The Unexpected Champions


“… to see my kids speaking a hundred times more English than they have ever spoken in their entire lives, to see them screaming with joy and feeling confident for once, is worth every second, every drop of sweat, and every sigh of fatigue for me,” utters Liew Suet Li, a 2012 Fellow, as she recounts her experience with her choral speaking team in school.

This is a picture I took of them when they were on stage. My motto for them is: We might be village kids, but we can win too!

I’m super proud of my 34 kids who have been practising everyday for the past month for the choral speaking competition. On the very first day of our practice, I confidently told our principal that I will make sure we win the district championship, if she would allow me to take school time to practise. I went to my kids after that with legs trembling, worried, because I just made a really big (seemingly impossible) promise. We are a “kampung” school, and English is not their first or even second language. 90% of the kids had no experience with choral speaking, and even I don’t have any experience with it. How are we going to win, as compared to the better and stronger schools??

We kept working hard anyway. They came for practice everyday without fail. Whenever they faltered, I pushed them further, sometimes to the point that I feel was quite evil. I told them that if we don’t do our best, we might as well not join the competition at all. What’s the point of joining for the sake of joining, if we’re only mediocre? I swear I heard them muttering angry words at me with their teeth gritted when I made them repeat the same stanza a million times until they nailed it.

Guess what? All the hard work paid off because we won the district championship! To be honest, our competitors were just okay this year, but it was still a huge milestone for all of us! Our school had never won anything English-related before, so everyone was beyond ecstatic!

They screamed when we were announced as the champion and immediately hugged me. The conductor (who also won the best conductor award!) counted “1,2,3” and everyone said “Thank you teacher!!!” in unison and bowed! It was indeed the most memorable moment of my teacher life so far.

Just thought that I schould share this simple anecdote of pure unadulterated joy with all of you. Things have been a huge roller-coaster in school, but I’ll take whatever small happiness I can get right now. I know that we may not win the state championship, but to see my kids speaking a hundred times more English than they have ever spoken in their entire lives, to see them screaming with joy and feeling confident for once, is worth every second, every drop of sweat, and every sigh of fatigue for me.