Before I begin, I would just like to say that this little write-up likely isn’t going to help you in any way with deciding on what EE to do, what subjects to take when you transition from Year Two to Three, or whether ACS (Independent) is a good fit for you. If you’re here for quick answers, you’d be better off getting them from the neatly categorised guides that have been written by other seniors on this helpful website which, most unfortunately, didn’t exist back when I was a student.
This is more of an open letter containing what I feel about leaving the school. Not just once, but twice. It’s meant for Year Sixes who will soon graduate to start making mental preparations for stepping out into the world, and for alumni like me who have gotten a little more age on their bones to not forget what this institution has actually given to us as we go about with college and life in general. At the same time, this is also written as an extensive long thank you note to the dozens of teachers that had taught me over six years, and the hundred and seven Year One boys whom I recently took under my wing and tried to teach life science to, with the desperate hope that my lack of experience in teaching would not set them back from future success in the subject.
Let me start this out by introducing myself. I started school in ACS (Independent) back in 2007 as a student under the IP and graduated from ACS (Independent) in 2012, earning my IB Diploma during a simpler time when there was no “Lang Lit” and “Lit” or whatever you guys call it nowadays, but just “English A1”. Aside from EETOKIA and studying for the IB exams, I was the President and Student Conductor for the IB Section of the Guitar Orchestra (I still believe one of my other friends deserved the position), the Vice-Head of Design for !nk, and I helped the chapel committee out as one of two chapel pianists during my final year in school, where I was granted the pleasure of playing the School Anthem and In Christ Alone nearly every single week. My Year One class was 1.15 Silas (which doesn’t exist this year), and my Year Six class was 6.06 Damascus. I’m finished with my National Service, and I’ll be headed to Imperial College London in a few months.
To help you all gain a little perspective on what the school was like in 2012, the Pizza and Pasta stall was located on the other side of the SAC. There was only one boarding school dining hall. The track was damaged, but was in no urgent need for renovation. The song played before the start of assembly every morning wasn’t Jami Smith’s “Salt and Light”, but Steven Curtis Chapman’s “Moment Made for Worshipping”.
But despite these changes, returning to school as a relief teacher felt very much like returning home after a very long trip, only with the stark differences of having access to the staff rooms and going into old block classrooms to teach instead of to learn. Being back in school for two months not only unearthed some of my old memories of my time in the school that had started to fade away over the years, but gave me a new perspective into what this school actually means to me as an ACS boy.
Stepping into the shoes of a relief teacher, albeit for a short time, made me feel as though my ACS experience had come full circle.
Leaving ACS (Independent) – 2012
I don’t think the last day of school is particularly happy for anybody, especially for ACS boys who had spent six years of their lives relatively sheltered by the walls and ceilings of this school. But my own last day of school…wasn’t really as emotional as everyone had idealised. This is due to the fact that firstly, I wasn’t a very emotional person in the first place, and secondly, we were all too worried about the upcoming IB examinations to be too affected by the fact that we would likely never have classes in our IB classrooms again. We had spent all that time dreading the last day of school only to just take a few class pictures and say a few goodbyes to teachers, all knowing that we would be returning very soon either during the study break or for the exams in Auditorium Two. The magnitude of leaving was marred by the obsession with knowing cellular respiration perfectly, and memorising every organic chemical structure in the Chem HL syllabus, and worrying about how weak our recent Economics essays appeared to be.
That was the way I looked at it. I really can’t speak for anyone else.
That isn’t to say that I didn’t like my Year Six class. I liked the class. I really, really did. I’ve never actually told any of my classmates this, but the two years I spent with my Year Six classmates bookended my time in ACS (Independent) perfectly. As a class unit, we were the perfect blend of well-tempered crazy mixed with just enough raw ambition, plus an unspoken need to prove to ourselves that even if we decided not to take HL Math, we were in no way inferior to the other intact classes. We might have taken a while to catch on to the pace of work of IB, and our teachers might have genuinely worried for us at some point or another, but we were a good class. And as much as our English teaching PCT might vehemently deny it now if you ask him about us, I know that deep down he feels the same way.
We couldn’t have predicted how things would turn out after the IB exams, but I look at my ex-classmates now and I can’t help but think that things have worked out well, at least in terms of our life choices. The last time I checked, there was about a third of the class in medical schools, a few who signed on with the SAF, a few studying or about to study overseas and a few studying locally, not to mention a smattering of others who are doing things that really wow me, like teaching the disabled. I’ve gotten to know so many good people during my time in ACS (Independent), and though we’ve gone about with our lives and don’t see each other quite as often, I don’t think I would have changed any of them for the world. They are all part of my own unique ACSian experience.
Of course, I can’t spend my time writing about school without mentioning my teachers, many of whom I dearly respect. As IB students, our teachers sometimes take a lot more stresses onto themselves than we give them credit for. My Economics teacher planted himself in the school library on his free afternoons, spending hours on end consulting with any student that would show up with their own pile of unmarked essays in hand, greeting every haphazardly written DBQ with a smile and constructive criticism. Teachers shoulder a daunting workload that would figuratively cripple a lesser person, and even after all that they still have enough energy to lend a listening ear and grant precious words of advice when we need it. Every day should be Teacher’s Day.
But even as I recount all the good experiences, there was no denying one thing. For me, the last moments I spent in school were considerably lacklustre. Sure, we were all bogged down by exam pressure and had our futures to consider, but now I can’t help but feel a little bummed out by the last minutes I spent in school back in 2012: sitting in Auditorium Two, finishing Economics HL Paper Three. It did represent the end of our academic journey in ACS (Independent), but I can’t help but think that it would have been a lot more poetic to finish on an emotional high, not an academic one.
We search for special moments and poetry in life, and sometimes we can’t help but feel disappointed when life doesn’t live up to our expectations. I’m still convinced it was mainly my issue. After all, I wasn’t exactly what my friends would call an open book. I had set my mind on schoolwork and self-doubt and nothing else, as that was just how I had always done everything. I left ACS (Independent) in 2012 feeling relieved at the end of the IB exams and nervous about the impending start of my National Service. By writing this I risk getting chewed out by some very passionate ACSians that I’m familiar with, but all that stuff seniors said about missing the people you’ve gotten to know, and feeling grateful for the institution that you’ve practically lived in for so long?
I wish I could have felt more.
Back to ACS (Independent) – A Teaching Experience
Second chances don’t come often, but in the start of April 2015, as I was scouring for a temporary job to gain a little experience before leaving for London, I received a call from the HR Department of ACS (Independent) asking if I was available to relief teach Biology for the next two weeks. I had applied for the job the previous October when there weren’t any vacancies. Simply glad that a job opportunity had opened up, I came back to school for the first time in a very long time to meet with an experienced teacher from the Biology department who had never taught me before. With a worried tone of voice and a tentative expression, he asked me a question.
Teacher A: “Are you okay with teaching Year One?”
Me (wanting a job and not thinking clearly): “Yes, sure!”
Teacher A: “Teacher B, what are the classes he’ll be taking over again?”
Teacher B: “[Class], [Class], [Class] and [Class].”
Teacher A: “Oh, [Class]. They’re…energetic.”
That short three-way exchange did nothing to ease my worries, and as I racked my brain for memories of 2007, I cringed internally. I was a quiet thirteen year old (relatively speaking), trying his best not to stand out or get into trouble in an environment that was rowdy to some and downright raucous and riotous to others. If nothing had changed since 2007, the boys that I would be temporarily teaching were going to be loud, obnoxious and hyperactive. Now keep this in mind; I don’t have siblings. I don’t have any experience with kids and young teens nine years younger than myself. I didn’t even think I liked kids. Handling about thirty of them at a time sounded like an impossible task. From my perspective on that fine April day, I had gotten myself into trouble, and I was in deep. The only silver linings I could think of were that I could earn a little pocket money, and that this job commitment was only for two weeks.
It’s usually at this point in the story where I’d say something like “but my fears were unfounded”, or “I was being pessimistic about the whole thing.”
My first lesson with each of the four classes proved that I was perfectly on mark with my premonition. Theory lessons were challenging, with all the classes being so excited about having a relief teacher that I could barely get anything done in my first lessons with them. Practical lessons were even worse, when you consider that I not only had to deal with their usual level of energy, but in a setting with rolling laboratory chairs, glassware, hot water and bunsen burners. I only survived my first practical lessons with the four classes with constant reminders to myself not to lose too much of my cool, and infinite patience on the part of our tireless lab technician.
Despite the shock I received at the sheer level of boyish insanity that one hundred and seven ACS boys were capable of, there was a small part of me that appreciated the challenging work environment. It had been a long time since I had been properly challenged, and there was no better way to kick myself back into work mode (for college) than with short bursts of raw stress. This time the stress was more frustration and anger-based than school work related, but still. I exaggerate when I write this next line, but I like to think that the boys drove me so crazy that when one of the deputy principals spoke to me about continuing with relief teaching till the end of May, I agreed in a heartbeat.
As the weeks passed us by and their mid-year examinations drew closer, there was a level of tension in the air that actually had me starting to enjoy going into class every day to help the boys revise their life science syllabus. It was also during the last two weeks before their exams where we had our most productive classes. The prospect of doing badly for their first major exams in ACS (Independent) looming over their heads, the four classes reallocated their energy (for the most part) into trying to focus during the few lessons I had with them, which was a heartening thing to see. It was also during this time when I saw sides to some of the Year Ones that went beyond and beneath their blatant crazy. In some, I saw confidence, sometimes over-confidence. In others, I saw the opposite; a lack of faith in themselves and a lack of belief that they’re capable of doing well. And in a few of the boys, I saw fear. Fear at falling behind, at doing badly, at being scolded by their parents and at never quite picking themselves up.
I didn’t tell them any of this, but two weeks before their mid-year examinations, I finally saw my old self in some of these boys. A scared Year One kid, quietly desperate to prove to his parents, to his friends and to himself that he actually belonged in this esteemed institution. It was a relief. Firstly, to see that the boys had the drive they needed to push themselves. Secondly, to realise that I wasn’t so far detached from this school that I was incapable of relating to them.
There were a few other facets to being a teacher that I had the benefit of experiencing that I won’t go into. If any of you actually taking the time to read my rambling ever wants to consider applying to be a relief teacher in ACS (Independent) in the future, let me just say that being an invigilator and walking through rows of quiet students furiously writing Geography answers whilst you pass silent judgement with your eyes is a surprisingly satisfying experience.
One day before the start of their exams, I told my classes that I had faith that they were capable of doing well. I didn’t say that just to be nice. I had observed them whilst I taught them over the past weeks, answered their questions and gotten a feel of what they’d be capable of. I actually believed that they could do well, and I figured a little pep talk would do them some good. The classes appreciated the vote of confidence. One class in particular was sweetly emphatic with their appreciation, and as I wished them all the best and walked back to the staffroom, I felt something that I can only wish that I felt back when I was a student in Year Six.
At that point there were about two weeks left to my last day of work and I was, against all odds, really really upset about having to leave.
Leaving ACS (Independent) – 2015
Thanks to their post-exam schedule, my “last class” with three out of the four classes was lost to time. I said early goodbyes when I could, and as the days counted down to my last day of work, I really saw how I had, somehow or another, endeared myself to some of the boys. Some of them looked genuinely upset (I’d like to think) when I told them that I would likely not be back in Term 3, and though I didn’t openly express it, I felt the same way. The fact that I’m receiving emails even now, telling me about how much they enjoyed their time in class and wishing I’d be back in Term Three, really isn’t making goodbye any easier. These ACS boys have done something to me that I can’t explain. They had gotten me, a quiet-loving introvert, to somehow appreciate their boisterousness and crackling energy. The boys are loud, obnoxious and hyperactive, but sharp-witted, relentlessly charming and good-natured at the same time. They are all undeniably ACS boys.
I’ve met some incredible twelve and thirteen-year-olds over the past two months, characters that I only wish I embodied back when I was their age. I’ve met a flute prodigy who’s leaving the country to pursue his musical ambitions, and I can only wish I had his guts and his gumption back when I was an aspiring pianist. I’ve met a student who took the time to seek me out for after school consultations on life science in Year One, and I can only stare in awe at the sheer determination he has to outdo everybody at his young age. I’ve met future sportsmen, nerds (I say this as the finest compliment, and as one of you. Nerds will one day rule the world) and boys who are simply popping at the seams with insanity. It’s the fact that I’ve had every variety of ACSian in my four classes that has made this experience so much fun for me.
These two months have also granted me a newfound appreciation for the work that teachers do. I had what I’d like to call the “vanilla” teaching experience, being that I wasn’t burdened with CCAs and contact times and everything else that a teacher does that students don’t know about. I spent some of my time catching up with teachers that taught me, especially those who taught Year One to Four, whom some of us might have, in our haste to graduate, forgotten to appreciate. It floors me that after nine years, I still have Year One teachers that can recognise me and remember my name. Sometimes we really don’t give our teachers enough credit for how amazing they are.
This teaching stint has also granted me a second opportunity to properly say goodbye to the walls and ceilings that make up my once second home. I’ve had a few experiences during National Service that opened me up as a person, and as I stood from a height on the last day of school and looked down at ACS (Independent) with renewed eyes, I felt many emotions. Gratefulness, for the myriad of experiences that this school has given me and the friends and teachers it has blessed me with. Sadness, for the fact that I’m leaving this school for the second time. Satisfaction, for the chance to return after National Service and stay with my school for one last time before leaving the country and proceeding onwards with my life.
These feelings came three years late, but at the risk of exercising a tired cliche…better late than never.
To current students who somehow had the patience to read all three-and-a-half thousand words of this incessant rambling: I hope you’re enjoying your own ACSian experience. Take some time to appreciate this school before and when you leave, because you’ll never know if you’ll ever get a second chance to do it like I did.
To the teachers who’ve had a hand in my education over the past six years: I thoroughly and sincerely appreciate every single one of you. From the scoldings and criticisms to the compliments and the tolerance of my horrible handwriting, you all have set a benchmark that I can’t help but feel no other teacher or mentor that I will ever have from this point on will be able to beat. Thank you.
To my classmates of (the current) 9.06 Damascus: stay awesome. For various reasons I haven’t always been around for class gatherings and meetups. Variable circumstances make it hard for close to thirty people to stay in constant contact, and I can only apologise for the times I’ve missed and look forward to the future. I’m leaving the country in about four months, and it would be great to see you guys again.
To the hundred and seven Year One boys of 2015 that I’ve had the privilege to teach: both you and I are privileged to be students of one of the best schools in one of the best educational systems in the world, and you guys are honestly really bright. It’s almost like the stars have aligned and are pointing you guys towards future success, and it’d be a real pity to squander it. Make good friends and have fun, but work hard, fight for what you want, and you’ll come out on top. And keep in touch.
The Best Is Yet To Be.
Pang Hao Yang is from the graduating batch of 2012.