Wednesday, February 23, 2011

The Embassy Says Hi

So the most amazing thing happened to me yesterday.  I had about fifteen or sixteen extra sets of eyes watching me teach a class - as well as a few video cameras!

The extra eyes belonged to people from the State Government and the Education Department, people from MACEE, and two very important guests: the American Ambassador to Malaysia, Paul W. Jones, and the Malaysian Ambassador to America, Jamaluddin Jarjis.

The Ambassadors wanted to get a better idea of the ETA program and how it works in the Terengganu schools.  Apparently, the program enjoys support from some pretty high levels in the government, and its success is making it a candidate for expansion.  Two schools with current ETAs, mine and Lynn Elharake's, were chosen to give the Ambassadors an overview and demonstration of this success.

My school was in excited, semi-controlled chaos for a week.  There was cleaning, rearranging, stapling of fancy skirting on tables, and a great deal of planning.  Luckily, I happened to have a class to teach during the very time the Ambassadors were set to visit, so we didn't have to shift anything around.  We just plotted the heck out of the 25 minutes that the guests were expected to spend in the classroom with us.

By the time the police escort came wailing down the road to our school that morning, we had the entire place decked out.  The smartly uniformed prefects lined the road from the gate to the school entrance, there were fancy snacks and punch set out in the hallway near the meeting room, and the school gamelan ensemble were even ensconced in a little pavilion next to the garden!

In short, pomp and circumstance were the words of the day.

I was up near the principal and head teachers in the greeting line at the gate, and we all walked the guests down to the meeting room amid much clicking of cameras - both personal and press.    After a brief, gamelan-enhanced chat around the fancy snack table, everyone filtered into the meeting room and the presentations about the ETA program started.

I can't really go into specifics about the presentations, because I wasn't actually there at that point.  I excused myself early and ran to warm up the class for their lesson.  Class 1E6 was the lucky bunch in question; they're first-year students, only thirteen years old.  They're great kids, and really smart, but they have a tendency to freeze in terror when asked to speak English individually.  I made a point of encouraging them to just let go and have fun, and I had them brainstorm some questions for the Ambassadors.

When everyone finally came up from the meeting room, the classroom sure got a bit crowded; not only the two Ambassadors, but also the principal, my mentor, several head teachers, a large handful of government and embassy high-ups, and an uncertain number of media folks were all present for the spectacle. 

We opened with my co-teacher Tihah giving the first part of the lesson.  She introduced "Wh-" question words with a cute activity involving an invitation to Mickey Mouse's birthday party, and two students role-playing a conversation about it.  She then handed the class over to me, and I played a passing-the-ball, asking-eachother-questions game with the kids to help them practice the words.  After fifteen minutes or so, the Ambassadors came up and interacted with the class for a few minutes - they spoke about their jobs, asked the kids questions, and had the kids asking them questions. 

I was so proud of the class - they did amazingly under so much pressure!  They not only didn't freeze up during class, but they also had some great questions and answers for the Ambassadors at the end.  They even got little gifts from the embassy, and a photo-ops with the guests!

At that point, the program was pretty much over, bar the elaborate thank-you's and goodbyes.  The VIPs and entourage were then headed off to visit Lynn's school in Kuala Terengganu.  I came away from it with a very fancy embassy pen, an equally fancy embassy pin, and an awesome story to tell.  Who knows - I hear that the newspaper might have a few pictures in it tomorrow!

(Either way, when I find some good pics to add to this blog, I will.  But I was altogether too distracted to take any good ones with my camera.)

UPDATE: In fact, as of today (Feb 24):

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