would not qualify, but since there was no one else to give to, her teacher gave to her!

Children from low-income family would feel inferior to these 'elite' children. And I am almost certain they would not do as well, academically. Fact is, the rich kids receive tuition for every possible subject, when they don't really need it. Most kids in my school do not receive tuition at all, although they do need it desperately. The issue is money. I think I said it before, giftedness can be prepared when you have the money. Many of these kids go to enrichment classes since kindergarten just to be 'stretched' or 'enriched'. The exposure these children get allows them to be prepared earlier than children who don't go to such classes.

There is no perfect system, just like there isn't any perfect assessment. I suppose the P1 registration system is an evolvement from ancient of time since the founding of Singapore schools. Someone must have thought this system is already as good as it gets.

In parenthood, there are a few things that heighten stress. P1 registration is one of them. Although Coco went to her school via the 'easier' way, I could remember vividly how stressful the time was. As she is born in the Millenium cum Golden Dragon Year, the competition was especially stiff due to the sheer number of Dragon babies. I was shocked to see the number of children registered at Phase 1 (sibling phase) doubled. Then I received another shock to see the number of children registered at Phase 2A1 (alumni) doubled. I was terribly worried: we would really have to go through balloting if the number of children registered at Phase 2A2 (old boy/girl scheme) doubled too. Every day, I checked the MOE website for the number of places left to gauge if our chance was high. The rock upon my heart was only put down after I read that the number registered remained largely the same as previous years.

If for someone who registers at Phase 2A2 could be so highly stressed, what more the ones who register at Phase 2C (live near school)? I might have ended up at a mental hospital if I had decided to try registering for a place near our home. A slightly more decent neighbourhood school would see many parents balloting and vying for a few miserable places. It's scary!

Recently, a friend posted her P1 ballot slip on Facebook, saying that they could not get a place at a top neighbourhood school in Yishun despite being a parent volunteer there, but managed to get a place at a neighbourhood school near her home.

Her friends' responses to that?

'Congrats!' 'Congrats!' 'Congrats!' 'Congrats!' 'Congrats!' 'Congrats!' 'Congrats!' 'Congrats!' 'Congrats!' 'Congrats!'

When has P1 registration become an event worthy of being congratulated for?

Going on to Three

She is about 2 months shy of 3 years old.

Awfully cute. She is proficient in Mandarin - something that I had wished for. She speaks a lot of Mandarin to me and my parents. But she is very keenly aware of her English-speaking sister and try-to-speak-English aunts. She speaks English with them, but in my opinion, she seems to be slightly better in Mandarin.

She loves to read, a legacy left by her bookworm sister, just that one reads English, and the other Chinese.

Saturday, 20 August 2011

Storeroom rack, finally!

I'm in the midst of tidying up my storeroom. More accurately, it's a 'bomb shelter'.

I would never know why it's called a 'bomb shelter'. From what I know, a bomb shelter is a safe hiding place from bombs in time of war. I cannot imagine how this storeroom can be a bomb shelter if there ever is a war. Firstly, it is not inconspicuous - it has a door handle! Secondly, is HDB trying to say that if our block of flat is bombed, the whole flat would collapse, saved for the whole alignment of bomb shelters - since it's meant to protect us from bombs? I have imagined the scene with some silly amusement - the ones who live on the second floor would be most glad then because they could jump one storey down to the safe landing. But how about those who live on the 12th or 13th floor? How would they come down?

Yeah, I know it's silly.

Anyway, after more than 5 years of living in this flat, I have decided that enough is enough: I will get storeroom racks installed! Actually, it's because we could not take a step into the storeroom without knocking into something anymore. To be more accurate, we could only take 1 miserable step into the storeroom as things are ridiculously piled up. And it is impossible to find anything we need. In fact, nobody could remember what we had put in the store!

I decided to call up the storeroom rack specialist, Yee Sin. It's a really simple website which is very helpful for a number-phobic like me! I was pleased and grateful to know that they even have my storeroom measurement in their website. And even better - they have a proposal of the length and depth of the racks!

I decided to customise the rack abit as I wanted something a bit longer than their standard 60 inch, but not full-length.

I got an 84-inch by 46-inch, 4-shelved L-shaped rack at $230.

Look at the amount of rubbish we have in the storeroom!

Toaster, boxes, inline skates!
Toys, NIE notes, paper bags and other knick knacks
Blinds, lights and Xmas tree (in the life-size box)
Xmas ornaments and other knick knacks
Realised someone dumped a whole basketful of soft toys in my storeroom and most of them are not mine!
Anybody remember the Mc Donald's Hello Kitty sets? They are still in their 'original' condition! I didn't get them. My ex did.

How nice to find your sweet 18-year-old pic in the store!
State of my storeroom before installation of racks - literally everything's a thrown-in!
The Yee Sin men installed the racks within half an hour
Now, that's more like it!

I left some space for the big items

I had made some enquiries about the different length of 4-shelved racks, so might as well list them here for future reference:

105' x 46' - $260
$280 (with PVC)

68' x 46' - $180
$200 (with PVC)

80' x 46' - $210
$230 (with PVC)

For 5-shelved racks, add another $45 to $50 to the total cost of the rack.

Each shelf can withstand 100kg, according to the men.

Monday, 1 August 2011

"We f-ing did it"

Have you watched this:

I'm not a big fan of youtube, but this pretty lass has impressed me with her candid and true-to-heart speech.

I especially love these few segments:
4:27 "C'mon, man - stand up!"
5:06 "I'll always treasure the friends I've made - and the wonderful boyfriend I've made"
And the ultimate:
5:34 "We fucking did it!"

Of course, there are the moralistic who criticise her for using the f word in a valedictory speech. Under 'normal' circumstances, I would think it's inappropriate, but this girl is just so natural in her expression I didn't think it's distasteful.