Wednesday, August 21, 2019

The Role Of Teachers - To Be Learnt, Not To Be Loved

It's easy to be loved as a teacher.

Shower your students with good grades like Christmas candies.

Provide them with ample of tips right before final exams.

Skip the tough topics.

Wave off their indiscretions with a friendly word of warning.

Reduce all your notes into Power Point slides and recite every word (nothing more, nothing less) during lecture, hence giving good reason for them to stay in bed instead of coming to class.

But doing all that serves to only impede their learning curve. Hence, the true measure of a teacher lies not in their popularity, but productivity.

"I wanted white roses for Teacher's Day, not red roses!"

* * *

That's not to say a good teacher should be a hate figure like Professor Snape, of course. Credibility comes with respect. A teacher has an easier job dispensing knowledge and wisdom to an attentive class. Students are more motivated to learn by the carrot, not the stick.

And so far, I've not been flooded with hate mails or death threats. By and large, the majority of my students have positive feelings about me - or so I'm told.

Still, my record is not unblemished. Some have voiced out of their displeasure of my methods. Some even doubt my morals.

How do I respond? Not much. I'm a man of action, not words. The need to even painstakingly explain to people to justify my actions already means I've done something wrong, somewhere. It's a job hazard. As teachers, we can't please everyone.

That said, I do wish students are able to see things from our perspective. To understand the hardships that we face on a daily basis. To forgive us for the mistakes we make, which we inevitably do, inasmuch as we strive to avoid.

* * *

#1 Teachers cannot help every student (in equal measure)

Let's say a class has 40 students. Some students are fast learners, some take longer to absorb the lessons, some don't even care.

Should every student be accorded equal amount of time and attention? Theoretically, yes. Practically, no.

For instance, a teacher should devote more time to struggling students. A smart student may even do well without any personal attention. And between two struggling students, it makes reasonable sense for the teacher to prioritise the more receptive one rather than the rebel who stubbornly refuses to listen.

Point is, there are many good reasons why a teacher may treat individual students differently. Students should not feel there's some kind of malicious discrimination or conspiracy going against them.

"No Hufflepuff losers allowed either"

* * *

#2 Teachers cannot be fully responsible for their students' results

Any student who does well is bound to attract the envy of their less successful peers. More so when the same student has seemingly gotten favourable attention from a teacher all year round.

The student gets constant praises during class, extra 1-on-1 sessions after school, and so on.

Teacher's pet! Bias! Report to the authorities!

True, the student may have benefited from the extra lessons.

But did the other students ever raise their hands to answer questions during class? Did they ever offer staying back for extra lessons instead of rushing back home?

Ultimately, each student is primarily responsible for their own success (or failure). A teacher is there only as a guide. If students lack the initiative to seek help, they have only themselves to blame.

* * *

#3 Teachers cannot take care of their students' feelings

What is the primary duty of a teacher? Simply put, to 'teach'. To dispense knowledge. To assist students in getting prepared and ahead in life.

It is not the duty of a teacher to make students feel loved and good about themselves. That's what family and friends are for.

Again, that's not to say that a teacher shouldn't try to be on friendly terms with students. But that's a nice-to-have bonus, not a need-to-have requirement.

The priority is clear. A teacher should focus on teaching, above everything else. A teacher should not refrain from giving constructive criticisms simply to avoid 'hurting the feelings' of students. Sugarcoating their flaws is but a temporary reprieve, and only harms them in the long run.

Ultimately, teachers should not compromise on the quality of their lessons for the sake of appeasing to the students' capricious emotions.

"Today, we will get to know each other better... nope, not doing this..."

* * *

Some teachers are loved, some teachers are hated.

Regardless, the best teachers don't give a damn what you feel about them.

They will get on with their job, helping as many students as they can, whether they are loved or hated.

Sunday, August 11, 2019

How To Lose In Life Without Losing Sleep, Spirit And Sanity

No one enjoys losing.

Especially after having investing so much time and energy to be a winner.

You lose sleep, spirit, and even sanity.

Your mind keeps replaying the painful lingering moments of defeat, wondering what you could've and should've done differently to avoid defeat, and telling yourself to just give up fighting any more.

After all, what's the point of fighting only to lose, over and over again?

Indeed, the world is growing more crowded and competitive, each passing day. The gap between winning and losing is widening. Each failure adds extra weight on your shoulders, slowly chipping away your confidence.

But losing doesn't have to be the end of the world. Here are some ways to overcome your sense of loss...

Live to fight another day

* * *

#1 Be more performance-driven, not result-driven

Sometimes, outcomes in life are beyond your control. There are a lot of external factors at play - timing, luck, and so on.

Now, this doesn't mean you should find excuses each time you fail to meet your goal. Instead, this simply means focusing in your performance as much as the results.

Sure, it sucks missing out on getting 'A' in an exam by a single mark, or fall short of your annual revenue target by a few hundred bucks. But still, you should appreciate how close you came to making the cut. Take heart from your valiant effort.

The key is to be honest on your own level of performance. Just as it's possible to win without actually out-performing others (e.g. your lecturer or boss is biased towards you for whatever reason), losing also doesn't mean you under-performed.

Don't lose sleep over nightmares beyond your powers to stop.

* * *

#2 Push yourself, not be pulled by others

Most of us are swamped with insecurities.

We can't tell how good or bad we are at something. We're not confident of our own abilities unless validated by our peers or some higher authority.

As such, we rely on constant support from our teammates and leaders to keep going. And whilst we do receive enough of that for most times, we tend to flail and stumble once the positive vibes fade.

Hence, we shouldn't let our actions and goals be dictated by the opinions of others. Sometimes, their influence may be disruptive, drag you down, and limit your horizons. For their ability to judge you may be impaired by their own limitations, or worse, self-interest.

Your will to win should come from within, and not reliant on people's feelings and expectations about you. Only you know yourself best.

Don't lose spirit over how lowly or narrowly others think of you.

* * *

#3 Count your own gains, not your peers'

Even when you've won something, there's always someone else who won more than you.

Got a First Class? So did three of your classmates, and one beat you to the Valedictorian award (by 0.01 CGPA).

But raw numbers don't tell the whole picture. You all picked different electives, different questions in the common exams. And grading standards across different lecturers may differ greatly.

Likewise for job interviews or promotions. Your interviewer or boss may be harder to please than those faced by the next candidate or colleague.

Again, the point is not to make excuses for your near misses. Rather, it's to appreciate that someone else's gain doesn't need to count as your loss. It's fine to be competitive, but life shouldn't be a 'zero sum' game.

Enjoy your own harvest, don't look over jealously at what your neighbours reaped.

Don't lose sanity over scores, rankings, and awards.

What doesn't kill you makes you stronger

* * *

In life, there will be winners and losers.

No one can win every thing, every time. So don't beat yourself up each time you lose out the top prize to someone else. Defeat shouldn't break your body, mind and soul, but make you even stronger and wiser.

As Theodore Roosevelt puts it: "Do what you can, with what you have, where you are."

For as long as you're performing to the best of your ability, you've already done enough to win. Whether you ultimately win or lose is left in the hands of fate.

And if you do lose out, so what? It's just game over, for now. There are plenty of battles ahead worth fighting for.

Don't quit. Stay in the game.

Keep trying, keep winning.

Thursday, August 1, 2019

Triumph Over Turbulence (NAMCO 2019)

Delay. Dengue. Drama.

On 20-21 July 2019, 28 teams battled out in the 8th edition of the Novice Arbitration Moot Competition (NAMCO).

University of Malaya (UM) has won the first 3 championships consecutively, but fell short in the last 4 editions (with two agonizing near misses as Runners-Up, including last year). The drive and pressure to recapture the trophy ran high.

This year's edition was even more special. Originally started out as a national competition in Malaysia, NAMCO has now expanded its regional reach. Joining the fray were 10 international teams from 5 universities and 4 countries (Singapore, India, Bangladesh and Indonesia).

This year, 3 teams from UM entered NAMCO (code-named Winter, Autumn, and Summer). Most universities sent 2 teams, including the host institution, University of MARA (UiTM). Our friendly neighbourhood rival, National University of Singapore (NUS), had the biggest contingent of 4 teams. Indeed, the field of competition has grown stiffer since 2012.

And after the storm passed, Team UM is crowned the Champion of NAMCO 2019!

Everyone is a winner

* * *

Winning the championship was the cake. But there were plenty of icing on top as well.

Team UM swept all the awards, and dominated the accomplishments:

  • Champion (Team Autumn)
  • Best Memorial (Team Autumn)
  • Best Oralist of General Rounds (Jacqueline Hannah Albert)
  • Best Oralist of Final (Jowena John)

  • Most teams in the Top 8 of the General Rounds and advancing to the Quarter-Finals (all 3 teams!)
    • Summer (2nd)
    • Autumn (4th)
    • Winter (5th)
  • Most teams advancing to the Semi-Finals (2 teams)
  • Most mooters in the Top 10 Oralist of the General Rounds (4 oralists)
    • Jacqueline Hannah Albert (1st)
    • Saradha Lakshmi (2nd)
    • Serina Lim (4th)
    • Elisa Oyenz (8th)

No other university can boast to such an impeccable record, with NUS coming closest (Runners-Up, 1st ranked team in the General Rounds, 2 teams in the Top 8, 1 oralist in the Top 10).

* * *

Our voyage to victory wasn't smooth sailing, and constantly interrupted by Acts of God and high drama.

The moot was about late delivery of goods by sea from Malaysia to UK due to sea turbulence crippling businesses in Europe to a standstill (as to the cause of the turbulence - whether due to climate change, Kaizus ripping through the Pacific Rim, Brexit - the facts are mysteriously silent on this matter).

Ironically, the competition suffered from an unexpected delay as well.

For the past 7 seven editions, NAMCO has always been held around March. Hence, in anticipation of the moot problem to be out in late 2018, we auditioned and selected our teams in mid-November. Week passed. No news. We wrote to the organisers to inquire for details. But they couldn't give a definite details except vaguely indicating that the competition will likely be pushed back to Q3 of 2019 instead. Eventually, the competition schedule was confirmed on 31 January 2019.

Hence, for about 2 and half months, our mooters were left in the limbo, uncertain if the competition would even take place. Complicating matters was the eligibility rule in NAMCO allowing for only students who have never participated in an inter-varsity moot competition. This effectively meant that the mooters couldn't join any other moot competition until NAMCO had completed. As it wouldn't be fair to hold the students back indefinitely, we gave them a choice to stay or leave.

Two mooters decided that they couldn't wait, and withdrew to join other competitions to fast-track their moot experience level (such as the Malaysian Vis Pre-Moot in March). Hence, our numbers dwindled even before the competition even kicked off...

Autumn Foursome (minus one)

* * *

The next nasty surprise was the moot problem itself. The facts were vague and sketchy. For instance, the exact terms of the arbitration agreement were even omitted!

Simply put, the moot problem was loose and messy. Complicating matters was the fact that the clarifications was due to be released just 1 month (15 May) before the deadline for written submissions (17 June), and the rule that teams are bound by their written submissions. Also, the period in between coincided with the final exams for UM (and other universities as well, perhaps). This didn't leave teams much time to refine their written submissions.

As soon as the moot problem was released in 18 February, we wrote to the organisers pleading that the clarification release be brought forward earlier - to which they did... by 5 days (from 20 May to 15 May).

Anyway, the clarification wasn't much help in the end. Most of our pressing queries to fill in the factual gaps either went unanswered, or returned with cryptic responses. Here are some classic examples:

Is the arbitration agreement included in the contract? Irrelevant.

Is AIAC the seat of arbitration or venue of arbitration? Irrelevant.

Was the shipment actually made? Irrelevant.

Did the Claimant actually receive the goods? Irrelevant.

True enough, during the competition, even the judges seem frustrated and perplexed by the scarcity of facts. In the Final, the mooters' constant response that 'the facts are silent on this matter' became a running joke amongst everyone. After the moot ended, the presiding judge expressed sympathy on the dilemma faced by teams - on one hand, mooters should be 'creative' in inferring facts, but on the other hand, some judges may take objection to mooters making 'assumptions'.

Many of the rounds tipped towards confusion and chaos, thereby increasing the element of 'luck'.

* * *

Speaking of which, our teams really had a terrible string of 'bad luck'.

A mooter from all our teams fell seriously ill during the days leading up to the competition. 2 mooters actually contracted dengue - one of whom had to fly home and missed the competition completely!

During the General Rounds, both the Claimant and Respondent sides of each team mooted simultaneously. This meant that there must be 4 mooters fit to speak. Any team with an absent member automatically forfeited the match.

Hence, the days before the competition was filled with panic and despair. The sick mooters missed training. The rest just had to keep on practising and praying. Team Autumn had 5 members, and could still afford losing one member.

But the worst hit was Team Summer. With only 4 members, they had no substitutes. Their dengue-stricken comrade bravely soldiered on the General Rounds (otherwise, they will automatically lose 2 matches and be eliminated), whilst the others stepped up to cover his role during the Advanced Rounds.

And despite such adversity, Team Summer won all 4 matches in the General Rounds, finished as the 2nd ranked team in the General Rounds, and reached the Semi-Finals.

Summertime Sadness (feat. dengue)

* * *

Towards the end, we were nearly denied a victory by the most cruel of twists - wrong announcement of advancing teams!

When the Top 8 teams of the General Rounds were first announced, only two of our teams made the cut... but not Team Autumn. The mooters were dumbfounded. It felt like by being struck by a sudden tsunami. Their heads slumped and hearts sank like a sinking ship...

My pulse was racing, and time was ticking...

In less than an hour, the Quarter-Finals would begin. The organisers proceeded to announce the match-ups. The advancing teams were called for the coin-toss and exchange of memorials.

No, something was wrong. Based on my rough calculations from the scoresheets of the General Rounds, Team Autumn had a higher raw score than Team Winter (both had 3 wins). It's not mathematically possible for Team Winter to advance, but not Team Summer.

Quickly, I asked the team to re-calculate the scores and check the scoresheets. Our calculation was correct. But in one scoresheet, a judge had erroneously filled up the scores wrongly (our team's score was switched with the opponent), but made a note of clarification. Whoever entered our scores may have missed the note.

We rushed to the organiser to request for a review of the scores. And true enough, they added up our scores wrongly!

A revised announcement of the Top 8 teams was made - with Team Autumn rightly advancing into the Quarter-Finals.

A final shout-out to Team Winter. They had the misfortune of meeting Team Autumn twice - they won in the General Rounds, but lost in the Quarter-Final. In short, the only team which defeated our champion team was our own team!

Winter is coming...

* * *

To briefly recap the force majeure events that Team UM had to navigate and brave through from start to finish:
  • Inordinate delay in competition (causing some of our restless crew to abandon ship)
  • Messy moot problem (causing many judges to be bewildered)
  • Sickness (causing Team Autumn to lose 1 member a week before the competition, and a member in Team Summer to keep mooting despite being down with dengue)
  • Administrative error (nearly causing Team Autumn, the eventual Champion, to miss out advancing to the Quarter-Final)

Such a whirlwind makes our awards and accomplishments even more sweeter at the end of our voyage. Even after being 'handicapped', our teams still managed to clinch victory and perform well. Imagine how much more dominating we would have been if our teams were at full strength...

Of course, turbulence can strike anyone - it's entirely possible that other teams also face their own share of challenges behind the scenes. Ultimately, mooting is about fighting your inner demons as much as overcoming your worthy opponents - that's the lesson that all of us can draw from our triumphant tale.

Bad luck? Irrelevant.

For those who are truly great, no amount of turbulence, tribulation and trauma can stop you from triumphing...