I dreaded to attend #5’s PTM. Every year, his teachers complain about the same things. He doesn’t pay attention in class, blurts out irrelevant things while the teacher is talking, is always fiddling with something, does not hand in his work on time and can’t file his worksheets properly.
They have tried everything – the soft approach (talking to him nicely), the hard approach (scolding him), punishing him by making him stay back during recess to finish his work, but nothing works.
In their eyes, he is a mischevious and problematic student.
While walking into school, I seriously contemplated turning back. I don’t have to subject myself to another round of complaints from his teachers, exhorting the same problems. I can already hear it coming… “He talks too much, is distracted, likes to do his own things.”
But I took a deep breath and as the PSLE is next year, I wanted to keep tabs on what he’s been up to in school.
I entered the classroom with trepidation. Finally, it was my turn.
Mrs Lim, his Science teacher sighed and said, “You are xx’s mum…” (yes, she did let out an audible, resigned sigh. I’m sure I wasn’t dreaming it).
I looked at her pleadingly like ok, give it to me straight.. what else am I going to hear this time. Let’s get it over and done with.
She started with the same old. “He doesn’t pay attention and is always busy fiddling with his pencil case and I have to confiscate his things.”
I probed further. “What do you mean by not paying attention?”
Now I’m almost an expert on attention issues, having seen all permutations of kids who come to my enrichment centre because they are bright but not reaching their potential.
Sitting across his teachers trying to figure out his learning behaviour made me realise how much firsthand experience I have gained in this one year by being the bridge between hearing from parents and seeing the changes in the kids by isolating their problems instead of seeing them as being “naughty”, “lazy” or “distracted”.
I wanted to get to the root of the problem so that we could work together to help him.
Mrs Lim elaborated. “Halfway through my lesson, he will stop listening and do his own things. Thus when it comes to doing the worksheets, he does not know what to do because he has stopped listening.”
Ah, he had the same problem last year and his Math teacher discovered exactly what was happening. She said that the first time she introduces a new concept, he is interested and will be listening attentively. But when she repeats herself the second or third time to cater to those who did not fully understand, that is when he will switch off and start fiddling in his pencil case to create something. She realised that he understands concepts easily and gets bored when the lesson is moving too slowly.
So his Math teacher decided that she would let him fold his origami quietly if she has to repeat herself for the other students. This is better than him turning to his friends to start chatting. So long as he is not disturbing anyone, it was a reasonable solution.
However, because he has switched off, he would miss important information and thus would not be able to complete his homework. She would then call his attention before issuing instructions. It took her many months, but she finally figured him out. In a class of 40, it is not easy to move everyone along at the same pace, thus it is inevitable that some students fall through the cracks.
I asked him directly. “Is he naughty in school?”
“He is not naughty. Yes, he is playful and very active and tends to talk loudly. But he is not what I’d call naughty. In fact, he has a caring side. When classmates do not understand their work, he will explain to them.”
Music to my ears! Finally. A teacher who could see past his challenging behaviour, and in turn, he probably behaves himself better in Mr Tan’s class.
He asked me what he does at home and I described how he likes to while away his after school hours tinkering with engineering concepts.
He starts by looking at the manual, but would toss it aside and freely create what he envisions in his mind. He would spend hours cooped up in his room and has no problems being able to focus on a single activity for several hours.
He built this structure and allowed Kate to place the little balls at the top and watch them drop into the collection cup he fashioned. He patiently problem-solved and shortened or lengthened the various threads and added or removed segments of the track to align it at the precise height for the ball to turn smoothly. He must have adjusted it a few hundred times! Such perseverance.
He explained to me that it should not roll too fast (or it will fly off course) nor too slow (as it will come to a halt). After playing with the same structure for a few days, he will dismantle it and start dreaming up something new.
Mr Tan said simply. “#5 is a bright boy. He is creative and inventive. He has lots of ideas and can lead others. The unfortunate thing is, he will perhaps not thrive in our local system, but I think you don’t have to be worried. I am certain he will have a bright future. Are you considering sending him overseas?”
I asked him, as his English teacher, how can he tell that he is intelligent? He explained that when they discuss open ended questions, it is usually #5 who can come up with a fresh idea and he is able to back it up with a logical reasoning.
Mrs Lim, on the other hand, was concerned that this term, he has become even more inattentive. As we discussed further, she said that they are spending time covering answering techniques.
That explains it. She said that #5 is attentive when she is teaching a new Science topic. But when she teaches them how to answer the questions using the correct key words, he is not interested in listening.
Can I fault him? Should our exams even be thus? Nothing more than drilling and regurgitating, and giving the examiner the correct key words they are looking for?
As for his other ‘bad’ behaviour like blurting out in class, not filing his worksheets in the correct order and not handing in his homework on time, these are weaknesses in his executive function and that is a whole different set of skills altogether that is hard to address adequately in school.
I was never able to pin point them until now, and am actually relieved to discover that he is not just being lazy. He has poor verbal impulse control, lacks time management and organising skills and is weak at task initiation. Really need to work on these with him.
It was a rather strange PTM. 3 seated at the same table, coming from 3 different standpoints.
Mrs Lim was very worried and stressed that the PSLE is next year, yet he is so “unteachable”.
Mr Tan who didn’t quite know what to say to this parent, as he seemed stuck between a rock and a hard place. He is a part of this system, a system which is glaringly inadequate to support these mavericks, yet he recognises the different learning styles and needs of the students.
And me. A parent who wishes our education system was more progressive. I have thought long and hard about it and have made peace with the situation. We live in this country we call home, with family and friends around us, and we will stay put. It’s a pity that our education system is evolving at such a snail’s pace and our children are wasting too much time learning to ace exams.
It is something I have never conformed to and have decided that I will not subject #5 to it, at the risk of dampening his love of Science and of learning.
I will not force my round peg into a square hole. It is not worth it. I am prepared for whatever score he might get for his PSLE and I know it is not a reflection of his abilities nor intelligence.
I will be sure to let him know that too.
#7 – Who has an obsession with tuition?
#8 – Paying tutors $250 an hour to do assignments?
#9 – I didn’t even know my child was being bullied, until…
#10 – How I got my son to do his homework without nagging
#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.