The initial communication problems a reluctant Physical and Health Education teacher had with her Remove Class students, seem to have eased up.
A few months ago, when the afternoon supervisor in my school told me that I had a class of Physical and Health Education (or PJK — Pendidikan Jasmani dan Kesihatan ) on my timetable, I thought she was going to follow it up with this line: “Oh yes, that’s what we decided initially. But now of course we’re going to replace your PJK periods with Maths or English.”
I waited and waited but the line didn’t come. When I started a feeble protest along the lines of Physical Education(PE) not being my subject of option, she looked at me and said, “I know, but we really have no choice as there aren’t enough teachers with that option.”
So there it was. I was going to teach PE to a bunch of Peralihan (Remove Class) students. Dilla laughed her head off when I told her.
“You and PE are as far removed from each other as I am from the Bahasa Urdu classroom.”
She was right, of course. My exercise regime till then consisted of sporadic walks in the park and my most notable sporting achievement to date was overtaking octogenarians, who were being cautiously led by their maids around the grass footpath.
No, I was definitely not the PE type; not one of those vigorous tracksuit-clad sports mistresses who live in the school field and surface for air at the staff room every now and then, with a sweaty brow and whistle clenched firmly between their teeth.
But the good news was that I had to teach only the girls. And I didn’t have to actually take them to the field until sports season was over.
So with all these encouraging thoughts in mind I set off with forced optimism to begin my first PJK lesson with a bunch of 12- and 13-year-old girls, compliant and submissive, in their first year in secondary school, and in awe of their surroundings. Or so I thought.
I heard the sound of their voices a whole block away. Childish, shrill voices, raised in what sounded like multiple, simultaneous quarrels. The girls were all over the classroom when I entered.
There was a momentary silence, they went back to their seats and began hushed conversations with each other in their own dialects, pointing at me from time to time.
After a few minutes of introduction I got started with the activity I had planned for the day which would require the class to work on a group project on personal hygiene. Mentally I was congratulating myself for having thought up something at such short notice, despite the absence of a teaching syllabus.
“Get into groups of five,” I instructed in my most proper Bahasa. Malaysia. They didn’t budge from their seats. I had to go down several linguistic notches before they finally understood. There was a flurry of movement and clambering over chairs, a few more quarrels as group members were initiated or rejected and finally they were settled in groups of five. “Ah,” I thought to myself, “now to proceed to phase 2.”
“Get the name of a flower for your group,” I told them. “If you like roses, then your group will be the ‘Rose’ group ?” Even before I could finish the sentence the whole class disappeared.
I was still wondering what it was I had said that made them all rush out of the classroom when they all returned almost at the same time and crowded my table with bougainvillea bunches, stalks of alamanda, bunga raya, zinnias, marigolds and whatever flower they had plucked from the school compound.
“Cikgu, ini boleh kah? (Teacher, what about this one?)” they asked, waving their flowers under my nose as a deep sinking feeling within me.
...“Oh my goodness, what have you done?”
I was horrified.
I looked outside. All the flower bushes that had been in glorious bloom earlier in the afternoon were now stripped bare.
My table top was now completely scattered with flowers, like a freshly covered grave after a funeral, and quite honestly, I felt just as cheerful. There was even an African daisy from the school gardeners’ carefully-guarded exclusive collection.
There was clearly a communication problem here. I spoke no Chinese dialect and the students had problems with English and Bahasa Malaysia.
Eventually I sorted out the confusion with the help of Jessie, a freckle-faced and sprightly girl who was better in the other languages and volunteered to act as class “interpreter”.
As for the flowers, which were by now wilting all over the classroom, I told the girls to create a form of pressed flower arrangement in their PJK exercise book.
On the way out of class, Jessie cheerfully informed me, “Teacher I think they no scared for you!” Which didn’t exactly raise my drooping spirits.
Things somewhat improved over the next few lessons, with the help of Jessie and a big Chinese-English-Bahasa Melayu picture dictionary which the pupils brought to school every day (and whose author has my unending appreciation).
It had almost all the words I needed to conduct the lesson, from pictures of the various sporting activities right down to a mole on the upper lip of a bored-looking Hong Kong movie actress.
When the time came to begin the practical part of the PJK class, I prayed fervently that it would rain in the evening.
It did rain, heavily and continuously for a whole two hours and 10 minutes before my lesson. It was treacherously bright and sunny at 5.30pm, with no trace of it having rained at all.
After the preliminary warming-up exercises I decided on a game of captain-ball and explained the rules of the game to the girls. I tossed the ball to the girls to begin the game.
The ball rose up in the air and sank to the ground. No one moved. I called for Jessie. Her interpretation seemed considerably longer and more emphatic than my original instructions.
“Teacher I scold them for you,” she informed me when I asked if she had added anything to what I’d said earlier “I say why you all so stupid. Teacher throw ball you must all run run catch.”
The game went on enthusiastically well after that with all the girls actively involved. A few boys who were passing by asked if they could join in and were so vigorously ticked off by the girls that they practically ran back to their own classes.
PE with the remove class has been progressing pretty well so far. The girls even went through their series of tests for endurance, speed and flexibility although I have a sneaking suspicion that some of the ‘flexibility’ scores aren’t 100% accurate. Mr Tan, who teaches the boys PJK, has been an absolute gem, ever willing to offer help and advice.
And so when Dilla asked me the other day how my PJK lessons were progressing I could truthfully say, “I get by with a little help from my friends”, thinking of course of Jessie, Mr Tan and the Big Picture Dictionary.
However, there is one thing I need to resolve. How do I explain to the Senior Assistant the presence of pressed school flowers in my students’ PJK exercise books when the time comes to check them. Dilla says it could have been worse. “Imagine if you’d told them to name their groups after animals!”
The Star Online: 22 Jun 2008