Love's labour not lost


  • Education
  • Sunday, 29 Jun 2003

DIFFERENT STROKES: Every child has a different temperament, talents and learning abilities, and parents  

and teachers should try their best not to put children in a pressure cooker, especially at school.  

AS a parent and retired teacher with 30 years of teaching experience, I felt sad reading about the 11-year-old who attempted to take her own life because she had lost her homework. According to newspaper reports, she feared getting a scolding from her teacher, and ridicule from her peers. 

It is sad that life has become a pressure cooker for children. And it is time parents, teachers and society make a concerted effort to do something about it. 

As parents, we must know our children. Individuals are as different as thumbprints, and each has a unique personality. One child may be bold, extroverted and not care too much about making mistakes, while another may be shy, introverted and sensitive. The sensitive child needs a little help to cope with life. 

This, however, does not mean that we should shield a child from problems or mistakes, for sooner or later he will have to face the harsh realities of life. What it does mean is that we need to know a child’s orientation from pre-school age, and through guidance and encouragement, prepare him for school, where peer pressure begins.  

Peers, unfortunately, can be merciless, and are often ignorant of the consequences of their actions. Many have not been taught by their parents to be considerate of others’ feelings.  

While we cannot fight against the crowd, we can do our part to equip our children with the right perspective in life. We need to tell our children that it is all right to make mistakes.  

A child who is struggling with his schoolwork needs to be assured that not everyone excels in their lessons; we are all different, and our talents may lie somewhere else, other than in scoring high marks. 

Timid children need help in understanding that punishment is part of discipline, and that when it does come, it should be accepted, and then put behind them. Unfortunately, many parents today neither have the time nor the patience to explain all this to their children. 

In the classroom, the teacher is faced with a different kind of task. His main task after each lesson is to assign homework, and to see that it gets done. The dilemma of the teacher is that while the more playful children may not take him seriously, the timid ones usually do. And sometimes the timid ones get punished, along with everyone else. Teachers often work hard at keeping wayward children in line while giving special consideration to timid pupils, without practising double standards. This is a labour of love. 

As an art teacher (something which, for some strange reason, many students dread) for close to 30 years, I have faced many such challenges. One of them is dealing with students who do not bring their art materials. 

Excuse a student once, and you can expect half the class not to bring their materials the following week. Yet, if you put your foot down and punish one student (whom you have reason to believe has “deliberately forgotten” to bring his materials), the following week you may have to mete out the same punishment to a timid student who genuinely forgot. 

I used to keep a “Book of Forgetfulness” in which I recorded the names of students who “forgot” to bring materials, allowing each student to forget up to three times in a year before punishing them. 

Many students quickly used up their quota, and I knew some were taking me for a ride. But better to err on the side of mercy than to be harsh in judgement. And to make sure that the ride did not go too far, students who forgot their materials were not allowed to do other work, not even to read a book. They could either help their friends do their art, or go to sleep. That might seem a waste of two precious periods, but to allow students to spend the two periods as they wished would be defeating the purpose. Sadly, many would not hesitate to sacrifice two periods of art just to catch up on Mathematics, which I also taught. 

Naughty students soon learned to grin for a while, and then fall asleep. Their friends would grin along with them while going about their painting. It may seem like a lot of trouble to take just to keep two art periods going, but I knew that among the many names in my “Book of Forgetfulness” were those of some timid girls who genuinely forgot to bring their materials, and who were probably thankful that they could help their friends to paint instead of having to stand in front of the class. 

Every piece of art the students handed in was graded and recorded in my Record Book. The following week, good art pieces were shown to the class and then pinned on the notice board. After that, ridiculous pieces of work would also be shown, and everyone would have a good laugh. Because we had already established that not everyone had to be good in art, and because I took great care not to make light of students who were genuinely trying, no one had hard feelings.  

Along with such sessions on “art appreciation” came lessons on responsibility and helping one another. The reward was when ex-students came back many years later to tell what art teachers love to hear: “Sir, you have taught me to like art.” 

In my Maths class, I was very particular about doing assignments in the correct exercise book. Exercises meant for Book One should not be done in Book Two and vice versa, so that when the time came for revision, everyone knew exactly where to find the topic the teacher was discussing.  

Students, being students, would invariably do their assignments in the wrong book. It would be easier for everyone, and certainly for my blood pressure, to simply forgive and forget and get on with life. But it would also mean a lost opportunity to instil in students the necessity to mean what we say and say what we mean. 

At the beginning of each year, it usually took a long time (and considerable effort) to establish some kind of order.  

Consequently, we were usually behind other classes at the end of the first term. 

But come second term, a miracle would take place. Lessons would flow smoothly and exercise books be neat and orderly. Soon, we would more than catch up with the others. In addition to that, discipline usually improved as students and teacher established better understanding. It was as if a little fuss over exercise books had yielded a bonus. 

Nothing comes easy. Guiding children is hard work, but hard work always has its rewards. Our children are our heritage. A little special consideration for the timid, a little guidance for the precocious, go a long way.  

Our children will grow up to thank us for it. Parents and teachers play complementary roles. Parents must help their children develop their resilience before they go to school to face life’s challenges. Teachers will then take over.  

HAPPY LABOURER Seremban  

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