Tip #5: You are the sum of your choices

(cross-posted in “approaches to teaching” section because parents need to know this too!)

You are the sum of your choices. If you choose to eat supersized fast-food meals every single day of your life, you will be unhealthy. You may not be fat if you exercise a lot, but all that sodium and sugar and “empty calories” can’t be good for your body.

It is the same with academia. If you (or your parents) engage me to teach you once a week, that’s a good thing. You will have access to good English (both spoken and written) for at least the duration of that time slot. But if you go on to produce and consume horrible English for the rest of the day, and for the rest of the week, then no matter how good your teachers are, you will not do well.

To put it in the language I see nowadays on online games popular with the local crowd:
eh dun spik liddat w8 ur england fail

This is one of the biggest reasons why I focus on helping students love the English language, instead of just focusing on exam techniques. Not all online leisure activities are equal, and I believe that what we choose to do in our leisure time directly affects our brains (and if you’re a student, it affects your results).

You know that meme that goes “Y U NO <do something>”? To understand why it is funny, we have to understand that we usually say “why don’t/didn’t you <do something>”, and that the rage of the character in the picture is so intense that he forgets how to speak like a normal civilised human being. Perhaps it’s not such a bad thing to be on 9gag, after all.

I’m definitely not saying that being on 9gag will help you get an A in your English exams (but becoming a Stephen King fan just might). What I’m saying is that if you immerse yourself in good English only once a week, you’re not going to see improvement.

You are the sum of your choices. What will you choose today?


Are you looking for an English tutor? For one-on-one lessons or group lessons, please send an email to kevinseahsg@gmail.com, or call/SMS/whatsapp 97700557 (Singapore only). I’m not always at my phone, so if I don’t pick up, please leave me an SMS to let me know you’re looking for a tutor.


Education should never JUST be about grades, but…

Education should never JUST be about grades, but the reality of it is that my students are in a system that is very unforgiving for students who don’t perform well. So here’s my solution: I take my cue from my own teachers, the brilliant people whom I’ve had the absolute privilege to be taught by. They taught me the skills I needed to pass my examinations, but they also taught me about life.

Some of my teachers were a little bit peculiar, a little bit strange, but they tended to be the ones who really made a difference. There was that Physics teacher who would occasionally talk about the power of prayer, and to include the non-praying students among us, he would also talk about how having a quiet moment (while other people were praying) worked wonders to calm the mind. Now that I’m a teacher myself, I recognise that he was teaching us to tap into the power of a mind that remains calm in the face of pressure. There was that PE teacher who would talk (or scream) about the need for determination in every facet of our lives. Most of this was done while we were in the push-up position, or running like dying children round and round the track, but it’s definitely a lesson that stuck.

I could go on and on, but I think my point is pretty clear — those teachers were teaching me about lessons that were almost completely unrelated to their teaching subjects (Physics or PE), but those lessons were useful both for school and life. I’m certain that having access to techniques to calm the mind down before an exam (or even while studying) raised my grades. I’m certain that determination is one of the key attributes of a successful student.

So my own approach to my students is this: I will teach the things they need for their grades (want to do well at comprehension? Then comprehend!), but I will also not ignore the needs of the human being. If a student needs some coaching to calm the mind, or to get over some other roadblock, I will do that.

At times it may seem like I am “wasting” time by working on things that only have a tangential relationship to the work of doing well for the exams. But I’m confident that this approach works. In some ways, I’m only doing the same things that the best of my teachers did.

Motivating students: undoing the damage done

It is a sad fact that most schools and teachers accomplish very little in terms of helping students to love language. When it comes to motivation, I see my task as a teacher to be, first and foremost, that of showing students that English can be fun. This is because of the damage that schools have done to our students.

Take, for example, my experience with the Chinese language. In school, it was always a drag to be in Chinese class. I hated reading the boring passages in my textbook. I hated having to learn new words. I hated the ways my Chinese teachers would threaten and cajole us into paying some kind of attention. As an adult, now I realise that all that pain was unnecessary.

If only my teachers had introduced me to the silliness of the Lao Fu Zi comic books, or some other entertaining text. Sitting on my shelf now is a “Lao Fu Zi teaches idioms” comic book, which I’m sure I would have found infinitely more interesting than the standard-issue textbook. (Note: my Chinese is still pretty lousy, since I don’t get much practice.)

If students can find engaging with English fun (or any subject, for that matter), it is almost as if the teacher becomes unnecessary. Students can, and will, direct their own learning once they are motivated — and motivation IS a crucial part of getting students to perform well.

It is not an accident that I am an English teacher. There have been people in my life who have made English fun for me — not least my parents who used to read bedtime stories to me when I was younger. Make no mistake — this element of fun was, and is, crucial to my abilities with the language.