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Sunday, October 30, 2016

How To Study

My friend wrote this morning requesting that I teach people how to study. My first instinct was to think, "Why would anyone want to learn to study? Should we not learn how to learn?" Then, I thought about it further and asked, "What is the difference between study and learn? I googled and found the following...

This is a very interesting question, especially for those of you who are learning or studying English. So what are the differences?
Let’s start by looking at the definitions:
To Learn – to gain knowledge or skill by studying, practicing, being taught, or experiencing something.
To Study – to read, memorize facts, attend school, etc., in order to learn about a subject.
Therefore studying is one way to learn.
This is why we can say “I studied but I didn’t learn anything”. It means I memorized facts or read about a subject, but for some reason did not gain any new knowledge or skills.
So why is it important to know the difference? Because you, the student, must concentrate on the final objective: learning. You want to learn English. Therefore, you must find the best way to gain this goal; maybe studying grammar for hours will not work. So you will be studying but not learning. You must find which is the best way for you to learn!
Source HERE.
I thought the above expressed very well my disdain for studying. You can really study a lot and learn nothing. Conversely, you can learn a lot without studying. Isn't that infinitely more preferable?

After putting out my post on GE vs Hi-Po, a couple of GEP alumni from the early years of the program (before program expansion) got in touch with me. So started a mind-provoking conversation that ranged far and wide (in which I learnt much). One of the things I learnt related to "unschooling". Read THIS to understand unschooling.

I did not know that I had actually unschooled both my children. I only knew the term homeschooling.

The Daughter

The Daughter was in the bottom 25% of her cohort in P3. We sincerely believed that she was intellectually limited because she appeared to study so hard only to learn nothing at all. I was a young mother. Lost. Afraid. I prayed very hard and God moved.
Our family was sent to the USA for 1 year. The equivalent P4 classes were about 2 years behind the Singapore system. I decided to homeschool her. I downloaded the Singapore syllabus for each subject and filed them. I would tell her what topics we would cover that week and then, we would pick books from the library for her to read. We had 2 libraries within 5 minutes from our house. One of them was a central lending library (i.e., it was a library that lent to other libraries).
She would read the books and brief me. We would chat as I vacuumed the floor and made our beds. We worked intensively for 2 hours every morning and for the rest of the day, we went out. We chased ducks, went fishing, explored the herb garden, dug up ant hills (not recommended), scraped pollen off cars. We learnt that one should not pat baby goslings because the mother goose bites and she can run very fast too.
I fully expected The Daughter to stay in the bottom 25% of her cohort at the P5 mid-year exams. Till today, I have not got over the shock of her P5 mid-year results. She topped her class in all 4 subjects. Till today, The Daughter holds within her the scathing memory of me saying, "You must have topped because they were easy papers. The real PSLE will not be so easy."
Well... I suppose that is what I mean by learning a lot without studying.

The Son
In 2009, The Son brought home a report book that set off a nuclear explosion of negative emotion like a Hiroshima mushroom cloud hanging over our dining table. Desperate to help him, I did what I did with The Daughter. I unschooled him. I lied to his school about needing to go overseas. Yes, judge me if you will. I lied and lied and lied. I kept him home in 2010 (Primary 4) and unschooled him for 5 months, sending him back to school for SA1 and SA2. He ended P4 8th in class. In Primary 5, I unschooled him for 4 months. Again, I lied to the school. He ended Primary 5 2nd in class.

Unschooling Science
I bought a set of very well written Science guidebooks, now no longer in print. See photo below. These guidebooks are very interesting to read. If materials bored me, I assumed they would bore my kids and I would throw them away without asking my children to read. To me, their time was important and I did not want to waste their time doing boring things.

I gave The Son some post-its. He read the books and marked out with post-its all the sections that stimulated further questions that he was excited to learn about. He would then google to get answers to these questions. I didn't care that his self-derived questions were not strictly within the syllabus. It did not matter to me that when he was reading up on Forces, he had branched off into guns - flintlock guns, matchlock guns... different ways bullets exited guns. I didn't care that his self-derived questions touched on why birds could sit on live electrical wires without getting barbecued by the high voltage. Somehow and somewhere, I had faith that his curiosity would cover the whole PSLE domain. I also gave him free rein to conduct science experiments, limiting my involvement to purchasing the materials he needed, e.g, if he wanted to do a fish dissection, I would be in charge of buying the fish.
He was adamant to be the one to conduct these experiments. I was worried that he might cut himself with the knife for the fish dissection and I muscled him out of the way and did the dissection myself. This lead to a major meltdown and I capitulated. I went out the next morning to buy a new fish (a much bigger fish so that his clumsy hands could better dissect without danger to himself). The moment I came through the door, he grabbed the fish, ran to the toilet and locked the door. There was no way he was going to let me steal his joy of learning again.
On another occasion, he dismantled an old Ikea table and informed me that he wanted to conduct an experiment in fluid mechanics. It sounded impressive so I said "Ok!" He proceeded to have great fun rafting up and down the swimming pool.
Whatever it is, The Son subsequently went on to top just about every single Science exam that came his way... at least top 3. By P6, his thirst for knowledge was such that he was reading research papers downloaded from my university's research paper database.
So, there we have it... the mysterious power of unschooling reared its beautiful head again to bless The Son as it had blessed The Daughter.

How Does It Work?
I don't know.
What I do know is that both The Son and The Daughter have learnt how to learn. They don't need teachers to learn. They know how to follow their own curiosity (because I allowed them to do so) and their own passions. The Son has recently won a couple thousand dollars in this or that software coding competitions. He learnt to code programs from the internet and he infected his friends with his passion so he had people to discuss coding with and make apps together. I did not have to pay for a single day of coding class.

He failed Math early last year but had decided that it was a weakness he needed to shore up in view of his longer term life goals. I offered him Math tuition 3 times and he said, "No". This year has ended and he is near the top of his class in Math.
The Daughter too, having been unschooled, is adept at generating questions and looking for answers.

Can Children of All IQ Do This?
I don't know.
Conversations with GE Alumni throw up suggestions that The Son demonstrates the traits of a GE kid, and that my own refusal to conform and my outlandish oddball insights are also GE traits. Though I still doubt any of us are GE, I must admit that both my children are reasonably above average.

So, perhaps unschooling works for kids like mine but if you had a kid that needed to be told everything, then conventional school may give you better results. 
In our case, conventional school did not give us results but unschooling paid off spectacularly well.
I have no answers to the above questions but I am excited to test a few things out in my mixed ability classes when 2017 comes around.

Do As I Say, Don't Do What I Do

I would hate to be responsible for anything that may go wrong with children's academic journeys if parents followed my example in "unschooling". This blog has many posts that detail more conventional methods of teaching and learning. We used those methods too and I know and could explain why they worked.

I am not advocating unschooling as THE WAY, mostly because I haven't quite been able to articulate to myself why it worked. So please do not pull your children out of school to unschool them after reading this post.
Simply, just for fun, make time for children to do the things we did during unschooling. That way, you have the best of both worlds - (1) potential benefits from unschooling (2) the security of conventional methods.

Thursday, October 27, 2016

Crispy Codfish With Salted Egg Yolk Sauce and Crispy Curry Leaves

This post is written at the specific request of NH from the celiac FB Group.

Four salted duck eggs.


Hard boil the salted duck eggs

Remove the yolks and mash.

Add cream till a paste is formed.

Curry leaves.


Fry curry leaves in butter over small fire. Once curry leaves are crispy. Strain the butter. The fragrance of the leaves will be in the butter. Add the salted egg yolk paste. Whisk over small fire till combined. Pour over deep fried fish. Top with crispy curry leaves.

Eggs Benedict

I did not know that hollandaise sauce was free of gluten. It is! Recipe HERE.

Tuesday, October 25, 2016

GEP vs Mainstream High Potential Kids

As the years go by, I get more and more GE and Hi-Potential students in my classes. This is not surprising given the emphasis on Higher Order Thinking. The GE and Hi-Po find this program fun instead of stressful. The GE and Hi-Po find it stimulating instead of demanding. In the Primary 4 2016 cohort, 25% of my students are GE. Another 25% of my students are clearly Hi-Potential. Given that GE and Hi-Po are together only about 2% of the general student population, these proportions are way over-represented.

Don't get me wrong. I don't administer IQ tests. My intake starts in P3, where no one has even been tested for GEP yet. At that point, there is no way to tell who is GE and Hi-Po. I enrol students on a First Come First Serve basis. It is still a mystery to me why I am getting so many GE and Hi-Po.

Increased interaction with such students have lead me to observe the following attitudinal damage sustained by GE students, which Hi-Potential students (who may have made it into the GE but refused to join OR who may have been almost GE) escape.

Lower Self-Expectations

The GE kids who join me in P3 invariably come with a great deal of enthusiasm and have high standards of themselves. They expect themselves to be the best in my class. Halfway through Primary 4, their attitudes change. They temper these expectations of themselves, telling themselves that it is enough to get by.

My guess is that within the GE programme, GE kids learn to temper their own expectations. Only the top of the top in the GE develops and maintains a winner's attitude. So far, I have had only ONE GE kid in this category. The rest of the GE kids learn to get by because it just is too hard to be at the top.

These GE children who have learnt to get by don't bat an eyelid when I tell them that an assignment is sub-par. After all, they just want to get by. Meanwhile, my mainstream hi-potential are surprised when they don't do well in my assignments and in the next assignment, they rectify the issues. Not surprisingly, by end of P4, some of my Hi-Po have outstripped the GEP in their progress with me. Since we archive every HW assignment in soft copy and we teach each child exactly to the child's own pace (yes, I know people think it is impossible but we do really teach each child to his/her own pace and I would not dare to lie because my students' parents who read my blog, would call me out), the difference in progress is very clear to us.

This attitude of merely expecting to get by, is not good.

My own 2 kids are NOT GE but they work for and expect to be top. When The Daughter tells us that she did not do well, what she really means is that she is not in the top 10 of the cohort. When The Son tells me that he did not do well, what he means is that he is not the top 5 in class.

Having these self-expectations mean that my kids try hard to be the best that they can be in everything that they do. They don't do things just to get by. They choose activities they love and work to win. They may not always win but that does not bother them because it does not bother me, but they clearly set high goals, instead of expecting to get by.

As such, The Son, despite NOT being GE and being known as one of the "dumb" ones in primary school, obtained a research internship in a research lab staffed by PhDs from all over the world. He is only 15. What happened to all the GE kids? Why didn't they get this choice opportunity? The Daughter, also not GE, obtained 8 A level distinctions and has a job offer before graduation, in an economy where graduates cannot find work.

It is often said that one's attitude in life determines one's altitude in life. No?

What you expect to achieve, you somehow do. I think it is tragic that the GEP kills high self-expectations in our GE kids. These are kids who came in P3 EXPECTING to win and ACTUALLY were winning. By the end of P4, there is a stark change in their attitudes, and their progress flags accordingly.

Tendency to Conserve Effort

There is so much happening in GEP. GE kids are normally REALLY good at some subjects and only above average in others. The GE teaches them at GE standard across all 4 subjects. The work is challenging and there is a lot of it to do. GE kids get tired by end of P4. Their enthusiasm for academic activities wane and they start asking, "Why should I work so hard?"

I don't blame them. I love blogging and am reasonably good at it, but if you made me do a LOT OF BLOGGING, I would also ask, "Why should I blog so hard?"

A Sense of Being Set Apart
By P5, the GE child (despite lowered self-expectations of his/her own performance) begins to develop a sense of being set apart. In our centre, we nip this attitude in the bud because our GE and Hi-po are groomed to lead the other kids. No one will willingly be influenced by you, if your attitude is, "I am set apart."

I kid you not. A P5 GEP said, when I told him that some of the easier questions in the PSLE exam required simplicity, "I am used to thinking through complex geometric puzzles. Don't expect me to think simply."

At that stage, 2 of my Hi-Po kids had already completed our module on Expository Writing in anticipation of Secondary 1 demands in Literature, History and Geography. This GEP had not even started the module. Yet, he felt himself set apart and made it clear to us that he was.

This attitude of Us and Them rives fractures in teams when I make a GE kid a group leader. Happily enough, because our classes operate on teamwork, we have slowly and successfully been able to re-mould this attitude.

I worry for this boy, you know. What will working life be like for him?

Case Study 1
In a previous cohort, I had a GE kid who hated to be in GEP. He was so miserable that his doting mother pulled him out and placed him in another school with a class meant for GEP eligible kids who had refused to join the GEP. He was rather good in English and being none too interested, he was happy to be simply rather good. With no effort at all, an "A" was in the pocket. The A*, no way. However, with the extra time freed up (since the mainstream syllabus was so easy) he had time to self-direct himself into winning...
- Math Olympiads (in P4, he competed with P5 kids and won)
- Science Olympiads
- Chess competitions
- Fencing competitions
... and he spent hours amusing himself with Strategy Games. He eventually received 13 DSA offers.

Contrast this with another GEP in a current cohort, who stayed in the program and had to work to reach GEP standards in all 4 subjects. He agreed to Advanced Science and Advanced Math. He was stretched every which way and only managed a single bronze at one Math Olympiad. Despite being still IN the GEP, I am not sure he will get any DSA.

Case Study 2
These are 2 brothers. The older brother qualified for and accepted to go into GEP. By Secondary 3, his attitude to work could only be summed up thus, "Mom, I intend to put in just enough effort to pass. Don't worry. I'll manage." Meanwhile, his school had sent an ultimatum, "Pass Math by the end of the year or you will be dropped into the Express stream." I coached the Mother over a period of a few months on email and phone. By the end of the year, he scored 98% for Math. He was clearly highly intelligent.

However, afterwards, he again plodded along lacklustrely. The crisis was over. He could stay in IP and he was happy to just get by.

After seeing the attitudinal damage done to her elder son, the 2nd son was not allowed to go into GEP, despite qualifying. He stayed in his school and was placed in a class for kids who rejected their GEP places. There, he had time to excel at golf, at drawing and he had time to write novels, plays and haikus. If Petunia had competed with him to get into SOTA by strength of writing portfolio alone, I would have lost. He is today in HCI and has been assigned a mentor to further groom him in Creative Writing.

Again, I doubt his current mentor would mentor me.

Damage Is Attitudinal
I teach children of every calibre. Our classes are designed such that mixed ability is USED and EXPLOITED for overall educational value. We have a system where we are able to teach the child to his/her own pace academically (whilst using mixed ability features of the class to educate children in peer influence and other human qualities).

To me, the damage to the attitudes and emotional world views of our BRIGHTEST children is very clear. I see it because I teach them all in the same class so I can see the differences in attitudes. Also, unless I arrange/encourage a departure, my students tend to stay from P3 to P6... so I can see how their attitudes change over the months.

This attitudinal damage is a national tragedy.

Monday, October 24, 2016

Boy Suicides

Fathers Have A Role To Play Too

In the past year or so, there have been quite a few newspaper reports of child suicides. There was the 15 year old boy who killed himself after being investigated for molest. There was another Pri 5 boy who jumped to his death on the day that he was supposed to collect his results to show his parents. Recently, the Yale-NUS student who killed himself was also male. It occurred to me then that boys seem more likely to kill themselves than girls.

Statistics do show that to be true. Girls have more suicide ideation. Boys have more suicide action.

I have always had an intuitive sense that boys are emotionally fragile. When The Daughter was little, she would cry at the slightest provocation. Things then happened around her. People would comfort her, and whatever stimulus that was causing the tears would be removed immediately. The Son was different. He would bear it stoically, clenching his fists and showing no emotion as much as possible. He would try to cope. We were also less gentle with The Son because he was a boy and we all expected him to be a real boy.

This was especially true at swimming class. Mr. G was an ex-Navy man. We sent The Daughter to him for swimming lessons. She sat at the edge of the pool, looking afraid. Mr. G noted that The Daughter was afraid. He opened his arms and sang, "Tell XXXX I love her... Tell XXXX I need her..."... and then he said, "Jump! I will catch you!" The Daughter never looked back.

When it came to The Son's turn, he sat at the pool looking brave. Mr. G (being an ex-Navy man) gave no quarter to a fellow male. He ordered, "Jump!" and my son swallowed twice and jumped. I knew he was afraid but I did not want to intervene because no Mother wants a cowardly son. The Son went through multiple dunkings and twice, he tried to explain to Mr. G his difficulties. Mr. G said, "I don't want to hear your explanations." After EIGHT weeks of weekly terror, The Son broke. He climbed out of the pool gasping through his tears and locked himself in the shower cubicle. There was no way to make him go back to Mr. G's swimming class. He had had ENOUGH and had taken action.

I felt bad for him so I promised that I would teach him to swim myself. Frankly, I was amazed that he tolerated hell for 8 lessons without any tears until that last day. When he broke, he really broke. After Lesson 1, I left The Daughter in the care of Mr. G to go and do my own things. Up until the 8th lesson, I was sitting under an umbrella, eyes fixed on my son. I somehow knew how afraid he was and I worried. He did not cry and looked like he was coping so I let the lessons continue.

With boys, you don't see it coming.

It isn't just social pressure that requires men and boys to be strong. Boys themselves don't want to look weak. I chatted with The Son one day when he was in Primary 4.

Me: You're so cute, my son. You're just like a teddy bear. If you were a teddy bear, what kind of teddy would you like to be? Winnie the Pooh? Yogi Bear?

The Son (frowning): I don't want to be cute. I don't want to be a teddy bear.

Me: Huh? Then what would you like to be?

The Son: I want to be a big tree. It is big and strong.

So, boys tend to hide their emotional pain. They don't speak of their fears or what is shredding them apart inside. Over time, I learnt to discern the signs of my son's emotional distress in the way he held his shoulders and the line of his mouth. I would act immediately. For example, if he were talking to an adult and I noted his distress, I would go and stand next to him to eavesdrop on the conversation. Invariably, the adult was either asking him some uncomfortable questions or teasing him unkindly.

When he came home with a poor report book at the end of P3, I also knew that his heart was breaking inside. No one else knew. To any other's eyes but mine, The Son looked like he did not care. Only I could recognise those shoulders and the line of his mouth. The Husband has the same shoulders and line of mouth.

Male bodies may be stronger. Their hearts and their psychology are not. Mothers with boys must be aware of this and act accordingly to protect their sons (or at any rate, don't hurt their sons unnecessarily). Boy or girl, a child is a child and there is only so much a child can take without breaking.

Saturday, October 22, 2016

Gluten Free Artisanal Bread (Gumless)

I have stopped making gluten free bread using xanthan gum and guar gum. The gums irritate my intestinal tract and give me stomach cramps and diarrhoea. I now have a new recipe with psyllium husk and flaxseed meal.

Dry Ingredients
1 cup oat flour
1 cup sorghum flour
1/2 cup potato starch
1/2 cup tapioca starch
1/2 cup flax seed meal (buy the flax seed and blend into meal because flax seed meal turns rancid very fast)
1/2 cup psyllium husk
1/2 cup icing sugar
2 teaspoons yeast

Wet Ingredients
1 tablespoon olive oil
1 tablespoon vinegar
1 cup warm water

(1) Fit the kitchen machine with a dough hook.
(2) Mix all dry ingredients well inside the kitchen machine.
(3) Mix all wet ingredients in a large bowl.
(4) Add wet ingredients to dry ingredients.
(5) Switch on the machine and let the dough hook knead until the mixture becomes a ball.
(6) Divide the ball into 2 halves and shape into 2 round balls.
(7) Sprinkle oat flour atop each ball.
(8) Let rise on parchment paper till double in volume.
(9) Preheat a cast iron dutch oven in an oven at 200 DegC for 30 minutes.
(10) Transfer the dough into the hot dutch oven. Cover tightly with the lid.
(11) Bake at 200 Deg C for 15 minutes. Bring the temperature down to 140 Deg C for 40 minutes.

Let dough double in volume.

Preheat dutch oven for 30 minutes at 200 Deg C.

Transfer to Dutch Oven and bake (with lid on) at 200 Deg C for 15 minutes and a further 40 minutes at 150 Deg C.

Ode to My Helper

My new helper is worthy of my greatest respect and consideration. No, really! She has earned the regard of the entire family. We have had a patchy history with helpers. They stay with us between 6 to 8 years. The first 4 years are usually quite uneventful. After that, for some reason, they get themselves boyfriends and things get complicated.

One boyfriend climbed into the helper's bedroom from the HDB corridor and spent nights with her. A neighbour living opposite our HDB flat tipped us off. Another one came to us looking like a Plain Jane and in 4 years time, morphed into this petite and sexy thing with dresses costing $100+ in her cupboard. She was so attractive that men followed her home. On one occasion, 2 men fought over her at the traffic light junction and she needed to go and be a witness at the police station. The lasts straw came when she got herself molested in our lift and I had to bring her TWICE to the police station to look at a line-up of potential culprits.

I finally decided that I was getting to know the inside of the Jurong Police HQ a little too well.

Then, we had a very quiet but extraordinarily sloppy helper for another 6 years. Dust bunnies gathered under the tables. Shelves collected dust like the top of Mt Everest collects snow. After she had swept and mopped, the floors still had dust and debris. It took her all of 2 years to learn how to make ciabatta bread. She was not good with machines so we replaced 2 bread makers and 1 washing machine. I reckoned it was still ok because I don't have babies in the house... and if I closed one eye or asked her to re-mop the room a few times, we could still get the house rather clean.

It does not have to be THAT clean.

Then M came along 6 months ago, and she has been wonderful. When M mops the floor, she is thorough. It is really, really clean. It is cleaner than when I mop it myself and I pride myself to be a very thorough floor mopper.

I only need to show her twice how to make a dish and she can manage on her own. She spends her evenings writing down our recipes and even bugged me to let her grill the steaks. We really fell in love with her when we caught her staring deep into Milo's eyes, stroking his ears and whispering sweet nothings. She even powders our dog with the rose scented talc that I got for her. So twice a week, our dog runs around with face and head dusted in powder and smelling of roses. It reminds me of The Son as a toddler. We used to slap powder on his face after his bath and he used to look so cute with a half white face.

I am not the only one who respects and honours M. The Daughter (who used to buy economy rice with 2 veggies and one meat for the previous helper) now insists on queuing at stalls with good food. I surprised myself one day too. M loves roses. I bought her a bouquet of roses just to make her happy. I can afford it. If it makes her happy, it is worth the expense.

Why do we love M so much? Beyond the fact that she has high professional standards (i.e., not sloppy) she is also very kind to our dog. The first is enough to earn our respect because this is a family that respects competence and high work standards. The second warrants our affection and love.

Thursday, October 20, 2016

Big and Scary Dr. Pet

I am not sure I like that part about "witch". 
The Daughter used to think I was a mean old witch too. Yeah... brings back some not nice memories. Hmmmm...

He was a GEP who had been placed on advanced training in Science and Math. This meant that from amongst the GEP, the boy was identified as talent to be further groomed. He was simply one of those children who would interrupt you after he has heard 20% of what you are trying to explain, and then he would proceed to explain to you what you were going to say.

It didn't make him popular with the facilitators (all of whom found him odious) but after 2 years of teaching him, a soft spot for him had grown deep inside my heart.

The poor boy had been working 12 hour days 7 days a week. Even his GEP brain was maxed out. He did not have much emotional control to begin with, being one of those children with higher IQ than EQ... and when tired, he was like a cranky 3 month old... bursting into tears at the slightest provocation.

He just stood there with eyes streaming saying, "I really don't understand the comprehension passage", whilst other non-GEP children with REAL problems in language acquisition were studiously at work.

- You are tired. You aren't thinking anymore. This is the 3rd week in a row. Please withdraw from my class for your own good. You need to rest.

At this, he collapsed into a heap on my staircase and wailed...

- I cannot leave this class. This is the only time in the week where I am truly HAPPY!

At that, my heart broke. My classes are no piece of cake. The HW is demanding and I actually do throw badly done HW into the dustbin. If this demanding class with a FIERCE Dr. Pet was his oasis of happiness, what hell must be the rest of his life?!!!!!

Trying not to breathe in his pre-adolescent stale sweat, I gathered the Fat Little Boy into my arms and asked him questions to get him to verbalise all the toxic emotions in his heart. It is like lancing a boil you know. Before you put on a dressing, it helps to squeeze out all the pus. When he was done, I applied my dressing to his emotional wound...

- Next time, when you meet something that scares or stresses you, I want you to imagine Dr. Pet at her fattest, biggest and FIERCEST... and I am standing behind you protecting you from anything that might try to hurt you.

Apparently, it works. I have now become the children's virtual Protector Pet. I think I shall go tailor myself a cape to wear on my shoulders... or perhaps a pointy hat and a broomstick!

Monday, October 17, 2016

With The Breath of a Wok

The simplest dishes are the hardest to make. These are dishes that test one's skill and stretches the potential of one's kitchen equipment. For my entire adult life, I have envied the zi char cooks their kickass gas stoves that roar with a fire that gives wok fried dishes their "dragon breath"... that elusive breath of the wok. I don't have a commercial standard gas stove.

In no other dish is the presence of the breath of the wok so necessary than fried rice. I have never made good fried rice at home. Never.

Till now.

After decades of pining and desiring, I finally bought a Le Creuset #32 cast iron marmite and for the first time in my life, I made really good fried rice complete with "wok hei" and individual fluffy grains. Finally, I put fried rice on the dining table that smelled like a dragon had breathed gently over it. Cast iron really makes a huge difference to fried rice. Simple to make. Hard to do perfectly well.

The Mysteries of Gluten Poisoning

My health has gone from strength to strength since I stopped eating foods containing gluten - wheat, barley, spelt, couscous. What is gluten? See HERE.

Gluten's Effects on Me
Gluten's effects on my body are spectacularly negative. My small intestine becomes inflamed and I get stomach cramps and diarrhoea. It is the intestinal equivalent of someone using steel wool to scrape skin. For weeks and months after, my food absorption is compromised as the damaged intestinal lining needs to heal. Not only that, gluten sets off an auto-immune response. My body's immune cells attack my thyroid gland and my levels of thyroid hormone drops low. I feel an overwhelming sense of fatigue no matter how much I sleep.

Gluten's Effects on The Husband
The Husband ostensibly had no negative reaction to gluten. Nothing seemed to happen to him after eating gluten. However, since I am the cook in our home, everyone else eats what I eat. My kitchen must be completely gluten free because I cannot risk cross-contamination.

So, The Husband became largely gluten free too. We didn't notice much of a difference to his health.

However, one weekend, we went out for lunch where The Husband ingested an entire plate of pasta. For 5 days after that, The Husband felt bloated and uncomfortable. He was not a happy man that week. His belly ballooned outwards too. I was surprised. I had thought that his protruding belly was due to middle age bulge. The last thing I expected was a wheat belly on The Husband.

Mysterious Wheat
There are people out there arguing that celiac disease and gluten intolerance is all hype. I don't care what your research says. I know I feel ill when I eat gluten, sometimes unknowingly. The recipe of Indian thosai does not include gluten ingredients. I thought it was safe and ate 2. I was very ill for 5 days. It is not hype because I really fell ill. It is not me imagining my symptoms because I ate the thosai believing that there was no gluten in there.

The Husband too did not expect that one plate of pasta would make him feel bloated all week.

It really is all very mysterious.

There are also people who say that the culprit is not gluten but glyphosate. Apparently, glyphosate (a herbicide) is sprayed on wheat before harvesting. This kills the wheat stalks uniformly right across the whole field of wheat and ensure that the entire field will dry out evenly and at the same rate during harvest time. See HERE.

Glyphosate is not toxic to humans but it is toxic to bacteria. It wreaks havoc with all the beneficial bacteria in our guts and thus negatively impacts our digestive system. Is that why The Husband and I cannot tolerate wheat?

Oh well... who knows? Whatever it is, my children have also reduced their gluten intake by about 90%. Firstly, meals at home are gluten free. Secondly, they have stopped buying buns and cakes to eat as snacks.

Tuesday, October 11, 2016

Self-Entitled Parents

These exist you know. I meet them all the time. They think that for $280 a month, I can touch their kids with a magic wand and lo and behold, their kids will get an A*, grow up polite and moral AND I will also psycho-analyse the parents.

One parent told me in confidence about all her marital problems. I freaked out when she got to the bit about lusting after her colleague who was 20 years younger. Visions of her trying to feel up my son filled my head.

One parent called me at 23:55h wailing on the phone that her daughter was freaking out because the HW deadline was midnight and could I please walk through a particular writing technique with her daughter on the phone? A week later, I sent out an email to parents stating that the HW deadline submission would henceforth be 9pm. Submissions emailed after 9pm would be deleted from my inbox because I did not want to be party to parents keeping their kids up past midnight to do my HW. Kids have 7 days to do HW. Why wait till the 11th hour?

One parent would text me asking me to find and give her the link to such and such a roast chicken, roast pork etc recipe... on my blog. After googling the links for her a few times, I asked her to google them herself.

One parent would call me on Sunday at 9 am, asking whether I had had a look at her son's compo submission. The compo was given to me at 5.30pm the night before. After collecting the compos, I went for dinner. After dinner, I spent time with my family. After that, I went to sleep, only to be called to the phone at breakfast with my family on a Sunday morning by a parent who clearly expected me to have marked her son's compo overnight.

One parent did many things that I told her were detrimental to her child's progression. I spent hours in 2015 patiently counselling her and letting her know that if certain things were not done, her child would NOT be ready for PSLE in 2016. This parent whined so much that 4 months before PSLE, I completely reworked 6 weeks of lesson plans just because her son was the ONLY one in the P6 class who had not mastered the Planning Sheet. Just for her son, other kids had to do exercises that they had already mastered. I received not a word of thanks but since April this year, I received from her a never-ending stream of "feedback for improvement". I gave up. There was no pleasing this parent. She clearly believed that for $280, I was her child's personal governess and it didn't matter that there were other students in the class as long as her kids had special treatment. It didn't matter that I typewrite compo feedback 2 to 3 pages long for her child (that her child failed to internalise, making the exact same mistake over EIGHT weeks of compos). It didn't matter that I marked and returned marked work to her often within 2 working days. All that was not enough, you know. God forbid that I scold her child! In 3 long years, I scolded her child ONCE and it was a long saga that did not end till I gave up trying to please her and suggested that she look for a better tutor. To my greatest surprise, miraculously, all the whining stopped and she agreed to collaborate with me instead of telling me how to do my job.

The good thing is this. I do what I do because I love it. I don't have to do it. I choose to do it. Unlike the poor teachers in MOE, I can and I do put my foot down. Civilised parents who treat me considerately find me warm, loving and generous. I will scour research papers just to problem solve ONE child's emotional or cognitive issue. The pushy and inconsiderate ones find themselves without a tutor. It is that simple.

At this stage of my life, I want to do what I find fun to do. If it ain't fun for me, then I ain't doing it. It so happens that I get a lot of satisfaction from teaching kids how to write. I also love advising parents on motivation or study methods. I also love learning about the different children's problems. Right now, I am jotting down notes systematically from this book, because I have some anxious children to help. It is intellectually rewarding.

To have time to do these things that I love, I have created a system that minimises my admin load, and those parents who expect me to be their secretary, find themselves without a tutor too. Actually, they find themselves without me as their tutor. They can always get someone else who doesn't mind being their secretary. I didn't get a PhD to end up doing admin for parents. They have to decide whether they value me for my ability to teach or if they want a secretary.

I do get amply rewarded by great warmth from parents. There are parents who teach their kids to come directly to me right after class to say, "Thank you, Dr Pet, for teaching me."  2 metre tall fathers  (whom I had never seen because they leave the children to their wives) come to the house to specially thank me for making a difference to their families. I even had one father who made a rather large donation to Touch Community Services on my behalf when I declined payment for services rendered beyond my call of duty. I am grateful to these parents for such regard. I have parents who, when leaving me, write, "We learnt so much from you that we could not have learnt anywhere else." You see, many parents read my blogposts from years ago and find them informative. Since then, I have learnt much more but I have not had time to share much of what I have learnt since 2012, on my public blog. I am busy sharing the knowledge with my students' parents, instead.

I had done the same for other parents before, who simply took it and demanded yet more. So parents see 2 different faces of Dr Pet. Some see the warmth and generosity. Others see a stern, cold and brutally honest Dr Pet. I am no different than the servers in restaurants, you know. I never get poor service in restaurants. Even the foodcourt cleaners smile at me. It starts with me. I am nice to them and they treat me nice too.

This Mommy just wrote me last week and she said that she missed me!!

I have a choice. I exercise this choice to make my chosen profession rewarding for me. Unfortunately, MOE teachers often do not have that choice.