Parent Teacher Meetings – Tips from a mum of 6

As you can imagine, I have sat through numerous parent-teacher-meetings (PTMs) over the years. In the early days, I used to discuss the obvious. Their marks, their behaviour, if they were having or giving any problems. Some friends tell me they see no point in going for PTM after P1 or P2 because the teachers always say the same things. For me, I look forward to these sessions because in such a short time, issues get ironed out and I discover new insights about my child. Here are 6 tips to make the most of your PTM. (these tips are for primary school PTMs, but some are general and can be applied to secondary and kindergarten levels as well.)

1. Do your homework

You only have 15 minutes. Make every minute count. Be prepared. Know what grades your child got. Have a casual chat with your child beforehand to sniff out any issues she might be having, whether it is regarding her studies, friends or teachers. If there are any specific concerns, list them down so that you can immediately zoom in on them.

When #1 was in P4, she had some problems with her classmates and kept telling me about them. I listened, but thought of it as usual ‘friendship’ issues amongst girls. Luckily I mentioned it to her teacher and only then did I learn that it was a form of serious emotional bullying as #1 was being ostracised by the entire class as instigated by one girl. Her teacher took the matter very seriously and dealt swiftly with the class. Thankfully the problem was nipped in the bud and #1 was not emotionally scarred.

In some schools, you are only allowed to chat with the form teacher, whereas in other schools, you are free to speak with all the subject teachers. Find out from your child which teacher you will be seeing and how much face-to-face contact he or she has had with your child so that you have an idea of how much the teacher knows about your child.

For example in P1, #5’s form teacher taught him English and Math so she was able to give me a good picture of him in school. On the other hand, #4’s form teacher had just taken over the class because the previous teacher resigned, so his insight of her was limited. In such a case, I would look for a subject teacher to speak to if need be.

2. Set the tone

I can only imagine that it is very intense for the teacher to have to sit through a full day of discussion with parents and recall information on every child. If I ask surface questions, I get surface answers. I have discovered that by being open and approachable, the teacher would be more forth-coming with her insights. Being with the students everyday, the teacher is in a unique position to notice traits in them, which become all the more obvious when seen in the light of 40 other children. Many teachers have pointed out pertinent observations of my children, both good and bad, which I have failed to see.

Last time, when a teacher started to point out some negative feedback about my child, my natural response was to be defensive or I would try to explain my point of view. I have since learnt to bite my tongue and hear her through. I used to flinch when the teacher said, “I hope you don’t mind me being frank.” The teacher may have noticed some character traits in your child, but if it seems like you are unable to handle it or that you might be combative, the teacher will likely not tell you everything she might have wanted to.

Now, when I hear those words, I am calm about it because I know that however painful it may be to have to hear negative comments about my dear child, I will leave the room with a better understanding of her. With the nuggets of information I glean, I am able to address my child’s weaknesses and she would benefit as a result of it. It is also good training for the child to see that we can be critical of a behaviour without attacking her personally, and she will be more able to accept constructive criticism in future.

3. Discuss academic work 

I try to quickly find out what went wrong with the subjects that she fared badly at. Was it that she did not study hard enough? Did she not manage to pick up the skills and strategies to answer the questions in the way she needs to? Or has she not been paying attention, or gets easily distracted? Once we figure out the reasons, we can set targets and devise a simple action plan.

During #2’s P6 year she was hardly given any homework. I asked the teacher why that was so. He explained that as she was in one of the top classes, all the other kids had tuition for virtually every subject and most were over-stretched. Apparently in the previous year, there were kids who buckled under the pressure and their minds went blank during the PSLE. So they decided to reduce the stress by minimising homework from school. I told her teacher that she did not have any tuition besides Chinese and I was relying on the school teachers. He was surprised and agreed to give her individual homework, which worked out well.

Besides looking at the raw score of their marks, I always like to know the percentile across the whole level. That gives me a more accurate picture. A 60 in Chinese may seem ok, but if that was the lowest 20th percentile, then I’ll have to start worrying. Likewise, I have seen dismal scores of 55 for English, but later found out that because the paper was so tough, it was in the top 80th percentile.

These information are not meant for us to compare the child with others but simply to have a starting point to work towards improvement. The child might start off with being in the lowest 15th percentile in a weak subject, but so long as she is putting in her best effort and is gradually improving, it is enough.

4. Connect with the teacher

Teachers face a class of 40 students, and most have to handle a few classes. The PTM is a time for me to introduce myself to the teacher and for her to put a parent’s face to the child. When #3 was in P5, I spoke to her Math teacher and he had good things to say about her. Attentive, quick learner, spontaneous in answering questions. I thanked him for teaching her so well and he gave me his word that he would look out for her as she did not have a tutor to rely on.

After the mid-year exams, he called me to come in and meet with him in school. She had failed her Math paper and he was worried about her. He told me that she had stopped volunteering answers in class and was constantly doodling while he was teaching. We went through the paper together and figured out that there were chapters she could not grasp and was probably getting demoralised. I had a chat with her and she shared that Math was getting too difficult and she had given up. We worked out a plan and with Mr Tan’s help, she was able to get back on track.

Teachers are incredibly busy, so once the contact is made, it is easier for the teacher to communicate with the parent, and vice versa, either via email, a call or even a quick chat during school events. (Yes, I’m always doing that, to the point where now my kids will point their teacher out to me saying, “Mum, Mr Tan is there, do you want to go over and say hi?”)

5. Their teacher is your ally

It is very important for our children to know that we as parents are in alignment with their teachers. When #3 was in P6, they had a teacher who came from another school. This teacher had a no-nonsense style of discipline and she was very strict and expected them to give of their best. Naturally, #3 did not like her nor her style of teaching. She kept complaining to me about her harsh methods but never once did I simply agree with her nor put her teacher down. In fact, after hearing her daily rants of how ‘unreasonable’ and ‘mean’ she was, I told her that she sounds like an excellent teacher. When I finally got to meet Mrs L at the PTM, it was like meeting a like-minded friend. Mrs L shared with me that #3 was a tough nut to crack. She had quietly showed her disdain for her tough methods and was uncooperative.

At the PTM, I told her that I was in full support of her methods and would have a nice chat with #3. After that, Mrs L reported that her whole attitude changed and the fire in her turned from being a destructive force to a positive one and her grades soared as a result.

I hear from teachers that in the upper primary, some students think they know better and can thus be obstinate. I try never to undermine their teachers because it is akin to parenting. Both parties have to present a united front for the child to respect the teacher and to learn well. There were instances where my kids came home and complained about their teachers and I made comments such as “Aiyo, why your teacher so bad”, without realising that it impacted their view of the teacher. So now I don’t do that any more. And besides, I have come to the realisation that kids tend to exaggerate or obliterate facts to their advantage.

6. Show your appreciation

I had just attended #3’s PTM and was extremely heartened and humbled by her teacher’s genuine care and concern for her. Settling into Secondary 1 had been quite difficult for her. The subjects had doubled, she got home past 7pm most evenings and wasn’t getting enough sleep, and was disinterested in the new subjects. Her teachers found her to be uncooperative, but her co-form teacher took the trouble to take her aside to have a personal conversation with her. Only then did she see a different side of her and from there, she was able to address the problems easily. I have never seen any teacher have such great faith in a ‘challenging’ child, and her genuine concern for #3 touched me deeply. I wrote an email to thank her, and she replied that she was grateful for my words of encouragement as it is appreciation like that from parents which spur her on.

Save tip: By working hand-in-hand with their teachers, I have managed to hold out on tuition for my kids until the P5 or P6 year. Because sometimes, there are other factors which are impacting on their ability to learn and the sooner these problems are addressed, the better it is for the child.

Sane tip: Parents are allocated 15 minutes, but I have been to sessions where the wait ended up to be almost 2 hours long. You can imagine the mood of the parents and the stress of the teacher. Hardly conducive for a good discussion. Try to be concise and get to the root of the problem instead of telling stories and dwelling on one point in detail.

Educating a child is indeed a partnership between the home and the school. Hence, the more successful the partnership, the better it is for your child.

Related posts:

6 tips to really prepare your child for P1

6 things to do in the PSLE year

~ – a blog on parening 6 kids in Singapore ~

School Stories #7: Who has an obsession with TUITION?

I love our current Education minister. His new road map is truly visionary. He says that:

“Parents would have to give up their obsession with grades; employers would have to hire based on skills, not degrees; and teachers should strive for an all-round development of their students.”

And how does he propose we do that?

“One is to go beyond learning for grades to learning for mastery of skills.”

“Second, develop a lifelong learning habit among Singaporeans so that they are equipped for changing economic realities.”

“The third is to move from learning for work to learning for life, so that a student develops interests beyond work and a commitment to serve society.”

I am excited to see what his ministry is going to roll out to make these a reality. He is indeed courageous to take on this path which “no other country has travelled”. I am firmly behind you, Mr Heng!!

One area they are looking to tackle is THE TUITION PROBLEM. Mr Png Eng Huat (MP for Hougang) asked for a survey to get to the bottom of Singaporeans’ obsession with tuition, joining at least three other MPs in warning about over-reliance on tuition.

Obsession with tuition?

Why does it sound like we parents have nothing else better to do with our money?

Besides a small percentage of ‘tiger mum’ parents who are giving their kids tuition even though they are already scoring all As and A*s, for most of us, it is borne out of necessity.

Here’s how my kids ended up having tuition.

For my eldest, I did not know much about the whole primary school scene when she entered Primary 1. The hubs and I chose the closest primary school to our home and left her in the good hands of the school (or so we thought). I did not give her tuition from P1 to P5 as I expected her teachers to prepare her sufficiently for the exams. The only tuition she tried out was 6 months at Berries, a group tuition centre for Chinese, when she was in P4. As I did not see any improvement in her grades, I withdrew her.

I had a shock of my life when she failed her Math and Science at the end of P5. How was she ready for PSLE?

I scrambled to ask around for recommendations and realised that everyone we knew gave their kids tuition. We had no choice but to pay through our noses for private tuition to help her plug the gaps.

In a mere 8 months, she managed to soar from failing grades to score 4 As with an aggregate of 240 for her PSLE.

For #2, she has always been a very consistent student probably because she’s a very obedient child. From the time she was in P1, I told her that she had to pay attention to her teachers and listen in class. And that was what she did. This traditional method of teaching also suits her learning style so she had no problems with school work.

Since she was not failing any subjects I held out giving her any tuition. It was only after her P6 mid-year exams where she scored mostly Bs that I decided she needed some extra help to tackle the papers. I gave her tuition for all subjects but on hindsight, 4 months was too short for her to get used to her tutors’ style of teaching to really have an impact on her grades. In the end, she scored 230, which I felt was below her potential.

For #3, she is a visual learner and a hands-on approach suits her better. It was no surprise that she always did badly academically even though it is obvious to all of us that she is extremely bright.
I made the decision to start her on English and Chinese tuition from P5 because she was very weak in both subjects. Thank goodness I found tutors who were creative and managed to make the lessons fun and engaging. I added on Math and Science tuition for her in P6 because she barely managed to pass the exams.

As they were all one-to-one lessons, she picked up very quickly because the tutors could accommodate to her learning style. In the end, she enjoyed her lessons very much and managed to score 229. With such an aggregate, she is now in a school which suits her very well and she loves school. They use different modalities to learn, such as group discussions, project work and lively debates in class. If I had not given her tuition at all, she would likely have ended up in normal academic or normal technical which is a wrong fit for her.

What do these examples show?

That if we leave our kids to the education system, it may not be able to do justice to their capabilities.

Now that I am more aware of the limitations of our education system, I am keeping a finger on the pulse to monitor their progress. And if they are not learning what they are supposed to be learning, I have to supplement it with tuition.

The tuition industry has ballooned into a billion dollar industry, perhaps it’s time to acknowledge what it does right.

Most tuition centres have class sizes with a maximum of 12 to 15 students. 40 in a class is just too big a class for effective learning. If only we could shrink our classes to 25 or 30 students.

Tutors are paid to teach. Not to run events, chaperon kids to competitions, deal with parents’ complains or attend endless meetings. Perhaps a teacher’s main job should be to teach as well.

Such a radical road map is what Singapore needs at this crossroads. I just hope that it will be rolled out with urgency. If a new minister gets rotated for this portfolio, who knows what vision he might hold?

I certainly hope things will be shaken up. Currently I have no choice but to give my kids tuition in their P6 (or perhaps even P5) year. And it looks like they might also need tuition in certain subjects in the Sec 4 year, such as in ‘A’ Maths, Chemistry, Physics or Chinese.

Let us all – parents, teachers and employers rally together and embrace this new vision to move the next generation towards a more meaningful education to face the future.

I can’t wait to save money by eliminating the need for tuition.

PSLE results: Good or bad, what do you say?
6 tips to choose a secondary school that is right for your child
My teen in a neighbourhood school
PSC Scholarship? Wow
What the PSLE is really aboutWho is behind MOE

PSLE results: A test of the parents more than the child

ECHA – The mother of all awards

School Stories:

#1 – When your son gets into fights in school
#2 – My son the loan shark
#3 – So kids can’t play once they start school?

#11 – How #2 topped her level in English
#12 – DSA. Yet another initiative parents have warped
#13 – Tuition – First line of attack?
#14 – Why do exams have to be so stressful?
#15 – First day mix up!
#16 – The day I forgot to pick my son from school
#17 – No more T-score. Now what?
#18 – Tackling the new school year
#19 – She did it, without tuition.
#20 – So who’s smarter?
#21 – Why I do not coach my kids anymore.

~ – a blog on parenting 6 kids in Singapore ~

School Stories #6: My son. There’s hope yet!

This year, I was very surprised that #5 has suddenly ‘grown up’ and is taking his school work more seriously. In P1 and P2, it was obvious that school only meant one thing to him. And it spells R-E-C-E-S-S.

He was oblivious to everything that went on in class and whatever his teachers said went in one ear and out the other. His homework was hardly handed up on time, his worksheets were perennially missing, and he did not seem to know what was going on in class.

Learning to write cursive

Now that he is in P3, he has finally ‘woken up’ and I was delighted to see that he took out his books and did his homework and corrections without prompting from me. Last year he seemed to have selective memory and what he didn’t like or found hard to do (which was pretty much all his Chinese homework) he preferred to stuff right at the bottom of his bag and hoped that it would magically disappear through an imaginary abyss.

On Sunday, when I reminded him to keep his completed homework in his schoolbag, he said, “Oh ya, and I have to revise. My tests are coming up next week.” My girls and I stared at one another in disbelief. Did we hear right? (I must congratulate his teachers on doing such a good job.)
Then he turns around and continues playing. Ah well. The first step is awareness, no?

~ – a blog on parenting 6 kids in Singapore ~

Thankful for… school

Last year, when I was invited to the Ministry of Education for a dialogue session, I met Petunia Lee, an educator whom many parents are familiar with. While walking to the car park after the session, knowing that we both felt the same way about the education system, she asked me why haven’t I considered homeschooling my kids. I looked at her in mock horror and replied, “Can you imagine having 6 monkeys at home the whole day, every day? I am so thankful they go to school!”

Many of us love to complain about this highly stressful education system and are quick to point out the flaws in the system. When #1 first entered primary school, I used to be outraged at finding out that in many instances, the children do not come first, and true learning does not seem to be the focus. However, the more I understand what really goes on behind the scenes, the more I am grateful for all those involved who really do care and are trying their best to do what they can for our children. 

Here in Singapore, we tend to take school for granted. Today, I will take a moment to be thankful.

Thankful that school is accessible to all.

Thankful that our kids are safe in school.

Thankful that our kids do not need to travel distances just to get an education.

Thankful for the facilities and comfortable environment to study in.

Thankful that schools are free of negative influences such as drugs.

And above all, I’m thankful that school keeps the kids out of my hair for 7 hours every day! At the tail end of every December holidays, I can’t wait for school to resume. 6 weeks with them at home is about all I can take.

Happy schooling, kids!

Thankful… for our helper
Thankful… for my family
Thankful… for my mum-in-law

~ – a blog on parenting 6 kids in Singapore ~

6 tips to Really prepare your child for P1

You would have read many articles on how to get your child ready for the big transition from K2 to P1, about things like teaching them to take care of their belongings and buying food at the canteen. Besides those basics, let me share with you 6 essential tips to ensure mummy (that’s you) doesn’t break a sweat for the next 6 years.

1. Their school bag is their responsibility

When #1 started Primary 1 a decade ago, I bought her a school bag, handed her the whole stack of books and told her that she was in charge of it. I laid out all my expectations. She was to pack her own bag, finish her homework and listen attentively to her teachers. From the get-go, she had no problems handling all of it, and neither did her 3 younger sisters. I never had to nag them to do their homework nor help them to pack their bags. Don’t worry that they are too young to start managing on their own. When they are in P1, the teachers are more forgiving and it is the best time for them to make mistakes and learn the skills of being independent. #1 had a classmate who was so used to her mum packing her bag that when she went to Secondary 1, she exclaimed that she didn’t know how to pack her bag!

Unfortunately, this doesn’t seem to work for #5. I gave him the same instructions but his homework never gets completed and bag never properly packed. I have to double check every night to make sure his things are in order. The first time I peered into his bag, I almost fainted. I expected a neat, organised school bag with books properly placed according to height (that’s how all my girls’ bags looked), but his bag was in a complete mess! Worksheets were stuffed into the crevices (some even balled up), books were folded in half top down (don’t ask me how that happened), and there were bits and pieces of erasers, paper, and other rubbish in his bag. No wonder my friends with boys keep complaining and can’t understand how I can stay relaxed with so many kids. Anyhow, it is still important to expect the same for boys, but be prepared to step in to provide more guidance. A LOT more, if your son is anything like mine.

#4’s P4 unseen dictation

2. Learning their spelling is also their responsibility

In this climate of very involved parents, I constantly hear friends saying they have to hurry home to test their kids spelling. With 6 kids, my chance of having a life would be zilch if I did this. They know my expectations and will learn their spelling themselves and test themselves. I don’t like to molly-coddle my kids but try to encourage them to find their inner tenacity.

During the exam period, #4 asked if I could sit with her to supervise her revision like all her friends’ mummies did. Before I could open my mouth, #3 told her: “Don’t you know what mummy is trying to teach us? To be independent and self-motivated so that even when she is not with us, we will know what to do. If you need to rely on mummy being next to you, then next time how?” Ah, proud mummy moment.

However, this didn’t work for #5, especially for his chinese spelling. Why am I even surprised. I have resorted to bribing him with 30 minutes of iPad time if he gets it all correct. Works beautifully.

3. Allowance

Initially with #1, I gave her a daily allowance for recess and encouraged her to save the rest. I realised that after a few months, she worked out her own brilliant plan by ‘saving’ on food and using the leftover money to shop at the bookshop. I thought about this whole allowance business very seriously and decided to separate the school recess money (which is for them to eat a proper meal) with allowance for toys and their other wants and came up with a simple but detailed system to teach them how to use their money wisely.

Instead of giving them a fixed amount for the 6 years, I checked out the prices at their canteen and found out that $1 can buy them a plate of chicken rice or a bowl of noodles. Since they bring their own water bottle to school, $1 is enough for them as they are not big eaters. My kids think I’m Mr Scrooge as most of their friends get around $2 per day. I asked them if they are going to eat $2 worth of food, and if not, then they don’t need $2. What I did instead was to give them an incremental allowance based on their age. They get $1 per day for P1 and P2, $1.50 for P3 and P4 and $2 for P5 and P6. It gives them something to look forward to!

4. No TV / electronic devices rule

I used to allow them 1 hour of TV but found that they protested more when it was time to turn it off than when I set a blanket ban on TV during school days. Now, it’s not just the TV, but their iPads, laptops, computers and iPhones which robs them of time. They end up not having enough time for their homework and also resulted in them sleeping later. Besides, it’s hard to monitor their gadget use if I’m not at home, so it’s easier just to take them all away during the school week. Every Sunday night, they have to turn in their gadgets and they get them back on the weekends. Yup, I have to run my household almost like a military operation. If you need more tips on how to control their gadget usage, read my 10 house rules for digital use.

5. Stationery

It amazes me how much correction tape kids go through. Or how many pencils and pens go missing in school. At one time, Popular bookstore became our regular shopping destination. One fine day, I had enough, and made a new rule. We would go stationery shopping for school supplies once in December and once during the June holidays. They were to purchase the necessary items to last them through 5 months of school. Anything extra they needed would be out of their own pockets. (Unless of course they require ad hoc purchases for projects). Overnight, their stationery requisition reduced dramatically. Not only that, it taught them to plan, budget, and stick to their allocation. When they know their correction tape refill is running low they will be more careful and stop using it with abandon.

6. Early Bedtime

I can’t fathom how kids can thrive with insufficient sleep. Many of their classmates sleep at 10pm and wake up at 6am. For us, their bedtime is at 7.30pm, and it moves incrementally to 8.30pm at P6. When they are well rested, it is much easier to wake them in the morning, not to mention they will be more attentive in class. Our helper just has to call their name once and they are out of bed. She prepares their breakfast and they are on auto-pilot and out the house at 6am. And me? Still in la la land…

Hope these tips will ease the transition into formal schooling for your child and keep you sane!

PSLE results: Good or bad, what do you say?
6 tips to choose a secondary school that is right for your child
My teen in a neighbourhood school
PSC Scholarship? Wow
What the PSLE is really about

Who is behind MOE

PSLE results: A test of the parents more than the child

ECHA – The mother of all awards

School Stories:

#1 – When your son gets into fights in school
#2 – My son the loan shark
#3 – So kids can’t play once they start school?

#11 – How #2 topped her level in English
#12 – DSA. Yet another initiative parents have warped
#13 – Tuition – First line of attack?
#14 – Why do exams have to be so stressful?
#15 – First day mix up!
#16 – The day I forgot to pick my son from school
#17 – No more T-score. Now what?
#18 – Tackling the new school year
#19 – She did it, without tuition.
#20 – So who’s smarter?
#21 – Why I do not coach my kids anymore.

~ – a blog on parenting 6 kids in Singapore ~

PSLE score – what’s it to you?

This year was the first time I went to school to collect the PSLE results. #3 asked me to go because both of her best friends’ mums were going. Needless to say, the anticipation in the school hall was killing everyone. I don’t know who was more anxious, the students or the parents.

Ok, I’m sure all of you want to know what #3 got, since I did put #1 and #2’s score up on my blog previously. Some people are secretive about it, but to me, it doesn’t say very much. So here it is. She got 4 ‘A’s with an aggregate of 229. We are all very proud of her because even until P4, she was hyperactive and found it hard to sit for more than 15 minutes. She had always been in one of the last classes and was still failing some subjects at the beginning of P6. The fact that she took the exams very seriously, was motivated to do well and gave of her best efforts was already cause for celebration. She was jumping for joy and exclaiming “I got an A for Chinese!”

On the other hand, her best friend scored 246 and cried.

The whole day, my phone beeped non-stop with people asking me her results. I understand how anxious her tutors were to know if their hard work had paid off, and I understand the concern of family. But there were many other people who just wanted to know her score.

What is it about people wanting to know other people’s kids’ scores? So that they would feel better about themselves if their kid scored higher? Or that they could put a number to a child’s intelligence? Or make all sorts of judgements about the child and his family?

Poor kids. I really feel sorry for them when adults asked them their grades and they have to face their reactions, and worse, sometimes face expressions with a split second of “oh gosh, that’s bad” before the adults regain their composure and said something positive. And strangely the adults seemed only interested in knowing the aggregate without asking them if they felt they had done their best, if they had shown an improvement, or anything else about the child as a person.

So before you ask a child his or her PSLE score, please ask yourself why do you want to know it, and what is the message you would want to tell the child after you hear it. Because kids are shaped in part by society, and your reaction to the child might stay in his or her mind for a long time. Please spare a thought for these children who are grappling with what these 3 numbers mean. 

Related posts:

Why we went on vacation just before the PSLE

Countdown: 3 months to the PSLE

6 things to do in the PSLE year

School Stories:

#1 – When your son gets into fights in school
#2 – My son the loan shark
#3 – So kids can’t play once they start school?

~ – a blog on parenting 6 kids in Singapore ~

School Stories #4: Things teachers say

I wrote a post last week about #5 getting complained by his teacher almost daily, and her suggestion that I should limit his play time and start him on tuition since he is already in P2. I didn’t expect all the negative comments I received on my Facebook page regarding the teacher.

Before you think she is some mean monster, I have to say this in her defense. In the 2 years that she has been teaching #5, she has never treated him maliciously and I believe she said all those things in his best interest (even though her views may be wrong). The reality is that the majority of his classmates do have tuition (I guess it’s because he’s in one of the top schools and the parents are generally wealthy AND ultra kiasu) thus the teacher was quick to suggest engaging a tutor.

Photo Credit: Sheknows/JGI/JamieGrill

If you think her comments were shocking, my other kids have come back with worse things their teachers have said to the class:

“There is no way I will ever like anyone of you.”

“You are all not of normal stupidity. Your stupidity is extreme.” 
(translated from Mandarin)
“I don’t care what you all do, I will get my salary anyway.”

And things some of their teachers did…

One teacher made the whole class sit on their textbooks on the floor, and if you refuse to do so, she will fling your textbook out the door and chase you out along with it.

And finally, this one takes the cake.

#3 was in P1, and she was day-dreaming during Chinese lesson. The teacher must have told her to pay attention, but she did not hear (she was day-dreaming, remember?) The teacher stormed over, and with herculean strength, she flipped the entire desk over and it crashed to the floor with a loud thud that shocked the entire class. (I reported it to the form teacher and she told me that this was not the first case and the teacher was being counselled).

Sometimes I really wonder what do teachers expect from these P1s. Just 2 months prior, they were still little kids in kindergarten. Almost overnight, they are expected to morph into mature, sensible, silent little robots who will obediently pay attention during 6 hours of school. Poor kids. Especially the active boys.

I must admit that the first time I heard about such unexemplary actions from the teachers, I wanted to storm straight into the principal’s office to sort it out.  Thankfully I’m not a hot-headed person. However, after having 5 of my kids go through this stressful, competitive rat-chase-rat education system, and after speaking to so many teachers, I can see that it is not easy being a teacher.

So why am I writing this post?

For the parents, so that when your darling child comes home and tells you what bad things her teacher said or did in class, you won’t jump out of your chair and head straight to the principal’s office. Take a deep breath, try to get the whole story from your child, and imagine yourself in the same situation.

Now that I have desensitised you, you can gently and gradually prepare your child that sometimes the teacher might say mean things out of frustration, but tell her not to take it personally. Kids do look up to their teachers, and they might hold what their teachers say in their hearts for years (both the positive and negative things). It might be good to let your children know that if there is anything bothering them which the teacher had said, they can discuss it with you.

And to all the dear teachers out there, most times, I can totally understand why you say what you say or do what you do (except the flipping of the table). Already with 6 kids I yell at them things which I regret later. Don’t ask me what I will do with 40. However, may I humbly remind you that your words are powerful, and they can either be uplifting or demoralising to the children.

Having said that, I am still utterly grateful to all the teachers who have taught my kids over the years (especially those who have touched them in one way or another), and to all teachers out there. Because being a teacher these days is no walk in the park. For you to do what you do year in, year out, I salute you.

~ –  a blog on parenting 6 kids in Singapore ~

So kids can’t play once they start school?

#5’s form teacher has been calling me regularly complaining of his bad behaviour. I know he’s a very naughty child, but I was wondering what sort of bad behaviour he was up to that she had to scold him almost everyday. I asked her if he had been getting into fights again and she said no. I decided it was time to nip it in the bud, so I asked her to text me daily after school with either “Bad” or “Good”. This was so that I could either punish him or reward him immediately so he knows what he did right or wrong, instead of waiting for a week or two to hear from her about his ‘generally bad and disruptive behaviour’.

I sat him down and told him Mrs Ng called me again and I was very unhappy with his behaviour. I asked him to explain himself but it seemed that he didn’t even know what sort of bad behaviour she was referring to. Finally after much thought, he ventured, “Is it because I always talk without putting up my hand? And I play with my eraser and frog pencil?” (I discovered that the frog pencil was a mechanical pencil his teacher gave them for children’s day).

The next day, I asked him how did he behave in school. He said, “Er, bad? Is it during origami class?” (He thinks I now have immediate information about his movements in school) I asked him to elaborate. He said that during Art lesson, they were given origami paper and taught to fold a dress. He did not want to fold a dress so he folded a crane, and the kids seated around him must have been watching and they would probably have talked. The teacher scolded him for folding his own thing and for disturbing his friends.

I explained to him that he could not have his way, as there are both boys and girls in the class. Sometimes it would be ‘girly’ stuff which he does not want to do but he still has to do it because it is difficult for the teacher to please everybody.

Even though I explained it that way to him, I couldn’t stop thinking about it, and wondered if it should have been the way. Yes, I understand it is easier for the teacher to control the class if they were all compliant robots and followed step by step, but could she have been more open and receptive to kids with other ideas? Aren’t we trying to imbue creativity in our students? And it’s origami class for crying out loud, not Math lesson.

I spoke to some mummy friends about this and they said that most of the teachers they have come across in primary school expect such obedience. However, friends with kids in the international schools said that if you wanted to fold a crane, go ahead and fold a crane. The teacher might even have gotten the child to teach everyone to fold a crane. It reminded me of the enrichment class #5 went to during the June holidays and when he was not able to fold the dumpling the right way, he invented his own way and the teacher was flexible enough to allow him to do so.

Some of the mummies shared even more absurd stories of how some teachers insisted all the students paint the picture using the exact same colours. I guess now we know why Singaporean kids are not creative and can’t think out of the box. At the time when their creativity should be allowed to blossom, it is stifled. I wonder if we can find a way to marry the two, where we can encourage creativity and individuality within boundaries, in a setting where teachers feel able to handle the class.

The next day, the teacher texted me that he behaved badly again. She said that he was disruptive in class, talks unnecessarily during group work about unrelated topics and doesn’t put up his hands before speaking. Or if he does put up his hand, by the time he is called, he would say that he has forgotten what it was that he wanted to say. And he makes strange noises while lessons are going on. (Ok, I have no idea why he makes such noises.. perhaps he’s bored?)

I told him that he has to put his hand up before talking and to stop making strange noises. I didn’t know how else to deal with him so I spoke to #1 and asked her what she thinks (I was sure she has seen these sorts of issues with the boys in her class).

She looked up from her revision and said, “You know mum, this system is very strange. In primary school, we have to be quiet and raise our hands before talking. Spontaneity and creativity is not encouraged. But in secondary school, it’s the reverse. They want us to shout out the answers and contribute. He would fit right in where I am now, and the teachers would love him, but sadly, he will be pressed into this mould and over the years his desire to speak up will be curtailed as he is repeatedly punished for it.”

I was mulling this over and mentioned it to a teacher friend I bumped into in the market and she said that it was probably more the individual teachers, not the system. She lamented that #5 is the type of student the system is hoping to produce. Creative, out-spoken, courageous kids. Kids who dare to be different. However, some teachers do not support it as it is harder to handle.

 So much learning going on in free play

A few days ago, his teacher called me again, saying he was extremely naughty during recess. He and another boy shot rubber bands at their classmate. I questioned him about it, and in all earnestness, he tried to explain to me that they were trying to protect their friend (the king) from the enemy (the boy who was shot) and the rubber bands were their weapons. Sigh. This boy of mine. He sticks out like a sore thumb in this rigid sterile school environment. I’m sure he would feel right at home a generation ago where the boys happily caught frogs and fought one another with twigs during recess.

His teacher was exasperated and asked me how was his behaviour at home and what was his schedule like. I told her that after lunch, he spends his time playing with his baby sister, then does his homework. He goes to the playground every evening for an hour to play with the neighbourhood kids, usually soccer or ‘catching’. I could hardly believe my ears when she said “I think he’s playing too much. You should limit his play time. And you should start giving him tuition. He’s already in P2.”

I was speechless.

I think his teacher and I, we’re from a different planet altogether.

Related posts:

I did not give any of my kids tuition until the P6 year, as I believed that if they were of average intelligence, I expected them do relatively ok for the exams if they pay attention in class and hand in all their homework. However, this is not the case. They ended up failing just about every subject in P5. Read about it in “Why parents are forced to spend on tuition”.

~ – a blog on parenting 6 kids in Singapore ~