When a Teacher’s Not a Teacher

This post was originally written during my years in China.

It is very interesting how culture comes into play when bridging two different sets of understanding of the same word. One of my Chinese friends was inquiring about teaching jobs in Singapore and she was puzzled when her Singaporean contact told her that a university lecturer is not a teacher.


“Isn’t a university professor a teacher too?”

I had to explain to her that, to those of us whose primary culture is English, a “teacher” refers to a job that requires a certain degree of pastoral care, because a teacher handles minors (high school and below). On the other hand, a “lecturer” simply lectures, and is not expected to give the same degree of pastoral care that a teacher is expected to give. To those of us who think in English, a teacher is not the same as a lecturer, even if the lecturer teaches as well.

I am reminded of another Chinese friend of mine, who was very puzzled because Singaporeans like to say 一百千 (a hundred thousand) instead of 十万 (ten wan – a wan being a unit of ten thousand in Chinese) when we speak in Chinese. She understood when I explained to her that we tend to think in English, and the next unit after thousand is the million – we have no wan in English. The Chinese has no million. Instead, their next unit of count is the 亿 yi, which is a hundred million. There is no bigger unit of count, as far as I know, when the numerals stretches into the billions and trillions.

It is great to be bilingual and bicultural!

How do I get good grades in college?

Answer by Richard Muller:

I had a graduate student who, as an undergrad at Cornell, had more A+ grades than As — about 15.  Once I asked him how he did that.  “I use tricks” he said. They all seemed so obvious when he told me, that I’m not sure I can recall all of them.  Below I’ll mix in what he said with some of the things I observed in other great students.

He said he always read the assignment before lecture, not after. Do that, and you know what to pay most attention to.  You can ask questions about things you didn’t understand.  You can’t ask a book questions, but you can ask a professor. Moreover, your professor will be impressed that you ask the best questions. Remarkably, it takes no longer to read all the material before class than after class.

Visit the professor during office hours.  Some professors will just try to intimidate you into not coming so often; ignore them. Some will be delighted to have visitors.  It is a great opportunity to interact with a very smart and very knowledgeable person.

Don’t try to learn what you think is important, but try to learn what you think the professor thinks is most important. That’s really why the professors are there; they have enormously more experience in the subject, and know what is really important. You’ll discover you do much better on exams.

Find other students to study with. College is not a place to try to prove you are better than everyone else; it is a place where, among other things, you can learn how to work well with other people. Try throwing good questions at your friends.  It turns out that thinking of good questions gets you very far.  Don’t be surprised if some of the questions turn out to be the same ones the professor asks.

Go to lecture and, particularly if it is boring, try to figure out why the material is actually fascinating. All those courses are there because someone thinks it is important, even if your current professor doesn’t. Once you become interested in the  material, it will be easy to learn; in fact, it will be hard to forget.

Recognize that not all the material is equally important. See if you can identify that.  Think hard about the important stuff.

Take this to be your top homework design: there is a person who has limited time, not really enough, to learn some material.  What is the best way to approach that?  Pretend that that question is a homework exercise, and write a page.  Then follow your own suggestions.

How do I get good grades in college?

On Evangelism, Politics and MLM

In life there are three sensitive matters that drive off friends and relatives fast – evangelism, politics and MLM*. I have seen what happens in the first two, and I suspect will see more of my friends and relatives putting me at arm’s length when they realise I am also into the third one too.

As a young Christian, I was full of fervour for God and His Kingdom. Words of “Hallelujah!” and “Praise God!” spouted out freely from my lips, and fire and brimstone issued forth in condemnation for those who did not walk in the ways of God. Many years and much life lessons later, I have tempered down as I understood more of what it meant for God to show grace and mercy to sinners like myself. I am grateful for friends and relatives that kept their relationship with me through all these years despite my craziness.

The latest election fever had me on the side of the PAP, joining the party and fighting alongside Victor and my fellow comrades, in order to get him elected at Aljunied. Because of the huge amount of rhetoric being thrown around by the incumbent party, I dropped my usually more balanced viewpoints and went totally pro-PAP in my Facebook posts. As the election fever subsided, I have returned to my more balanced viewpoints (but still remain a PAP activist, helping them with their activities). I am thankful for friends and relatives that kept their relationship with me till date despite my craziness.

MLMs have hardly interested me, because I am not into health products, travel products or training products (the three type of products normally sold via the MLM method) and could not find the passion to promote them. I remember telling all those who tried to pitch me the same – if they can find a financial MLM, I will definitely be interested. And I have indeed found one.

It is FOREX-based investment product that I studied for a month, before investing. Unlike other products where you have to keep “maintenance”, it is a one-off investment of USD1300 and you begin taking in 8%+ every month. Such a product is perfect for a salary hedge if you are just a plain investor (not interested in network marketing) but can bring in good money if you are an aggressive referrer (like my upline).

You may find out more by visiting my investment website Sensei Michael Investment. Or you can feel free to Contact Sensei Michael.

My upline has been encouraging me to be more aggressive in my approach but I suppose that aggressiveness is never in my blood (but do not provoke me). Other possibilities include my possible lack of hunger to improve my financial situation. Whatever it is, I feel that I should make some changes to my life, and push this MLM business (finally one I can be passionate about) to those who want to see financial changes in their life.

Do find out more by visiting my investment website Sensei Michael Investment. Or Contact Sensei Michael!

*I have excluded asking for money and having an infectious disease from the list, because my article would then lose the analogy!

What is the national language of Singapore?

Our national language is Malay, as evidenced by the language of our national anthem, the language on our coat of arms and the language of our military commands.

Singapore must be one of those few nations in the world where 70% of its population cannot speak its national language with any level of reasonable fluency.

Is it fair to ask a 12 year old “How heavy are eight $1 Singapore coins? Six grams, 60g, 600g or 6kg?” for a maths question?

The PSLE question that has parents crying foul – what is the weight of 8 $1 coins? 1) 6g 2) 60g 3) 600g 4) 6000g.

“This is not a Math question!”

Yes it is. Math is more than just arithmetics and pushing numbers around. Our Mathematical syllabus includes Estimation and Tessellation (both taught at Primary 5), as well as patterns and Geometry (taught since Primary 1).

“How many children have an idea how much a coin weigh? This is unfair!”

It is not. Children should have already gone through an activity at either Primary 2 or 3 on Weight, where they have to weigh coins and other objects and got to understand what the various weight is like.

Ultimately, the PSLE is an exam meant to stream out the scholars from the farmers. The ability to answer certain questions would stream out those meant to be at the top. We seriously need to let our children know that it is not the end of the world if their PSLE score is not the most fantastic in the world, and to teach them resilience and ability to accept and move on. Our present bunch of students are too weak emotionally, and will be crushed by the tougher East Asian children who have gone through more stressful educational system than ours do.

In short, yes, it is fair to all such a question. They have enough prep in such questions.


Did dinner used to mean lunch?

Answer by Franklin Veaux:

Dinner is the largest meal of the day. It's a term that indicates the size of the meal, not the time of the meal.

In some places where I've lived, like Florida and Oregon, it is customary to have the largest meal in the evening, so we talk about having breakfast, lunch, and dinner. When I lived in Nebraska, it was customary to have the largest meal at midday, so we would talk about breakfast, dinner, and supper.

Did dinner used to mean lunch?

Why do we say “THE” United States of America but not in the case of India?

A descriptive noun is linked with an article "the". A plain proper noun (a name) does not.

Answer by Kelly Martin:

Do your friends address you as "Shiv" or "The Shiv"?

The "name" of the United States is not actually a name.  It is, instead, a description. It describes who we are: we are the "United" "States" of "America": a country comprised of states, all located in America, that have voluntarily united. Because it's a descriptive phrase, not a name, grammatically it needs an article. This is also why we say the United Kingdom: again, the name describes the country (in full, it is the "United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland").

India, however, is a name; the word doesn't describe the country, but simply names it, and thus grammatically does not need, or merit, an article.

Why do we say "THE" United States of America but not in the case of India?

The Order of Adjectives

Adjectives can be “stacked” into a long string of words that describe the noun that comes after them, but not many users of English are aware that there is an order to stack them.

  1. Opinion. lovely, wonderful
  2. Size. big, humongous
  3. Age. young, old
  4. Shape. square, round
  5. Colour. red, green
  6. Origin. Chinese, American
  7. Material. iron, leather
  8. Purpose or function. grilling, measuring

I guess you can say that Sensei Michael is a wonderful tall middle-aged Singaporean teacher. Now to come up with a phrase that uses all 9 for an epitome of the use of the above rule!