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Sunday, May 19, 2013

Two Children Labelled "C"

I have 2 little C's. There is a Boy C. Let's call him Charles. There is a Girl C. Let's call her Crystal.

Crystal came to us defiant and guarded. Her body language communicated repressed antagonism. It seemed to me that she expected to be scolded and she didn't care if she was. She made very clear to us that she hated the English language.

Crystal had sometimes failed English in previous years. When she wrote her first composition for me, I understood why. The sentences looked like English but weren't English. In fact, they weren't in any language that I understood. Sometimes, one can figure out the meaning of a text written by Singaporeans, by reverse translating into Chinese. It didn't make sense in Chinese. It didn't make sense in English.

I found this skittish and scrawny little girl very endearing. She was a natural leader amongst her peers and if the group were up to something naughty (like when she got them all to copy down the model answers when I was upstairs) you can be sure that this one masterminded it. When I came downstairs she peered up at me through her glasses and the look was there again... "Come on! Scold me! I'm ready." I could almost hear the song "Hit me baby! One more time!"

This girl had that much drive and determination.

She was also very starved for approval and affection. We fed her huge HUGE dollops of approval and affection. It was really so easy from there, to harness her drive for English. Once we had harnessed her energy and channeled it towards work, she became a real blessing. We could pretty much leave it to her to boss her less driven classmates into good behavior and focused work. After a bit, Crystal's body language changed to that of a busy puppy. She was always bouncing around and getting things done. Very bossy little girl, that one!!

Yesterday, Crystal was over the moon when she announced her English SA1 results to me. For the first time in her life, she saw other people fail in English, but not her. For the very first time too, she scored 14/20 for English composition. This is her highest composition mark ever.

There's still some way to go before she reaches the top but she has some time before she gets to PSLE and she is very determined to improve. Since I don't run classes during the school holidays, Crystal has decided to read. I was most pleased when she shared with me her very very ambitious reading list.

Charles came to us compliant on the surface. He always smiled and nodded his head. There never was any head- on confrontation. Charles was the master of passive resistance. This boy devised ingenious excuses for why work was not done or half done. Convincing excuses that only began to look fishy because excuses were offered week after week... all different and all convincing.

Charles tried to make me believe that he could do no better than the lousy work he handed up week after week, if at all.

I knew better.

There are ways to make naughty children forget play just long enough to do good work for a couple of hours. If you've done good work for me even ONCE, I know where your capability lies. New students are always scaffolded in a way that lets me see what their best effort can give. Charles gave me excellent work at December 2012's Dr Pet's Compo Workshop and when I compared the quality of his weekly English Enrichment homework with the piece he gave me in December, I knew he was just being lazy.

When I discussed with Charles' mommy, she said, "He is sooooooo lazy! Every single Teacher says he's lazy!" Alright, so we had to fix that first.

I won't pretend that Charles was an easy child to manage. He caused me some headaches (but his class facilitator adored him)... and he caused his Mother much heartache. His Mother said "I've given up. I don't want to care anymore."

Even for me (unlike with Crystal, who was easy to resolve) Charles was a tough nut to crack. It was really not easy to harness his very strong will and agile mind... and channel it towards excelling at English.

Don't Fight With Strong-Willed Children
The thing though is that both Charles and Crystal are strong-willed children. In Dr Pet's English Enrichment, the children play games. Sometimes it's a water balloon fight. Other times, it's to beat the other team to capture the flag. Yet other times, they play to see whose parachute stays up the longest... or which team can make a glue bubble tower taller than the other.

Charles' team wins... EVERY TIME. It amazes even me. When you've half explained the rules of the game Charles' eyes have lit up. He already knows what strategy to use to get his win. The second you complete your last sentence explaining the rules, Charles has begun to organise his team. He is the most popular boy in class. Where he leads, the others follow willingly. On the word "Go!" every single child on Charles' team knows what to do.

Most people don't realise that it is futile to fight with such children as Charles and Crystal. Such children will never tire of fighting you... the adult. If you're at cross purposes with such children, you grow white hairs faster and you also retard the children's development. Whatever energy they spend fighting you, they won't use to grow their minds and their character. Fight with such children... yell at them... punish them.... and all you'll accomplish is that YOU will look stupid and ineffective, and they will learn nothing from you.

With children like Charles and Crystal, you've somehow gotta get these kids to WANT what is good for them. Once they want it, you can just leave them alone to get it. They might even bug their adults to do their part properly so that we don't stand in the way of what they want to do.

A breakthrough came when Charles' mommy told me one day, "Last Thursday, my son called me at work and told me that I MUST NOT be late to fetch him from school. He said he needed time to do Dr Pet's homework properly."

Charles came in 2nd in class for his English composition at his mid-year exams. I think his whole family is in shock... including Charles himself. Even then, my assessment is that Charles is performing nowhere near his true potential. This one can do much better. His mother told him to aim for first in class for English. I smiled and patted his head. Then I whispered, "A boy that wins EVERY one of Dr Pet's crazy games can do better. I've seen you play. I know how clever you are. You go and get me the top mark in the LEVEL... not just in class."

Now we sit back... wait and see. He may get there or he may not. Intellectually, he can. The question is, does he want to?

Is It Important To Top The Level?
Whether Charles gets to the top in level in English composition, is not important, I think. Of course, it would make him feel good for a while... and it would give him much status among his peers if he did. It would also change how his Teachers view him... and when Teachers view you differently, they treat you differently. That can make school more comfortable for him in the short term.

However, in the bigger scheme of things I doubt it would make a difference to how successful this boy will one day become. Yes... I used "will". I didn't use "may". You see... I envision Charles as an intrepid entrepreneur, not good at following rules invented by others but ready to make up his own for others to follow. When you play by his rules, and on his team, you will win. Really, even if he doesn't top his level in English, I think he will be someone to watch out for.

Businessman of the Year 2033?

It might actually be a blessing if he stays an average student because that would mean he is more likely to keep that little bit of maverick in him that makes him special.

Gives Meaning to Life
My 2 little C's have made me happy.

There are times when I question my worth. I've put 2 decades of my life into my family (tending to the children and supporting my husband) and I have made serious career sacrifices as a result. Of course, I did always work part-time but like every other stay-at-home mom, I feel like an Invisible Woman. When I go out with my husband, no one knows my name. I am known by his. When I speak to my children's Teachers, I am so-and-so's Mom. They too don't know my name. People show up asking for free advice... free talks... free courses... and that makes me feel like my advice is not worth paying for. I am the woman who grows echinacea tea, freezes Mexican Pulled Pork and sometimes wakes up at 4 am to shape a brioche for breakfast. The Husband is kind. He comforts me by saying that if nothing else I have done matters, at least I have raised 2 good kids who love us deeply.

It's nice to know I also made a small difference to my 2 little Cs... and as time passes, there will be more little kids whose little hurt lives I will touch and make whole again.


Anonymous said...

you're a marvel Petunia :)

Petunia Lee said...

Theanne - Wow... gee... thanks!

Fresh Fry aka 福星 said...

As I read this entry, I see myself in the 2 of them. I almost teared as I read this entry.

I feel like you really know me.

Because of the lack of any good kismet, I'm the runt of the family - my brother is a doctor, my sister is a PhD scientist.

I'm just a partial 'A' level semi-graduate.

Nevermind all the good I have, all the soft skills I have, I'll never match up to my siblings. And I'm the eldest in the family.

My parents gave me endless grief, and I'm labelled unfilial for all the shouting matches with them.

If you + your book comes out earlier, maybe, just maybe, 35 years of my life won't be as sad. And it's still sad as long as I'm living with my parents.

You've done a huge credit to many Asian families. It must have been difficult for you to pass the era of feeling invisible.

I'm the invisible child in the family too, despite being the firstborn. I know exactly what you mean.

Go on and help many other poor kids like how I suffered in my childhood and youth. And now still.

You're a God-send.

You really is. :)

Open Kitchen Concept said...

You are SOO MUCH more than someone's wife and a mother (although that is a LOT)... you are a writer and an inspiration to so many of us!

Malar said...

Petunia, I adore you so much! Your book give me a lot of information to educate my son!
You're great!

Jo Fong said...

The 2nd last paragraph of this blog entry strikes a chord in my heart.