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I was assigned a CCA that wasn’t my choice

21 Jan 2021

CCA Choice

[MOE Stock image, 2018]

What do you do if that happens? Secondary school teacher Goh Hong Yi shares her first-hand experience. Here’s how it turned out. 

I never expected to find myself in charge of a Uniformed Group as a CCA teacher. Throughout my student life, I was in the choir, and later, the environment club. I was clueless about what those in Uniformed Groups did. Imagine my dismay when I was assigned to a Uniformed Group in my first year as a teacher. Even my family laughed when they heard – they didn’t think I looked the part of a Uniformed Group officer.

Though apprehensive, I was somewhat reassured by the more experienced teachers in the team, who promised to guide me along. I told myself to give it a go and request for a transfer if it really didn’t suit me. I did not expect that I would choose to stay for six years, till I left the school in 2019.

I still remember the first day I went for CCA duty. My colleague told me to head to the parade square to take attendance and she’d join me shortly. It sounded easy enough, right?

I walked towards the group of students, only to be taken by surprise when they turned in unison, stamped their feet and saluted me with a loud “Good afternoon, Ma’am!” from 20 metres away. I was mortified and had no idea how I should respond – do I salute back (I don’t know how to!)? Is it rude to just walk on? The student leader and I stared at each other in confusion until he took pity on me and got the rest to resume whatever it was that they were doing.

I continued to struggle for the next couple of months in the CCA. I did not get what the students had to do – why did they have to march? What are the commands? I only knew senang diri and sedia! Do they really need so many types of knots to pitch a tent? Why are they always polishing their boots?

Thanks to this experience, I fully understand when Secondary 1 students come to me in the first couple of weeks and request to transfer to a different CCA. Although the experience of a student and a teacher would naturally be different, I know how it feels to be totally out of one’s  comfort zone.

Schools do try to assign students to their preferred CCA, but constraints in terms of facilities, coaches and team size do mean that some students end up in a CCA that’s lower on their list of choices. I learned, however, that this is not always a bad thing.

Here’s my advice for students who find themselves in a CCA that’s not to their liking.

Imagine yourself a year (or two) from now

It is easy to feel overwhelmed in a new environment and to learn a new skill from the get-go. You may feel exhausted and find that you are making mistakes all the time. But things will get better – YOU will get better. Whether it is foot drills, dancing, shooting hoops or playing an instrument; they become easier with time and regular practice.

It doesn’t take a lot to imagine what you will be a year or two from now. Just look at your seniors. No matter how self-assured and competent they look to you now, they were all just bumbling and clueless like you in Secondary 1 (even if they won’t admit it). We understand and will help you, so long as you are willing to try.

Find the flip side of the coin

In CCAs, as in many things in life, there will be parts that we enjoy, and parts that we dislike. Although I didn’t look forward to staying overnight for camps, I appreciated the time spent outdoors, hiking and exploring nature.  Although I found some of the protocols of a Uniformed Group incomprehensible, I loved how there were many opportunities for my students to serve the community. I also found immense satisfaction in seeing my students grow in confidence and maturity over their four years with us.

My students have varied interests too. Some liked the thrill of the adventure camps, while others liked leading and planning events. I once asked a student why she was so enthused about foot drills when it looked so repetitive and strenuous. Her answer was eloquent in its simplicity, “When the whole team gets it just right, it’s like… woah.”

Take the time to find something you like, and sometimes it can make the other parts worthwhile.

If you find that hard, reflect on what you like to do, and ask how that can contribute to your CCA. Enjoy photography? That may be helpful for the club newsletter. Interested in basketball? That’s an idea we can pursue for team building. When you get involved, you will find purpose in what you do.

It’s about the people

Even if you find the activities dull, doing them with the right people makes them easier to bear, or even fun. Make it a priority to find friends within your CCA, and things will seem brighter.

In the environment club years ago, we did beach clean-ups every month – hardly the most fun thing to do. But I recall laughing with my friends while we sorted through the trash and tried to see who could find the most random item (if you are curious, it was a toilet seat). We never missed a session.

I saw my students doing the same, laughing and cheering as they trained hard for a competition, comparing their blisters and challenging each other to see who could pitch a tent faster. Even a shoe polishing session can be full of giggles (they would make faces and compare their reflections on their boots). It’s silly, but these are memories that they will cherish. I know that not merely because these are what my students reminisce about when they come back to visit years later, it’s because I shared their joy in these little moments too.

If all else fails…

I will never be a fan of the parades and camps that some in my CCA adore, but I chose to stay on because I had an amazing team of colleagues and instructors who shared the same purpose - to help our students grow. We were willing to pull together to make that happen, and this made the long hours not only tolerable, but pleasant. Of course, I stayed for the students, who won me over with their earnest desire to learn and do better. They helped me find meaning in a CCA I didn’t expect to join.

However, I also understand that some students cannot come around to liking their CCA, even after trying for some time. Here’s where we would talk about the possibilities of a transfer, in consultation with their parents and other teachers.

While some students may feel frustrated that they can’t change their CCA immediately, I believe that at the secondary school level, we should expect them to rationalise their decisions and consider:

  • The problem: Explain what you are unhappy with, and how you have tried to deal with the issue. Maybe we can solve the problem that’s stopping you from enjoying the CCA.
  • The plan: What is the CCA that you want to join? What do you know about it, and do they have vacancies? Would you be able to catch up with your peers there?
  • The consequence: In school, we recognise sustained participation and commitment. Changing CCAs may mean losing out in terms of CCA points. Is that important to you?

It may seem like a long process, but I want students to know that teachers do not mean to make things difficult. We question and encourage you to stay because we don’t want you to give up easily when things get tough. We also know the merits of our programme well, and hope you’d consider carefully what you are missing out on when you transfer.

But you know what? No matter if you stay or leave, your teachers are on your side. In the end, if you do find success and excel in your new CCA, no one would be happier for you.

The writer has taught History in a local secondary school for 7 years, and is now posted to MOE HQ.