As the new year begins, so does the back-to-school anxiety and worries about car-pooling, missing the bus, homework and exams. But what helps to alleviate end-of-holiday depression are the new uniforms and shoes, schoolbag and stationery, and the thought of seeing friends again.
For many families, getting ready for school revolves around the children only. However, in the case of Amir Sharifuddin Wong's family, it is a major undertaking and takes several months as both he and his wife, Nor Azian Zulkifli, are teachers. This means year-end meetings and planning of responsibilities at school.
Up to a few years ago, the task of putting their five kids through school was indeed a challenging task. Back-to-school shopping would begin as early as September and end in December with two sets of uniforms and shoes for each of the children.
“We wanted to avoid burning a huge hole in our pockets by buying everything at one go,” shares Nor Azian.
As each of their children complete secondary schooling, the load is gradually taken off their shoulders. Presently, the Wongs, who live in Ipoh, have two more children – Azizul Bakri and Azizul Azri – in secondary school who are all geared up for the new school year.
A new responsibility
Going back to school this year would bring about new challenges for Amir as he has been promoted to senior assistant and takes on the responsibility of being the caretaker of a new school, SMK Pinji, Ipoh.
Having devoted the entire holidays to monitoring inventories, drawing up the school’s mission and vision, arranging duties and timetables and looking into other aspects of setting up the new school, he is excited to see everything falling into place.
“Nobody gets a second chance to do this; it’s my first time and definitely a challenge. I hope all turns out well,” says Amir who is also very involved with the Football Association of Malaysia (FAM) as a football Match Inspector.
“It takes a lot of scheduling, prioritising and using my time to the fullest to juggle everything. But it's exciting and I'm looking forward to school re-opening as we’re all embarking on new responsibilities at the same time,” he adds.
And it was both work and family that kept him busy during the recent school holidays.
Having to provide a continuous supply of stationery for everyone in the family as well as new uniforms each year, Amir and his wife are often on the look out for good back-to-school promotions.
“My wife does most of the purchasing because she knows where to go for the cheapest uniforms and shoes, while making sure they’re of good quality,” says Amir.
Travelling for an hour to his hometown in Sungai Besar, they shop for uniforms, shoes, socks, school bags and stationery with a RM120 budget for each child.
As a parent, Amir believes in laying the right foundation for his children. ”I teach them what is important, then let them set their own objectives and assist without pressuring them.” This is to ensure he doesn't end up with a “highly qualified individual but lose the child.''
Amir says that being strict without reason would only create a vacuum and widen the communication gap between parent and child. “Be positive, patient and understanding. Most importantly, be a friend to them,” he says.
The financial planner
Relying on their year-end bonus for their back-to-school shopping for five children several years ago took some financial juggling.
Nor Azian, the family’s financial planner, says a lot of sacrifices had to be made in order to cater for everyone in the family.
“We focused on each child individually by shopping for three older ones in September, one in October and the youngest in December.”
Now that there are only two more children in school, she breathes a sigh of relief and believes it was her “women’s instinct” that helped her pull through all these years.
“Not only do we need supplies for the kids, but also for ourselves, although we reuse and recycle most of our things so that we can spend more on the kids instead,” she adds.
What about hand-me-downs?
For the dedicated mother, buying new uniforms and shoes for her children is another form of incentive to get them to look forward to a new school year. But books are handed down if relevant.
“I don’t want them to feel embarrassed by wearing their siblings’ uniforms which may not fit them well,'' she says. However, their children are not brand conscious, which is a relief for her when it comes to shopping.
“I know of students who want only certain brands and make their parents spend a fortune on stationery which later goes missing.”
An English and Moral Education teacher at SMK Seri Ampang where both her sons are studying, she is as excited as her kids to embark on the new school year.
“I will be using the new laptop and LCD to make my lessons more interesting for the students,” she says. Nor Azian is happy about the move to raise the standard of English through ICT in schools.
She is particularly looking forward to having her boys with her and she knows she can count on them for the teenagers' perspective when she encounters problems with her students.
Noticing that many students lack love and attention which results in truancy and other teenage problems, she and Amir are careful in how they guide their own children.
“I learnt not to jump to conclusions and to understand why teenagers behave in certain ways. Being around my students, I am reminded of what it's like to be young,” she adds.
Constant affirmation of her children’s achievements has also paid off for both parents. “They listen to me and do not get involved in drugs or become problematic; they rarely go against me or their father.”
On involvement in their children’s homework, Nor Azian says that proper guidance makes it easier for the kids to avoid last minute cramming. They help their children by determining the duration and resources needed for an assignment.
“Finally, praise your child for the effort. This can go a long way towards motivating a student to complete his assignments,” she adds.
New kid on the block
Starting the year at a new school excites 13-year old Azizul Bakri although he admits to having butterflies in his stomach.
“Most of my friends from primary school would be going to the same secondary school so I won’t feel like an alien,” he says, adding that making new friends would be fun too.
However, being in a totally new environment where he’s no longer “senior” to the rest of the kids needs getting used to.
Azizul fears being bullied by the “bigger boys” in Form Five and finds refuge in knowing that his mother and elder brother would be on the same premises.
“Since my brother is a school prefect and has a strong physique, I trust that he can take care of me,” he quips.
With two new sets of uniform and shoes for the reopening of school tomorrow, Bakri is thankful that his parents provide him with the support he needs.
“It’s nice to go to school feeling brand new. However, I wish I could wear my new Adidas shoes to school instead because it looks more happening,” he says.
Going to the same school where his mother is a teacher means he has to really behave himself. “She’ll surely be keeping an eye on me,” says Bakri.
Having mom around would also add pressure on him to perform academically. “I wouldn’t want to come home with bad grades and make my parents upset. Because they are teachers, everyone expects us to excel in our studies and be really well behaved,” said Bakri.
As the youngest in the family, he hopes to live-up to the family’s tradition of doing well in school. “My sister and brothers all did well in their exams so I must not break the cycle.''
Looking back on the PMR examination fever more than a year ago, Azizul Azri, 17, anticipates more stress leading up to the Sijil Pelajaran Malaysia (SPM) examination he will be facing at the end of the year.
However, he has it all planned out. “I’ll be attending tuition classes for some of the more important subjects, concentrate in class and do some extra work on my own in the form of past year papers.”
However, no exam will deprive him of his time with his friends or playing football.
“I’m like my father. We love the game (football). Besides, there should always be a balance of time spent between my studies and social life,” says Azizul.
He is, however, conscious that the SPM is looming and he must not let his parents down, “especially with them being teachers.”
Having been in the same school as his mother for the past four years hasn't curtailed his movements. But he makes a conscious effort to always think before he acts.
“My mother always gives me the freedom to be myself in school and there is no reason to misuse that freedom and trust.''
On the advantages of having his mother as his school teacher, Azri says: “I have a closer bond with my teachers as they are my mother’s friends as well. But that doesn't mean I can get away with not doing my homework!”
For the rest of the kids – Nor Azlina, 23, Azizul Fikri, 21, Azizul Khairi, 19 – they unanimously agree that their parents have done a great job in bringing them up.
“Being the eldest child and only daughter, I help my mom shop for uniforms and other school supplies. My parents always have everything under control,” says Nor Azlina who is now working at an engineering firm in Kuala Lumpur.
The night before school reopens, the Wongs would be busy making sure that everything is in order – their bags packed and clothes ironed for the next day.
“To avoid chaos, we ensure that everyone takes responsibility for his own preparation and I check on the kids once I’m done, just in case,” says Nor Azian with a smile.