"Where have you been lately? You were absent from school since last week."
"I was busy, teacher."
"Oh, busy? Were you working?"
I looked at the good-looking 14-year-old boy.
"No laa... I err, I went to CC."
"Ahh.. computer centre? You played computer games? So what games did you play? Speed? Command and Conquer? Does your mother know?"
"Heheheee.. she knows. She always scolds me."
"How much do you pay for an hour of game at the CC? RM2 an hour?"
"So cheap? So that's where you go to if you don't come to school?"
He grinned."Hmm... Tell me, do you still smoke?"
"How many packet of cigarettes do you smoke in a day?"
"Errr... usually 30 cigarettes in 3 days."
"That much? It's a good thing your teeth are still sparkling white. If not, your girlfriend would have dumped you.'
He laughed. He had told me about his 'Anak Mami' girlfriend before. Also, he knows that smoking is bad, yet he can't stop. He's already addicted at the tender age of 14.
"How much is a packet of cigarette now? RM5?" I tried to make a guess.
"So which brand do you smoke? Any favourite brand?"
"All kinds, teacher. I use my pocket money."
I nodded my head. The young man, my student, sitting beside me is street-smart. He could actually perform very well in his studies if only he decides to pay attention to his books. Instead, he is considered as a nuisance by most teachers in school for being a bad influence to his classmates, and a smoker who frequently breaks the school rules. They're happy if he's not in the classroom when they teach. Me? I try my best to keep all my students in the classroom during my lessons. They are teach-able.
I admit, I'm not a typical teacher in the eyes of my students. Teens have several stereotypical images of lady teachers :
A. strict, no-nonsense and good at nagging.
B. mousy-looking, speaks with a squeak, small-sized and easy to bully
C. kind, young, soft-spoken, pretty but poor classroom management.
I don't fit into any of the categories. I am the first teacher they know who is a "Cina Islam" or a "Muslim Chinese." (they used to think that all Chinese women are non-Muslims, and all teachers in a tudung are Malays).
My voice is my tool, so I've learnt to use it well. To the surprise and pleasure of the boys, I have discussed football and Euro 2008 with them (getting the latest match result is easy- just ask the boys). I have talked about the latest fashion with the girls. 6 weeks with them and I already know who flirts with who, and who is trying to tackle who in the class ( I pretend not to know). I also understand how much they, especially the boys, love their hair. I also have to make sure the mischievous ones finish their work by standing beside them in class while they do their written work. I can call each of them by their nicknames. Most importantly,I don't allow their naughty antics to spoil my mood. And I don't nag. And it's becoming really easy for me to talk with them.
"Teacher, is Friday your last day in the school?"
"Yes, handsome. I won't be teaching you anymore next week. Mrs A will be returning to teach you."
"I'll be teaching in another school."
"Teacher, why you have to go? Continue teaching here laa." "Sorry, I have to go. I have students waiting for me to teach them in that school."
"Then I won't be coming to school next week."
"Boring laa, don't like **** to teach us..."
"Well, you'll end up the loser if you continue to skip school while your friends in school learn new things. You don't want to be a loser, do you?"
They stared down at their feet. Silence. I understood the message.
I patted their shoulders, and asked them to return to their classroom.
I'll miss them too.
image1: my wonderful "knights" of F1.
image2: future leaders from F2