Adventures in teaching Boom by Jean Tay (Part II)

Yikes! Very overdue but I’m going to post this regardless because I’ve been meaning to put it up.

How does Tay create an atmosphere of melancholy in this passage? Explain your answer with close reference to the passage.

So when we last left off, I was busy making the horses thirsty.

One of the ways in which I did so was to allow them to devise their own exam questions – in a structured manner, of course.

Without going into detail, I crafted the lesson with the objectives of making the students:

  1. Revise the question requirements for the O-Level exams; and
  2. Think about the issues in the particular passage, and thereafter the text.

While carrying out the lesson activity, this happened:

Student A: (reading out what he had written) “How does Tay create an atmosphere of me-lan-cho-lee –”

Student B: (from the other end of the classroom) “Eh, what melancholee – you think what, this one Indian food ah?”

Student C: “Ya lah, later you go to Lew Lian there the Indian stall you tell them, ‘Uncle, I want two kosong and the curry you gimme melancholee one’ and then you see what happen after that.”

Temporarily could not take it because was laughing so hard, so had to tell the students to give me a moment to finish laughing before we carried on with the lesson.

Adventures in teaching Boom by Jean Tay (Part I)

Why does Tay title her play BOOM? Support your answer with close reference to the text.
Why does Tay title her play Boom? Support your answer with close reference to the text.

So as part of making the “horses” thirsty, I had to teach Boom by Jean Tay for Literature lessons.

It’s a pretty good text in that it’s accessible to the students and rich with literary features that make it good for teaching.

For example, one of the essay questions we worked on in class was “Why does Tay title her play Boom? Support your answer with close reference to the text”.

I doubt this question would ever come out at the O-Level exams, but I thought it was a pretty good way of getting the students to think about motifs, symbolism and themes – and their relationships – in the text.

Regardless, the students – being students – have no qualms about asking teachers questions/interrupting the lesson in the hope that we’ll digress/tell them stories instead.

So while I was writing the question and instructions on the board, this exchange took place:

“Jean Tay your friend ah, sir.”
“You’re also a writer, right, sir.”
“So? All writers must be friends is it?”

And midway during the discussion…

“You got watch the play or not?”
“NO. (Beat.) Why?”
“You look like one of the actors lah.”
“Brendon Fernandez, is it?”
“No lah, the actor in the play.”
“Yar, he was one of the actors in the play, right? That’s his name!”
“Y’all are friends ah, sir?”

Guess it was payback for all the times I annoyed my teachers in class…

Make the horse thirsty

Having prata with the 5N1 boys.

So my relief teaching stint at Saint Gabriel’s Secondary School ended last week.

I’m very glad for the opportunity to have returned for one last hurrah; to have come full circle in my teaching journey and for this very meaningful and enriching experience to mark the end of my teaching career (for now).

Something I found valuable from the experience: a lesson that resurfaced during the course of my stint.

When I was a trainee teacher at St Gab’s four years ago, I remember telling Mr William Ng, our School Coordinating Mentor then, about how one class was making it difficult for me to teach them.

The exact words I used was in the form of the idiom “you can lead a horse to water, but you can’t make it drink”.

Mr Ng took one look at me and replied, “Then make the horse thirsty.”

My instinctive response was to shoot him a WTF look – though I stopped when I realised he made sense.

(That was a very powerful exercise in reframing for me; I’ve since learnt the power of reframing situations like that in order to break out of what might be a seemingly hopeless circumstance.)

In any case, being a beginning teacher, I didn’t know how to make the “horses” thirsty then.

So I completely forgot about the phrase and about making “horses” thirsty until I was a week into my stint and I reconnected with Mr Ng.

Recollecting his words was both an empowering and inspiring experience; I finally understood what he meant.

I also felt a sense of relief: at some point last year, my teaching journey had finally led me to learn what it was I had to do to make the “horses” thirsty.

A couple of people have asked how to make the “horses” thirsty. An ex-colleague has even quipped that it’s “even more important than what…the fox say[s]“.

I’m not normally the type to hold my cards close to my chest, but this time round, I will, for personal reasons.

In any case, if you’re a teacher, keep teaching well and make making “horses” thirsty one of your priorities too.

P.S. not related but still amusing, nonetheless: Rockson’s Horse.