Thursday, 5 November 2015

Teaching Is Tough

A playground quarrel between two kids puts a teacher on a quest to set Malaysian youths straight, one student at a time

For a short while, the hashtag "Mak Kau Hijau" (Malay for "Yo momma's green" - I know, right?) was trending in the Malaysian Twittersphere. Other than how catchy it was, I had no idea what it was or how it came about.

Then, while browsing the shelves at a bookstore, this jumped out at me...

"Mak Kau Hijau!" by local publisher Kopi Press, on the
shelves at MPH Bookstore in Mid Valley Megamall

Note the brilliantly designed green-tinged cover and loudly screaming title. Who WOULDN'T be captivated?

Sadly, very little of the comedic writing seemingly advertised by the cover design and back cover copy can be had in the pages but I got over that quickly. It did explain the origin of the hashtag.

Apparently, someone recorded a video of a playground row between two kids where one of them, while exchanging insults, yelled "Mak kau hijau!" at the other. This video was posted to YouTube and went viral.

"Yo momma's green!" isn't exactly an artful or incisive insult, even for kids. But what irked author and teacher Emir Abu Khalil (his pen name) the most about this incident seemed to be the crass language and lack of manners.

"Stupid!" he writes. What are our youth learning, he asks. What are they being taught at home, at school? Where did they pick all this up?

Being a teacher, this affects him plenty. In his job, he sees a lot of what the YouTube video encapsulates. But his beef is also - if not mostly - for the person who recorded the video rather than break up the fight, whom he compares with those who slow down and gawk when driving by accident sites. The author seems to tremble at the thought of the young graduating into such a society.

This collection of chapters in Cikgu Emir's life as he sets his students straight through teaching and setting an example for his students to follow. Its format is what I'd describe as blookish (i.e., blog in print).

A Kopi Press book at a kedai kopi moden: at Artisan Roast, TTDI
(by the way, that's not coffee)

Each chapter is no different from a blog post: relatively short, colloquially phrased and not thoroughly spell-checked. (Maaf ye, terkeluar taring penyunting tadi. Tanda work-life balance terganggu kot.) Episodes of his schoolteacher days are spliced with musings and opinions on how to cultivate the right kind of values in students.

I found the religious bits uncomfortable; at times, reading this, I felt like an intruder, an unwelcome fly on the wall. So all that religious stuff naturally flew over my head - as did his lamentations of how young people are these days: no manners, why do they talk like this, why don't they pray ... and so on.

But there are moments of levity, made lively by the use of contemporary Malay patois, which includes local slang and English. That helped move things along tremendously. One also feels he's not quite the traditional white-skullcap fire-and-brimstone kind of person. Did he really use Miley Cyrus's "The Climb" as a teaching aid?

Some might find the shifts in the mood and tone of the book jarring as he swings between preacher and hipster. But one gets a sense of what he's trying to convey: kids are hard to educate.

These recollections and musings remind me of those of another teacher's, and it seems to me that everyone in this profession share a common goal and certain ways to reach it. Like that other teacher, Cikgu Emir goes beyond what's customary. He buys needy students lunch, maybe loans them money. He leads prayer sessions, holds extra classes. In one chapter, he even helps a student said to be under a black magic spell.

Most of the time, though, he grapples with excruciatingly mortal problems: bureaucracies, students he can't get through to, whether what he's doing is worth it, keeping in touch with his wards via WeChat...

Yet he's determined to prove to his students and the world at large that he's not a cikgu dua lima, the type who only teaches for the salary that usually comes in on the 25th of each month.

Quotable, genuine and devoted to the ideals of his faith and profession, Cikgu Emir (and those like him) is worth cheering for. And this book packs more takeaways than a day's worth that's sold at a mixed rice stall.

But I risk spoiling too much of that by copy-pasting, so I'll just end with this translated bit from the back cover:

"I'm not a perfect teacher, but that doesn't mean I can do nothing to change my students. If you can't do everything, don't ditch everything. If you understand this basic[sic], teaching and nurturing will be what you love best, because this will be your treasure in the afterlife."

Semoga berjaya, cikgu.

Sebenarnya saya tidak pasti sama ada saya perlu mengulas buku ini dalam Bahasa Melayu sebab ia ditulis dalam BM. Agaknya saya lebih cenderung dan biasa menulis dan menyuarakan pendapat dalam Bahasa Inggeris, tetapi entah apa pendapat Cikgu Emir mengenai perkara ni.

Mungkin ulasan ni patut dibuat dalam bahasa yang digunakan dalam buku ini agar maksud isinya, termasuk buah fikiran penulisnya, dapat dipelihara dan disampaikan dengan sepenuhnya, tanpa sebarang kehilangan akibat kekurangan atau kelemahan dalam kaedah terjemahan saya.

Jadi tujuan saya menulis nota kaki ni mungkin hanya untuk membuktikan bahawa tahap penguasaan Bahasa Melayu saya cukup untuk menghayati isi kandungan buku ini. Tapi, perlukah saya berbuat demikian?

Sekadar menulis dua perenggan pun saya dah penat. Nada kaku, struktur ayat pun kekok. Ada perkataan yang perlu bantuan Google Translate. Kemungkinan besar ini sebabnya saya jarang membaca - lebih-lebih lagi mengulas - karya dalam Bahasa Melayu.

“Mak Kau Hijau!”
Realiti Budak Melayu

Emir Abu Khalil
Kopi Press (September 2015)
166 pages
ISBN: 978-967-13523-1-1


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