July 2010

English is a multi-faceted subject. You’ve got your grammar: everyone’s flat out favourite; reading: which we do out loud in small groups and occassionally to the entire class; reading comprehension: which should always follow reading, but doesn’t happen in a lot of programs in Asia; literary analysis: which is reading comprehension on steroids, and requires a basic knowledge of narrative styles, prose and poetic structure, literary devices and critical approaches; and writing: which encompases all of the above, otherwise you couldn’t put a paragraph-long sentence like this together! In addition we also have to cover media studies and presentation techniques. It is a packed program.

Writing comes in a number of varieties as well. I have my students keep track of their reading comprehension answers in a journal that I mark every three to four weeks, and of course they have to write tests and exams as well. But the most challenging aspect of writing is the research essays the students must do at this level. For many of my students a research essay is an alien animal and plagiarism is bacterial slime. They have heard of such things, but never imagined that they would have to do battle with them quite so early in their academic careers. It is a frightening prospect.

I have learned from long experience that you do not want to give your students much time to be terrified. It is much better to throw them in the deep end all at once and learn to swim by thrashing around. Too much thinking about about all the variables in essay writing is paralyzing. I give them a week to dig up some information on their subject and bring it to class. Then I block off the entire day for them to write a first draft – by hand – and have then submit it by the end of the class. No agonizing homework, no staring at a blank page while it mocks your incapacity to think.

Then I help them to organize an essay structure from what they have written. I provide an outline and show them how to identify the missing areas in their essay. I give them a couple of days to whip that into shape while I give them enough lessons on MLA format to get them going, but not enough to choke them. Then I give them a second full class day, this time at a computer, to type out a second draft. Above is one class engaged in that process.

My system isn’t perfect; I still have a few kids fall through the cracks and fall by the wayside. Those I have to devote individual time to rescue.  But I like to think – and conversations with my colleagues seem to bear this out – that I have fewer kids get lost this way than other teachers who take what they consider to be a ‘gentler’ approach. There is nothing gentle about my approach. I do not cluck sympathetically while my students flounder and fail. Instead I demand that they stand up and succeed. The remarkable thing is that by the end of the term nearly all of them do.

The start of each new school semester means the arrival of the latest group of new Canadian teachers.  With nine “newbies” pretty much settled into their new country, homes and teaching routines we finally had an opportunity to actually socialize with them.  There is one retired couple, one younger couple and five single guys so a very nice mix of people.

Amy and Michelle started the weekend by inviting the group over for an evening of poker, and there are some serious poker players in the group. I enjoyed the evening just watching the game and chatting although I have to admit to being totally lost with poker terminology and to not having any real desire to learn it.

The following day we got an early start, somewhat delayed by a major hiccup with the school van.  After coffee at the local Old Town Coffee, the group headed out to visit Putra Jaya, the new administrative center with its man made lake and many beautiful bridges, buildings and of the course the national mosque.  From there it was back into the city center for a very quick tour of  the Twin Towers and its gardens, Aquarium, Bukit Bintang, Chinatown and Central Market.  The tour is not meant to be an exhaustive look at any of these places but really just an orientation to the city, the transit system and a taste of the life here.

Through an inevitable downpour and very heavy traffic we made our way north of the city to Batu Caves where we were able to not only climb up to the caves but also to witness a Hindu ceremony and have a very authentic thosai with lovely dahl and relishes.  I think that everyone will be adding this to their Malaysian favourites.

On the way back to Subang Jaya we made one final stop for supper at “The Curve” which is a huge mall with IKEA and an outdoor garden area with plenty of patio type restaurants.  It was a very long day with some challenges along the way but all in all a great way to welcome new folk to our adopted home.

Memory… is the diary that we all carry about with us. ~Oscar Wilde

Thirty years ago this week at St Thomas Elgin General Hospital, first the Watter’s and then the Wise’s lives were changed forever with the birth of their first child.  It is incredible to us how quickly that time has passed and what a joy it has been to see Jon and Nicole marry and begin their own family. We are so proud of both of them and are humbled as we watch them parent Ben and Abi.  Recently they posted on their website their goals as parents and they bear repeating.

“First and foremost, we want our kids to know Jesus. We want them to know that Christianity is about a relationship with the God of all creation, who shaped them, loves them, died and rose again for them, and has a plan for their little lives that is more exciting, more amazing, and more wonderful than they could ever find on their own. (Jeremiah 29:11)

We want them to know, at a minimum, what His book, the Bible, and especially the New Testatment, teaches about how to live a healthy, compassionate, generous and righteous life. (2 Timothy 3:16-17)

We want them to understand that each and every child of God is instructed to be involved in Going. That as Christians we have a responsibility not just to our family, or our community, but to the lost and the hurting and the broken around the world. (Matthew 28:16-20)

We want them to experience the incredible adventure of Going, so that whether God calls them to be Goers or Senders, they will know the wonderous uncertainty and trembling, awstruck joy of obeying His call into the unknown and seeing how His mighty power moves mountains, lights the darkness, and changes lives from the inside out. (Romans 1:20)

We want them to know that if you’re comfortable, you’re not growing. If life is too easy, then you’re not doing enough. If your bank account is full, then you’re not giving enough. If travel means only a vacation, then you’re not seeing the world the way God does. That if you settle for the world’s best, then you miss God’s best and your life is empty. (Matthew 4:4)”

Jon and Nic put feet to thought themselves in their recent visit to Asia, and we did appreciate their interest in what we and others are doing over here for the cause of Christ. We are sorry that Pam could not be here, but that too is the price of service. We are happy that our son and his wife are following the Lord as he leads them through the next thirty years of their lives. May they be faithful to the path.

“I slept and dreamt that life was joy. I awoke and saw that life was service. I acted and behold, service was joy” Rabindranath Tagore

There is no question that this year’s ‘holiday’ in Canada was the toughest we’ve ever had. For Pam it was two months of nursing her father through the present day difficulties of health care in Canada to his burial on June 29 followed by a frantic ten days of trying to cram in enough visits with our children, grandchildren, other family and friends to make it count. I am still reeling from the rapidity of the changes, both physical and emotional that I have been thorough in the last three weeks.

But in the midst of this demanding time, there is the realization that the Lord has been with us every step of the way. Pam’s work in Cambodia had reached a place where she could suspend her efforts for two months to attend to her father. She was able to be by his side for much of that time, and share some precious moments with him and the rest of her family as they went through that sad trial. My work finished in time for me to join her at her father’s side and assist in the preparations for his funeral.

The visitation and funeral were poignant and uplifting. Dad had led such a good life. His family and friends were a testimony to his kindness and faithfulness to Christ. The service itself was filled with moments of sweet remembrances, and to see his bier attended by his ten grandsons and four granddaughters was sight so touching as to make angels weep. From the 24 hour a day watch the family kept over him, until the gathering of the details of his estate for the executor of his will, everything that occured was done in such a way as to honour this dear saint whose life had been in dedicated service to others.

We are grateful that our children could all be there to witness the passing of their grandfather. We are grateful that we ourselves were in Canada during this time. We are grateful to our family and friends who were a blessing and an encouragement to us. We are especially grateful to God who gives us the assurance that he has prepared a place for us, a place without sickness or grief, where we will see this dear man again. In all these ways, we count our blessings.

After what has surely been the most heart-rending and disorganized trip home to Canada in three years, Pam and I are on our way back to Malaysia this morning. We are spending the last night with our friend Kim McNamara in Bolton and flying out in the morning from Toronto, over the North Pole to Hong Kong. There we will catch a connecting flight to KL. We want to thank all our many friends and dear family members for their kindness to us over the past few weeks, and offer our apologies to the many folks we were unable to see this time due to circumstances beyond our control. We realized yesterday that with the exception of the one flight for me this morning, every other flight on our trip had to be changed, many at the very last minute. It has been expensive and disruptive.

Monday I start the new term, exhausted and disoriented. Trusting to the Lord to give me strength to put it all together in short order.