So I have decided not to go back home this summer, and though at first I don’t think I’d miss anything, I just found myself missing those moments I spent with my mom. It is good to have a mom who shares the same passion and interest – the community and many ways of improving it. With her being the head teacher of a primary school in a very rural area, I know I have a lot to learn from her, and one of her expertise is the psychology of children, which I found very interesting.
While I was waiting for my IB results I taught a class of Year 5 pupils – and last year during summer I taught the same pupils who were then in Year 6, but reduced to the selected 15 excellent students, who were to sit for their UPSR in less than one month time. I taught them English, and you can imagine how challenging it was. They were no children of doctors, engineers, managers, or any middle-class parents, their fathers were mainly rubber-tappers, or paddy-planters, with a few of them were Imigration/Kastam officers, fire-fighters or police in Padang Besar, a few steps away from south Thailand.
I pity them. Sometimes I reached an extent where I almost cried for them.
How unfortunate could they be? They reached Year 5 without even knowing how to construct a good, grammatically-correct simple sentence while their counterparts in Kuala Lumpur are reading Harry Potter books.
How unfortunate could they be? They have to struggle to understand the language that is taught and heard for a few hours a week, while those schoolchildren in the big cities have the opportunity to communicate in that language when they are back at home.
And the policy-makers do not make schooling any easier for them, having to learn Mathematics and Science in English.
The extra classes I conducted were just for two hours every week, every Thursday if I was not mistaken, and my mother had earlier reminded me of their level: don’t expect them to come to every classes, just teach those who come (and I did understand that well, the temptation of fooling around with friends at 5 pm was not evitable for any 11 year old), don’t expect them to know what is the different between the use of ‘is’ and ‘are’ etc.
So I taught them grammar, played a few games (which they began to love, and persuaded me to start every class with a game first), helped them with their vocabularies (what else can I do? Some of them don’t even remember what is ‘tingkap’ in English), shouted at the boys who were so difficult to manage (I should have started praying that I will get more daughters than sons in the future), and ended my every class with this feeling of exhilaration – the kids were so sweet, they all left the class after salam with me, kissed my hands – and that was enough to make me energized to come back the next week despite having my patience tested.
And with the school being a small one, I could easily get more information on the background of each pupil from my mother. I told my mother how each student behaved in class: some of them are introverts, you can see it from their eyes that they were eager to have my attention, but too shy to raise their hands while some of them are extroverts, too happy to cling around me which I didn’t mind at all – and to my surprise, how they behave was somehow related to their upbringing.
I told you, the story that we often heard that children are to help their parents to earn a living is not fictitious at all. It happened in the past – a typical rags-to-riches story – it also happens now, when we are all happy to bag more allowance from our parents. One of my students is one of those with such stories.
I noticed this girl, I knew she was bright (well, she got a B for her English test previously) but somehow I just could not get her to answer my questions voluntarily. Shy and quiet, but seemed excited to learn, and I was pleased with that. I told my mom about her, and my mom told me how her family is. She has two twin brothers, (born a triplet), unfortunately not in the same class, they were performing worse than her academically. Her father has this reputation of doing things in his own (less intelligent) way, too arrogant to accept advice from others. He received some money to mend his house, put a decent walls and roof to the house rather than PVC coverings, but he rather spent the money on building a new house which of course, left unfinished due to lack of funding. Of course, can you expect to have a proper brick house with only RM1000? But that was what his father did. And my mom did mention about her reported to fall asleep in class. Not that she was lazy, but she was forced to help her parents tapping the rubber tree. Do you think she still have time at home to do schoolwork?
And that has also become one of our topics of discussion. My mom, as long as I could remember had never ask us to do any housework when we were children, but neither that she opposed any parents who train their children to be independent and help them with the house chores. But when it comes to discussing cases like pupils who go to school too tired to pay attention, I have to agree with her that disciplining children to do the housework might not be a correct way to teach them to be responsible, if the real reason is to make the parents’ lives easier. I mentioned to her about one of the boys I taught – very naughty, very short attention span – and I was a bit surprised to learn that his father was one of the teachers of the school. I did expect the children of a teacher to be a bit better, after all, their parents are educated compared to, for example, the aforementioned father.
My mom did have a good reason for his behaviour. She told me how strict his father is at home, having a very strict regulation and a list of chores to do for his every child after school. And the logic goes like this: the child has no time to play with his friends after school, deprived of his creative time, uses his time away from home at school to play. A simple but valid logic, is not it?
There was another girl, who I loved dearly, having known her family background. She was quite frank, and I often heard a few remarks from her on her step father (her mother, also one of the teachers in the school was divorced by her father, married to a new husband) and when the boys made jokes on her biological father, she sometimes told them that her father is dead, which I know for sure is not. I told my mom about that, and my mother sighed. That was how she released the pressure of whatever happened to her family. Good that she is frank like that, expressing whatever she thought, but my mom was concern of her elder sister, one year older, who was a little bit reserved. Keeping everything inside is not good, and having the mother’s attention diverted to a new man would for sure have and impact on her.
There are a lot of stories I learn about my pupils, and every time I listened to those stories, which I still get updates from my mother every now and then– I become more grateful of what I have. Discussing on the problem my mom faces with the parents every day makes me aware, that is the type of people that is living outside there – who one day I have to face and hopefully able to change – after all, you cannot urge the student to come to school everyday instead of going around mandi sungai when you go to their house trying to solve the problem with the parents, just to find that the parents are not yet awake at 11 am in the morning. How would you change the mindset of people who don’t really care if their children do not go to school for three weeks in a row, but only busy coming to school when there are subsidy to be given? How could you tell the children that they have a better world waiting for them if only they work hard to get there, when all they see around them are school left-outs who love to merempit?
That is reality. My people. *Sigh*