Discipline Hands

Free and lawless learning. Sounds like fun… but in the classroom? Disaster. That was last week: mayhem, disruptions, disorder.

So this week, I laid down the law; we started with clear rules, and I reminded the students of the rules through the day. We followed a system, whereby rule followers would earn points. Lastly, a prize: whoever earned 25 points got to take a unicycle home for the day.


The Rules:
Raise hand for permission to speak or leave
Strive to make your teacher happy
Wait to talk to each other after class
Keep hands to selves
Discipline hands (shoulders back, back straight, face forward, hands folded over each other on the table)

Rukiyah won the day. She raised her hand, participated, and held discipline hands nearly the entire time.

Three new kids, who know very little English, wanted to join the class. I let them in on one condition: they follow the rules. Guess who were my most attentive students?


Today – not so great

Today was not great. I totally face-planted at leading the lesson. It was so HARD. Some kids seemed bored, others were disruptive. I didn’t have the energy to come up with shiny flashy edu-tainment. At one point I was so discouraged, I stopped the lesson and explained that I wasn’t there for me, I was there for them, so if they’d rather just chat, I should leave. Maybe that sounds manipulative, but it was from the heart. They asked me to stay, and I did. But the whole day was a chore. We just barely made it through the word list and lesson, and I high-tailed it home.

Settlers of Catan and SORRY!

After the kids demonstrated they could read quietly for eight whole minutes straight, without a single peep, we did slow breathing exercises, complimented each other, then got down to the English grammar lesson: singular and plural nouns. Then we played games to practice using both kinds of nouns.

SettlersHere’s Rukiah and Kopinur, setting up a second game of Settlers of Catan. Kopinur spanked us on the first round. She built the longest road, assembled the largest army, and seemed unstoppable constructing roads, settlements and cities.

That’s Faisal, dropping a photo-bomb in the background. He grew tired of playing Sorry! at the other table, so I had him write a singular and plural nouns on the white board. He did very well. When the student helpers from Minnesota showed up, they helped him come up with more.

990 EZ Tax Forms have been filed.

The US IRS requires that all non-profits file 990 forms every year. I just dropped the 990 EZ into the mail for tax year 2015. You’re welcome to have a look.  I removed a couple lines of personal information. Other than that, it’s all there.

Next up: the 1023 application for 501c3 status. Last week I received answers to all my questions from the pro-bono lawyer in Washington D.C. Now it’s time to finish the form and send that in too.

The Odyssey

Only Anwar seemed interested in the saga of Odysseus. He was at full attention learning about Ithaca, Penelope and Telemachus, the abduction of Helen from Menelaus, and Odysseus’s journey to war, building trojan horses, and being captured by Polyphemus, the Cyclops. I drew a one eyed monster, turned around, and everyone was all of a sudden interested in the story.  They stayed with me all the way to Odysseus’s return to Ithaca where, after slaying the wretched, squatting, vile suitors to Penelope, enjoyed a fine feast with his wife and son. I gave each student a sesame seed bar from Greece, so they could feast as Odysseus would have. They demanded to know if it was halal. A quick check with another teacher, and they were satisfied. I should have started with the honey bars, … or the Cyclops.

The kids came back from break complaining of the heat. As the girls sat down, they tugged at their hijabs to let air in. One pulled hers off just to cool down. The others followed. After a minute, they began to put their hijabs back on. I said that in my class, hijab was optional. They left them off for the lesson.

After reviewing the weekly spelling words, then quizzing them on English fraction words such as half, third, fourth (quarter) … tenths, I gave them free time. One girl put her hijab back on and worked on a USA puzzle with the boys. The other two girls walked to the floor fan and delighted in letting the wind blow through their loose hair. They’d turn toward me, bent forward and let their hair fall over their faces. Then they’d pop up and say, “ahhh!” They said they were hantu. Ghosts.

Arfat led the puzzle builders, but he was talking in Rohingya. I demanded, “English only!” Arfat then barked orders at his team of puzzle piece wranglers, “I need Nebraska! Please may I have Nebraska?”

Meanwhile, the hantu girls sang a tune I recognized: the Spongebob Squarepants theme song. Knowing the lyrics by heart (who doesn’t???), I wrote them out on the board and explained the words they didn’t know; absorbent, porous, nautical, nonsense. We sang Spongebob as they flipped their wild hair in the fan and hissed like hantu.

Rattan Punishment Cane

Apparently, in Malaysia, it’s common for teachers to employ a rattan stick as an implement of discipline. In fact, a google image search leads me to an apparently thriving trade on ebay. Eek.


I don’t care where you are on earth, or what culture you hail from, hitting children is always wrong. While it may bring short term compliance, in the long term hitting kids can result in low self-esteem, alienation, anxiety, rebellion, or distrust. Besides, what’s the lesson here? That hitting is a valid recourse for disagreements or non-cooperation?  Come on, as adults we should hold ourselves to a higher standard, and do the hard work of coming up with alternatives that respect everyone involved: ourselves as teachers, and our students, as good-hearted human beings in need of gentle guidance.

It was upsetting to learn that a teacher at the school sometimes uses the rattan. It’s a flexible hitting stick, similar to a riding crop a jockey might use on a horse’s hindquarters. He said he uses the rattan to discipline the children. For example, he smacks the table to bring the children to attention. Only when they’re really bad does he hit their hands. He assured me that he never hits them very hard. I tried to maintain a neutral face, for I wanted him to share openly and honestly. That’s tough to do when someone is judging you. Even so, inside my soul, I was appalled.

When asked, he listed a few situations where he might use the rattan: when the kids won’t stop talking, when they steal from each other, when they don’t listen. I could relate. All of those situation crop up for me too, and they can be unbearably aggravating. However, as I told him, in my experience, there are alternatives to the rattan. I asked if he’d be willing to learn about some of the alternatives that seemed to work for me and try them out. Incredibly, he said okay.

We talked about what the ultimate goal was: to teach the children self-discipline. This means that the regulation of their behavior must come from within. It’s up to us to teach them how to do this. The rattan may bring short term compliance, but it’s an external control mechanism. It’s not teaching them anything except to be fearful.

Misguided goals, such as revenge, feeling inferior, or vying for power, can manifest in problematic behavior. I gave my colleague a paper that listed such goals and ideas for dealing with them.

We talked about alternatives to the rattan – giving information, asking for help in brainstorming a solution, giving a choice, allowing natural consequences to play out, engage in surprising and odd behavior yourself (like talking to the wall to say, “no one else seems to be listening to me so I thought I’d talk to you Mr. wall.”), or rather than yelling, talking in a very soft voice so they have to lean forward and listen to hear you. He was laughing at these options.

I gave him a 12 year old copy of a book I used long ago with my daughters: How to Talk so Kids will Listen, and Listen so kids will Talk. I explained that, after my husband and I read that book, it transformed our household. We all became collaborators in coming to solutions, rather than adversaries fighting to get our own way. He seemed genuinely interested, and is taking the book home to read.

I don’t know. I feel like maybe I came on too strong with all of these suggestions. However, I couldn’t just say, “Don’t use the rattan!”  If I ask someone to stop doing something that they think works for them, the least I can do is offer alternatives to consider.

Maybe his agreement with me was lip service. But down deep, I get the sense that he too feels the rattan isn’t getting the results he desires. Maybe, just maybe, he’ll read the book and find a few suggestions that will work for him. I’m really hoping. The kids need loving guidance, not swats to the hand.

Zu will stay for now :)

I wired the first supplemental salary payment to Zu on March 15. I will continue every month for the next 6 months. It’s tracked in The Books.

Our goal was to raise $1500 by March 15, and we raised $1000 as of March 20.  You know what – that totally works out. Why? Because Zu agreed to stay for now, but for less $ than I offered. Her reasoning: so we would use the extra $ to pay for a new teacher for the kindergarteners. She feels strongly that they need a full time teacher. I couldn’t agree more. Zu’s pretty awesome.

The Khan is Strong with this One

Last week, I drove to Sumayyah’s apartment at least four times – each time debugging something that had gone wrong with her laptop.  Examples:

  • passwords on Khan weren’t working
  • Windows 8 clock wouldn’t synchronize, as such, https certificates failed authentication (end result: no Khan Academy access)
  • one month pre-paid wifi sim card ran out of data, 2 weeks early

So much driving, so much time at digi wireless help desk, so much time sitting in traffic on Jalan Scottland. Okay, I’ll stop being a complainy-pants now. At long last, a few days ago, we had her set up properly. With a 6 month pre-paid sim card allowing twice the data per month, she now has unfettered access to Khan Academy.


From what I can tell, she’s knocking her lessons out of the park. Check out this activity graph. She’s earned badges every day since she got back on track five days ago.

From my Khan Academy dashboard, I see her activity and progress.  It took a while, but it seems she’s finally set up. And working hard. I’m proud of her.


Everyone Loves Learning About the Solar Eclipse

Photo credit: Heather Lang, she was smart enough to get her camera when she saw the eclipse.

Just before dropping my son at school Wednesday morning, he spotted the partial eclipse from our car. So cool!  As soon as I pulled up to the curb, he ran off to see if he could see more from the roof. I drove off to the Peace Learning Centre to teach.

Naturally, once I got to the classroom I made the lesson all about solar eclipses. Three of the kids had observed it that morning too, and were excited to learn what what going on.

The lesson was great for building English skills because the kids had to master prepositions like between, and in front of. We talked about shadows, and orbits, and line of sight.

They asked about Mercury, Venus and Mars. Just like last week, they asked if people lived on those planets. And again, I explained, uh, no. Nur wanted to know why not. I kept it simple: Mars is too cold and Venus and Mercury are too hot. Earth is just right. Oh, but there’s so much more to tell. For example: Hubble Spies Most Distant, Oldest Galaxy, Ever.