Of Facebook, debating and being inspired!

Sunday December 23, 2012

http://thestar.com.my/education/story.asp?file=/2012/12/23/education/12379400&sec=education

By THANBEER KAUR SEKHON

FACEBOOK is one word that needs no introduction. Ask students to group past and present tense verbs and you are likely to get blank stares but mention “Facebook” and they are all ears. That’s the power of Facebook.

The story I am about to tell however, is not about using Facebook in the classroom, but how it helped me to connect, gain inspiration and be proud… so proud in fact, that it moved me to tears.

This is how it all began. Every year, my school students will take part in the district level English Language Debate Competition.

Now, it is quite a daunting task to get teenagers to speak in front of a crowd let alone sacrifice their time for training sessions after school hours. They would rather use the time to chat online, watch the latest music video or attend tuition (the most popular excuse).

From arguing on the advantages of being on a debate team and the importance of learning to articulate arguments, I managed to get some students to join the school’s debate team.

Challenging steps

After the selection process and a few short debate sessions, the biggest challenge was getting all five of them to research, prepare their arguments before the training sessions and attend the training itself!

During the first session, I was shocked at the level of preparation this group of students had done, despite telling them what was needed.

I was hyperventilating and could have literally pulled off every strand of hair on my scalp. As this was their first debate, I guess I could not blame them entirely. So I showed them some debate videos and asked them to watch a few more at home.

A debate requires commitment, perseverance, diligence and time as one needs to do thorough research on the motion.

Extra hands were needed to prepare these students so that they will have what it takes when they get on stage. This heavy responsibility rested on both myself and my fellow colleague’s shoulders.

Sitting alone in the language lab after the team had left, I thought: “how was I to get them ready in three weeks?”

Saved by social media

Then, my mind and thoughts travelled back in time… reminiscing about this particular batch of students; how we almost won against a prestigious school and the determination and maturity that they had demonstrated.

I realised that I was still in touch with them through Facebook. Three of them are currently pursuing law.

So I went home and posted a message via Facebook; requesting them to find some time to help me coach these five newbies.

I didn’t get my hopes up though as I thought they would be busy with their university life.

To my pleasant surprise, all three were happy to help coach the team and do their bit for their alma mater. With dictionaries and laptops, we cracked our heads while working on their arguments.

As I watched these four teenagers: Puteri Eleni Megat Osman, Roeshan Celestine Gomez, Jeremy Lim and Siti Raihan Rosli, I felt so proud that these students were from my school.

I was even more delighted to see how they had grown intellectually and matured. They were also more committed and prepared. I was moved to tears.

Not only did they come to school for the training sessions but we also communicated via Facebook and the telephone.

You will be amazed at how high a teacher’s phone bill can be and it is not just mindless chatting but calls discussing school events, performances, listening to their arguments at 11pm or giving them tips or any fresh arguments that may have popped into my head at odd hours.

Puteri Eleni also set up our school debate team’s Facebook account and attended all the debate competitions to show her support.

Those former students of mine not only inspired this debate team but they also inspired me to continue this challenging journey of training and teaching others.

And that was how Facebook connected me to these three angels and how it led to me sensing deep satisfaction and gratification from what I do for a living.

True inspiration

To all the former students who have lent a helping hand without expecting anything in return, kudos to all of you and do continue with this generous deed of inspiring your younger friends.

As John Quincy Adams once said, “if your actions inspire others to dream more, learn more, do more and become more, then you are a leader.”

Some of you might wonder, after the many hours spent discussing and researching online, did the team win?

We did not, but we did win a few rounds of the competition.

Were there any regrets or was it all a sheer waste of time and effort?

No. It was pure joy on my part as I know real teaching and learning has taken place.

Even though there were only five of them but by bringing them on board the world of debating, they now think, argue, write and read differently.

Winning the competition is really a bonus and only the tip of the iceberg. It is the experience of taking part, doing all you can and giving your best in a competition that really matters.

So we did win after all; in gaining knowledge, learning a new skill and being inspired.

The writer is an English language teacher and the head of the English Language Panel at SMK Bandar Sri Damansara (2). She did her Master’s in Education from Universiti Malaya and has been teaching for over 10 years. Her areas of expertise and interest are debating and the teaching of literature.