Having signed up for a community program in my Office which called itself ' The Reading Clinic' , I did not know what I had got myself into. I landed apprehensively at the meeting place to find two other volunteers who were looking at me with suppressed grins. Soon, I was bundled into a car. When I realised that I was getting kidnapped beyond the recognised landmarks of Malaysia , into unknown concrete jungles, I decided to swallow my queasiness and open my mouth. And hearing their answer, my open mouth's jaw dropped in mock horror. It was not enough that we were going to an all-boys' school (the first one in my life I was going to enter,ofcourse), I was also expected to teach English to an entire class of 13 year olds.
I knew the school had arrived, looking at young faces with poppins hued waterbottles colouring the place. Looking at half tucked shirts and untied shoe laces attacking a football. And, listening to a din that can only be made by a perfect blend of young, excited voices, teachers screaming homework , and the recess bell.
While I was led to the classroom, I learnt that the reason they had to be taught English was that their medium of teaching was Bahasa Melayu and the English class would be like, well, my German classes. I entered the classroom and found a bunch of young Chinese, Indian and Malay faces looking back at me with a mixture of open curiosity, mischief and boredom. And after introducing myself, I had to play my best memory game ever with names like Low, Lee and Lingam sitting in the same row. And in an effort to sound friendly, I enquired about yesterday's football game. Wrong move. Same side goal. The entire class started to discuss amongst themselves and I suddenly felt like I was the class monitor. However , I realised today that there is a big difference being a 'teacher' . When I just started 'Boys..', the entire class actually listened, instead of playing the game of invisible monitor. Then, was the time I decided to get down to business and distributed copies of 'Fill up the blanks' to each desk. There was a blissful silence which lasted about one millisecond when someone asked a question in the lines of, ' Can I fill 'my hobby' as drinking beer?'. It lead to a volley of more, thankfully, sensible questions and then a silence punctuated by chewing pens, dropped boxes and flipping pages in the background of the rotating fan.
And in the silence I saw that each young boy had an unspoken story to tell. In the way he hunches up his hand to cover his answers. In the way he yawns and looks at the time every moment. In the way he keeps changing pens to find the right answer. In the way he looks at me with pleading eyes to set him free. My reverie was interrupted by a young man who, after finishing was proudly marching up to me. He was rather a cute boy with an impish grin and shy eyes. Bowled over by his charm and the correct answers, I signed his sheet with a 10/10 , a star and a smiley face. And Mr Young Man, instead of going back to his place, walked past me and to the board. As I was watching in stunned silence, he copied the smiley face I had drawn, onto the board. I opened my mouth to chide him, and then changed my mind to play it his way.Not to be beaten at this game , I confidently asked him to name five adjectives that match the smiling face. And the entire class, including me, was in splits as he called the face ' foodball maskot'. And that was when the game began. I would draw a smiley, appropriate to each boy's mark and the boy would extol sensible adjectives. And I realised that I was quite enjoying myself and a sense of camaraderie had developed between me and the class.
When the next topic was - 'Make sentences', realising that the words 'fight' and ' shine' were giving rise to a lot of classroom politics, I changed them to 'lovely' and ' peace'. And there went Mr Young Man with his hand up, his tummy bursting with the exertion . With mild trepidation, I asked him to go ahead, and when he wrote -' Hemma is lovely', and the entire class burst out laughing, I thought I was some Star World character who goofs up amidst recorded laughter playing in the background.Thankfully it was time for the screen to freeze, because the bell rang.
And I couldn't explain to anyone why I was grinning all the way back to the office.