Onward and Upward|Triumphing over Hong Kong’s education system

“You teach so differently from my teachers at school!” is a comment I often hear from my students.

If they had said I was just like their teachers, I would actually have taken it as an insult, for the approach to teaching I’ve adopted as a private writing coach is the result of a concerted effort to depart from the kind of exam-oriented education that was foisted on me when I was a student.

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The difference between many school teachers and myself can be captured by an analogy. There are two kinds of cooks: those who follow recipes to a T, and those who, when they’re hungry, simply poke their heads into their fridges, take note of the ingredients they happen to have, and whip up a dish based on their understanding of how food behaves when combined in a certain way. Most school teachers are recipe followers; I’m the cook who goes with the flow.

The teachers at my alma mater Diocean Girls’ School I remember as recipe followers. Under their tyranny, my spirit took such a beating that even today, any public sighting of a  girl wearing the DGS uniform is enough to induce a panic attack in me. So, when the time came for me to be a writing coach, I knew immediately how I should enlighten and inspire. My teachers always walked into the classroom knowing exactly what they were going to teach; I would start each class not knowing what will happen, by writing on whatever topic my students happen to give me. My teachers repeated the same content to students year after year (unless the syllabus changed); I would try to live up to the advice the great graphic designer Alexey Brodovitch once gave a young photographer: “when you look in your camera, you see an image you have seen before, don’t click the shutter.” Judging from the quick progress many of my students are making, I’m convinced it is I who have the winning strategy.

When I was still writing for Ming Pao, I once vented my bitterness towards DGS by rewriting the first paragraph of the “Headmistress Welcome Message” on the school’s website:

Her copy:

“It gives me great pleasure to cordially welcome you to the Diocesan Girls’ School family website. Through this website you will be able to learn a little more of what our school is about”

My comment

Why add “cordially” in front of “welcome,” since “welcome” already contains the meaning of being cordial? Why repeat “website” in such close proximity?

My rewrite

For well over a century, Diocesan Girls’ School has been rearing young women who have gone on to become such a life force in Hong Kong and beyond.

You’ve come to a place where you can get a glimpse of what we do to make this happen.

My rewrite, brief though it is, demonstrates what’s wrong with rote learning: it mass manufactures students who think in overused phrases and write in a stiff manner. So useless did I find my English teachers that these days, when people who already admire my writings learn I studied at DGS, in case they get the wrong impression, I always find the need to clarify “if I hadn’t had to listen to those people every day, I would have had much more time to read on my own, and today, I would be writing much better.”

Michelle Ng

聯絡方式: michelleng.coach@proton.me
個人網站: https://michellengwritings.com
逢周日英國時間晚上8時 / 周一香港時間凌晨4時刊出

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