Saturday, 23 February 2013

Politics at work

I was on MC on Thursday.

The temperature surged at night, leaving me in shivers all night. Panadols didn't help much.

I could not step out of the door.

I had a remedial class. I had to go to school, but I could not.

So I smsed my 'buddy' - a system the school has to improve communication between staff when you are absent from work.

But all she replied was 'Please call the office. It's too long to say here.'

I called the office, but the office said I had to let my buddy know what I wanted to do for my remedial class. So I had to sms my buddy again to tell her that the office had asked me to sms her.
The buddy replied me saying that my teacher-aid would take over my class and remedial and gave me her number.

The buddy's tai-chi responses made me feel like I had been imposing on her, so I liaised with the teacher-aid directly and told her what she could do with the class.

I thought everything was well until after school hours, I received a long email from my buddy.

She accused me of not telling them what to do.

I was shocked.

I explained that I had informed the teacher-aid what I wanted her to do and had emailed her all the necessary worksheets and attendance lists for the remedial class.

She did not let up. She emailed me a second time to continue her accusations but stated that the emails were not meant to point faults at anyone.

I replied saying that I was a phone call or sms away so there was no need to go on a wild goose chase.

Then she replied again, saying that I should have tried to 'predict' or plan my MC on a day without remedial classes so that it does not inconvenient others.

I was tempted to reply,"Then I can only say that your MCs are not genuine."

I was tempted to type down the original dates the hospital had given me for my child's asthma appointment, my physiotherapy session and the follow-up visit to the doctor and told her I could have taken childcare leave and MCs for all these dates but it was precisely I tried so hard not to inconvenient others that I always changed the dates and hours to the March holiday or after-school hours whenever possible.

The fever was not planned.

I am not sure how many people can go to work after having a night of fever, but it's definitely not me.

When I went to school the next day, my buddy saw me and asked me,"How are you? If you are not feeling well, you should stay home for today. You could just let us know what to do with the class."

One word came to my mind - 'hypocrital'.

Have the 8 years of teaching just taught her how to play tai-chi and be hypocritical?

During the last semester of NIE, I had the most harrowing experience of working with a girl who never failed to complain to tutors that one of her groupmates was not doing any work.

I didn't think it could happen to me as for all group projects, I would contribute the most, not because I loved doing projects, but because I wanted a Second Upper Honours desperately.

But she complained to the tutor for that module about me anyway! Needless to say, I didn't get an A for that module. I went to the extent of 'challenging' the tutor to give me a C if he deemed necessary.

I brought this up because the act of the buddy reminded me of what that evil girl said about teaching - covering backside.

When she mentioned that, the first thought that came to my mind was: if teaching is all about 'covering backside', then the kids are doomed.

I always say that my previous school has the best people or colleagues, but the worst systems in place.

We don't cover our own backsides. We cover for one another. Mistakes that would have been fatal in another school are quickly remedied by another colleague without a hitch. I would have stayed in the school despite feeling saturated if not for the lousy systems. The people are really the nicest and most helpful anywhere I have seen and worked at.

The hours were too long. Every day, an average of ten teachers was absent since any day is a 10- to 11-hour day, so naturally, we have relief lessons at least 3 or 4 times a week, and sometimes it could be 2 periods at a stretch.

The hours after school were filled with workshops and meetings. And the meetings could be really last-minute - you could be informed of a meeting at 1.55pm when the meeting would start at 2pm!

Very often, meetings are suddenly decided: oh, everybody is here today, let's have a meeting after school!

And the meetings are often not short ones. Every day, for some reason, the day is stretched to at least 5.30pm.

We didn't get to mark our books after school. The only time we got to mark our books was our free period, which could also be eaten up by relieving other colleagues' lessons or doing admin work.

It was a pity that the school was not well-run.

Having lived past 30, I am tired of having to deal with politics. I don't know if I can hold out till the end of this year for all the politics in this new school.

The systems are really wonderful. They even have a lady who laminates and cuts your teaching resources, and very efficiently at that! Their printing lady accepts her job readily and is willing to print quickly. Their admin manager is extremely helpful and smiley. Their clerks do not give you a 'what do you want from me again' face. The principal is aware of her staff's presence and say 'hi!' to her staff even when she is with a visitor.

The workload is really not heavy. The days are short. Their longest day is just about the normal day at my previous school.

But perhaps the teachers are too used to playing politics that they see it as a necessity, no matter who they deal with.

Hardly two months into the new school, these Chinese proverbs are on my mind constantly:


I had wished that, for all the experience that older teachers have, they would be wiser, and nicer and feel secure about themselves.

Unfortunately, I notice that those who play politics at a ripe old age of 40 and beyond are usually spinsters.

They are not very nice people, or at least not to me.

Tuesday, 19 February 2013

The Inadequate Me

Life has started for me at the new school.

I like the systems in place. The people are helpful, just that I don't get to be in any of the cliques.

The school has the correct focus. It really focuses on teaching and learning. It frees up time after school for teachers to carry out remedial and supplementary classes. When there are workshops, they are done in place of the weekly meeting. The only 'meeting' they have is the once-a-week meeting. They don't have surprise workshops or meetings. They don't have workshops or meetings that last past 4.30pm.

I am grateful and relieved that I am finally at a place that wants teachers to teach, and means it.

I am taking the last class and the first class for the same subject, Maths.

Tonight, I am seized with a great sense of loneliness and inadequacy.

I am going to have my first morning remedial class with the children tomorrow. I have asked them to come early to school at 7am three times a week so that I can have a short session with them to practise more Maths questions.

I think I am stressed.

These are P3 children, but some of them do not know how to add or subtract one-digit numbers -  something that they should have mastered at P1.

Some of them do not know how to read. And if they do, they read without understanding what they are reading.

I first came across 'reading without understanding' syndrome at my previous school.

It was beyond me to try to comprehend what it really meant and how it could happen.

To most of us, reading and comprehension of what we read go hand-in-hand. How can you read without understanding what you are reading?

At best, these children are just pronouncing the words. They seriously don't understand what they are reading. So they have problems in just about every subject that involves words.

Maths is the worst among all subjects. It not only requires a child to read (word problems, short-answer questions, MCQs), it also needs him to have the analytical skill to solve problems.

When a child can't even read, the least you can expect of him is to do Maths.

Today, we were doing Number Patterns. The children had to fill in the blanks with numbers after understanding how the pattern works ie. whether it was to add 1, 10, 100 or 1000 etc to the numbers.

I heard the teacher-aid in my class saying to one of the kids,"Are you stupid or what? Is there something wrong with your brain? You need to see a doctor ..."

The children had a lot of difficulty with the simple worksheet that I had designed for them.

It makes me wonder how they come to this stage. How can they add and subtract 4-digit numbers when they think for a long time over '23 + 1'?

What were they doing at K1, K2, P1 and P2?

I had thought I could help the weakest student since I had managed to teach a weak P1 class well eons ago.

But recently, I find myself getting discouraged, and doubting myself.

I feel inadequate to teach these children.

I don't know how to help them, really.

The First Boss had told me I could abandon the more challenging objectives eg. being able to do two-step word problems and don't have to finish teaching the P3 syllabus, but honestly, I am really not comfortable with that.

Am I not short-changing the children if I don't finish the syllabus?

An HOD once told me, these children are like babies. They need to learn how to crawl first (the basics) before knowing how to walk.

Deep within my heart, I wonder if I can make them walk even, eventually.

People who are not teachers always imagine that it is easier to teach weak students and more challenging to stretch high-ability students. The irony is that it is always a breeze to teach the high-ability students as they are intrinsically motivated to learn. They stay focused for long period of time and they have this hunger to learn.

Children who are weak learners have very short attention span. They are not interested in studies. They get distracted easily. Worse, they distract themselves by making verbal noise as they do work.They don't focus at all. They don't listen to you. They don't even copy the things you write on the board correctly. We have to try to get their attention back every 2 to 5 minutes. Every day, I have 5 to 7 absentees. At least 5 or 6 of them absent themselves on a weekly basis. The parents think it is okay for them to skip school at the slightest 'ailment' or when they don't manage to get a red T-shirt for Chinese New Year celebration. Never mind that they are not Chinese. Most of the time, they don't have an MC or even an excuse letter from the parents.

I wish I can be convinced that 'all children can learn', but it's a fact that some children are just not academically inclined.

Sunday, 3 February 2013

A Lonely Journey

Many times, I feel lonely as a parent.

I had Coco when I was 25 or 26. My friends were either enjoying their singlehood or had only started dating.

When I took Coco to her first music class when she was 4 or 5, I was possibly the youngest mother there. Or at least, I looked the youngest.

Most of the time, mothers prefer to socialise with mothers around the same age, so that leaves me out of the picture.

I think the only time I felt accepted as a mother was during Coco's P1 orientation days. A young-looking mother in her forties was friendly to me and initiated the talks. But I am such a clumsy person at face-to-face conversation that I didn't know how to continue the small talks. On and off, I met her at different events in Coco's school - P4 Immersion Programme, Mid Autumn Celebration and other occasions. She lives very near Coco's school, yet is always very unassuming. Her daughter was a Gepper and eventually scored more than 270. A very humble mother indeed.

Years on, I had another baby. This time, I was 33. Kind of old for the first-time mothers who have babies in the same year. So I don't get to have any playmates for my little one either.

I wish to have playdates for her, but for someone clumsy with verbal communication, I don't know how to go about doing it. Had tried to join the gatherings for the mothers who gave birth in the same year, but were not fruitful. This time round, I felt awkward because the mothers looked much younger than I was.

Although my friends in real life have kids now, since more than a decade has passed, their oldest kids are P1, P2 or in kindy.

The only friend who is close in age with me and has a kid with the same age is an ex-colleague. However, she has some problems with her kid and it would be cruel of me to share my happy stories with her while she struggles with her kid. The last I heard from her was that she no longer had any expectation of her kid and would be most happy if she could just make it to the Express stream.

Parenting is a very lonely journey for me.

Most of my sisters are single. The only one who has kids doesn't seem to share the same idea about child-raising with me.

There are so many times I have doubts about my own ideas about child-raising, discipline and boundary issues, I can only grope in the dark and trial-and-error with the different methods. Some methods I keep, some methods I try and throw away. Not sure if they would have worked in the long run. Sometimes I give up on it myself because certain methods require perserverance and consistency which I am not really an expert at.

I make a lot of mistakes on this journey. I know people will say '天下无不是的父母', loosely translated as 'There isn't a perfect parent on Earth', but the guilt of having said the wrong things, or done the wrong things with your kid sticks with you. I wish I had someone to help 'mentor' me along the way. Parenting is a very much unsupervised path. Sure, it doesn't come with an instruction manual, but having someone who talks sense with you about parenting helps. She can be someone who doesn't have a kid, but even a slight reminder about the ideal scenario helps. Too often, I forget to praise Coco. I chastise too often.

Parenting is like a jackpot to me sometimes. I am not sure what I am doing is completely right. I just hope it is right even when it doesn't seem so right now. When I get it right, I hit the jackpot and the contentment is absolutely gratifying. When I don't, I just have to keep trying and hope that the next attempt is a successful one.

I think it's nice to have friends who have babies the same age as yours to share the parenting journey together.

A load divided is definitely lighter, and it makes the journey less lonely.

Lo Hei

We had our reunion dinner early. Just yesterday.

We did Lo Hei or 'Lau Yu Sheng'. As usual, we were supposed to spout auspicious words from our mouth as we tossed the yu sheng.

As we did it, I said,"Let money come. Money come quickly. Money quick quick come. Quick quick come money. Money hurry up come ..."

My nephew stared at me in disbelief.

After the tossing, he told his youngest aunt,"Second Aunt was talking about money all the time!"