English Teachers Are Under “Attack”!

Yes! Some of them are under attack not because they are bad but more so because they are too good to the extent that students are lost! The consequence – frustration on the part of the teachers and the students! Some of them are under ‘attack’ because, well, simply put, they are in need of help themselves. Surprisingly, they ‘manage’ well in the class. MY ENGLISH TEACHERS! is about learning the English language. It explores the inherent complications of the language and portrays the struggle some teachers and students go through teaching and learning it. I decided to watch this theatre with some of my friends when it was on staged. This “serious comedy” tackling the issue of teaching English in schools was being staged at the Kuala Lumpur Performing Arts Centre (KLPaC) in Sentul Park, Jalan Ipoh, Kuala Lumpur in May 2010. The ticket cost us around RM45 a person. MY ENGLISH TEACHERS! projects the EXTREME, the FUNNY and the WEIRD English teachers, through the eyes of 3 friends, a lawyer, an economist and an architect, as they reminisce about how they studied English while they were young and cash strapped. Written, produced and directed by Santhira Morgan, My English Teachers stars Morgan, Law Yen Yang, Iskandar Zulkarnain Mumtaz Ahmad, Akmal Hafiz Roslan, Evon Low and Rachel Tan.

I managed to do a quick interview with the director and some actors and actress after the theatre. Says Morgan: “It’s a story of three young men and their experiences with learning English. It takes a look at how English is often manhandled in the process of teaching it in schools.” Iskandar, who hails from Sandakan and graduated as a pastry chef from the Malaysian Institute of Baking, says the plays zoom in on close friends with successful careers. They are economist Law, lawyer Iskandar and architect Akmal. “They reminisce about how they struggled to learn English and have a good laugh about their misadventures with the world’s number one language,” he says. Akmal, who teaches engineering in Institut Kemahiran Mara, Kampung Pandan, Kuala Lumpur, says the trio plays multiple characters. “Each of us plays an English teacher, besides our characters. We portray teachers as inspiring, boring or terrifying,” he says. Engineering graduate Law, who hails from Tampin, Negri Sembilan, says each character represents the “best” or “worst” examples of how to teach Malaysians English. “It’s a critique of the way we learn or teach English. While it does not offer solutions, it gives ample suggestions on how to make English more interesting to students,” he says. Tan, a marketing graduate from Tampin, describes the play as “educational entertainment”.

“The best way to create awareness on important issues of the day is through entertainment, especially theatre, and My English Teachers aims to do just that,” she says, adding that she and Low play Law’s love interests who encourage him to improve his written and spoken English. Sungai Petani-born Low, an accountancy student in Universiti Malaya, says the play brings home the message that students effectively learn English if their lessons are interesting and teachers communicate with them in simple, interactive English. While Morgan is the only real-life English teacher among the cast, all hail from families who speak good English. Morgan, from Ipoh, says: “I was a teacher in Kuala Terengganu and Kuala Berang, Terengganu, for eight years. All of us did the English 1119 exam, which our parents encouraged.” My expectation for this theatre before I watch it was this play will be a great show for me because the promotion that I saw on the Internet is quite strong and promising of fun and excitement. However, when my foot steps in the hall, I was quite shocked because there are only a few props on the stage and we as audience only sit on plastic chair. It is really different feeling when compared to my first experience watching musical theatre “Tunku” last two years. But, after a few moments, I realized that these two plays are really different in ticket price and line of actors and actress.

The light and sound elements is quite okay even though it a bit slower in action sometimes. At the middle of the play I can see the technician of sound and light working beside the stage from my sit. For an amateur production like this, it is acceptable. The costume for the actors is not so hype and sometimes I feel like watching a fashion show from a bundle shop. The shirts that they wore on the stage is crumple and not suitable with their trousers. And I nearly had a big laugh when I saw Iskandar’s trouser zip is open. Luckily he does not realized it on the staged and quickly pull the zip. The stage property is simple and easy to handle by the actor himself. After a scene finished, when the light is dimmed, I can see the actors take out the chairs and desk from the stage and the next actors will bring in cupboard and black board. Sometimes the stage is empty. To express a feeling in a classroom, they just line up a few chairs in two rows and sit towards the blackboard. It is quite easy and simple. Overall, this theatre is quite okay but when it’s come to the message that they want the audience to understand, I think they managed to do it. I really like their words on the banner outside the hall. TEACHERS, BE PREPARED! Your students may watch the show and TEST you! STUDENTS, BE PREPARED! Your teachers may watch the show and IMPRESS you! OTHERS, BE PREPARED to be TESTED and be on the road to IMPRESS others!

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