With orientation over, I prepared for my first week at my initial school attachment by eating more food. I’ve been challenging my palette with a wide range of cuisines and options. From the acidic sweetness of Vietnamese food to the subtle complexity of Japanese to the bold depths and tenderness of Chinese to the complexity and endless spices of Indian food, I’ve enjoyed them all in simple to comfortable settings at modest to downright bargain prices.
I wanted to treat myself on the eve of “going solo” in the program. Lin Li, my ever so kind buddy from MOE would be providing an escort and introductions to my first school, but after that it would be up to me to make personal connections, schedule my time, get places on my own, and generally do what I am here for. I would still maintain a connection with MOE and I know they are there for me 24/7, but it was time for this little bird to leave the nest.
I’ve been wanting to explore Peranakan food since I saw an episode of the Anthony Bourdain series, Parts Unknown, that was filmed in Singapore. Peranakans are Straits-born Chinese. They are the descendants of Chinese immigrants who came to this part of the world and established themselves in the 15th and 16th centuries. Their food is a beautiful blending of traditional (and regional) Chinese, Malay, Indonesian, and Indian with a bit of colonial influence.
There are still a few places that serve the old school form, but I was tempted by the modern interpretation offered at the Michelin starred Candlenut. Being somewhat of a foodie, I eagerly hopped on the 174 bus and made my way to the restaurant on Saturday night. The meal was wonderful and I ordered the wing bean salad and tiger prawns from the a la carte menu with a glass of wine and bottle of mineral water which I used as a cooling agent against the spices. Dessert was a special treat. I had read about Buah Keluak before going to the restaurant. They are large tree seeds that contain a fatal dose of cyanide unless fermented carefully. Prepared correctly, they have a rich dark chocolate flavor. Risking death by chocolate, I ordered the Buah Keluak ice cream and a cappuccino. It was brilliant and unforgettable. I savoured every single bite and am looking forward to returning here again soon.
Monday morning brought me to the steps of Zhenghua Secondary School in the northern part of Singapore. It is just short of an hour to get there from my doorstep. When I arrived with Lin Li, we were met by two history teachers that were assigned to be my host while I am here for the next 6 weeks. Danny and Pei Wen both teach history to 15-16 year-olds. As I’ve mentioned before and will go into much more detail in a later post, students here are tracked (they refer to it as streaming) and find themselves in one of three groups based on end of primary school test scores. Students with the best scores will be placed in the ‘express’ stream, the next group are referred to as ‘normal’ students and the remainder will be placed in the normal-technical stream.
The principal was too busy to meet me on Monday as the school had just received the results of the O-Level tests that play a critical role in placing a student in career and for higher education qualification. When I met with him on Friday, he explained that Zhenghua is a very common school that contains all three streams, but also is very proud of its support programs that include leadership and skill building courses as well as athletics, music, and art. The student population ranges across the entire socio-economic spectrum.
Danny (Chinese name Cha Boon Hon) and I spent a great deal of time together during the week. He was very helpful getting me the history and social-science syllabi (curriculum) as well as the course textbooks. I was supplied with a cubicle space of my own as teachers are not assigned to classrooms and instead rotate from room to room throughout the day. I also received a proposed schedule to make best use of my time at school. They were very generous and respectful to me and did not require that I work the traditional teacher hours. It is very flexible and I am grateful. I will be presenting at a staff meeting, observing classes, working with Danny and Pei Wen to gather data for my inquiry project, and participate in their learning communities - professional development time. They gave me the opportunity to settle in last week and I will get into classroom next week. They have expressed to me that the students are really excited to meet me - which warms my heart.
On Friday, I had the opportunity to experience two game related learning communities. The first was held at Zhenghua where I got to meet two other history teachers. All 5 of us discussed my project and how I use games and game mechanics in my lessons. It was an insightful experience and could not believe that we were using “school time” to reflect on our teaching practices for 90 minutes.
When that meeting concluded, I headed out on the MRT and made my way to St. Andrews Secondary School where I was scheduled to meet up with Lloyd Yeo, the history master teacher for Singapore. He invited me to join this group as it was made up of history teachers from all over Singapore with a passion for developing games to use nationwide.
Coincidentally, St. Andrews will be hosting me for my third and final attachment in April, so it was nice to see the school (all boys) and meet with Chew Ee, the high-energy leader of this group. He shared the PLC’s plans for an upcoming workshop for history/social-science teachers and invited me to present. They each shared board games that are in various stages of development and their plans to digitize one or two. I had the opportunity to share several of the games I brought with me and they loved what I was doing and were genuinely interested in my perspective and feedback. It was a warm and gracious welcome.
Frankly, I’ve never experienced anything like this day professionally. I met a dozen teachers truly passionate about changing the lives of their students by introducing games into their lessons. Everyone participated in the discussions, providing valuable feedback and reflection as ideas were flying across the table. I spent 5 HOURS on a FRIDAY AFTERNOON engaged in enriching, collegial professional development. When we had to leave the board room, several of us continued the learning at a nearby hawker center over beers until 7 PM. Here’s hoping every week ends this way.