teaching: looking back

May 25, 2009 § 2 Comments

I’m quitting work at the tuition centre soon. I find it hard to believe I have been working there for 11 months already (my longest at a job), for I still feel like a freshie. Feelings aside, I believe I have learnt quite a number of things.

(brace yourself, I have a feeling I’m going to be grandma-like in this)

Why I worked in the first place…

I tell people I decided to work because I want to save up for my exchange to Vancouver. That’s only part of the reason. There are a few. I was also propelled by the need to find myself, to carve out an identity. I guess it was a low point in my life and I was desperate to prove to myself my worth.  At that point when I wanted to find myself, I imagined I would do so in a job like this. I imagined loving the job and loving the kids and touching their lives etc. I imagined saying to myself after the whole stint, ‘ah so my purpose in life is to teach!’ I thought it was a possible purpose of mine because I empathized with poor Singaporean kids and wanted to bring joy back to learning.

It’s not so clear if I have achieved these goals, but perhaps I have gained insights as worthwhile.

I have learnt quite some things about myself. None of them explicitly prove to myself my worth, and yet upon reflection they achieved something else maybe better. There were times when I was traveling to work when I felt overcome by fear. I felt very much like the nursery kid going to school again, but this time with no mummy to fend for me. This time, I cannot cry. I am the teacher, I must be strong. Not only were those experiences no use in proving to myself the things I wanted to prove, they seemed to reinforce my smallness, and that despite the smallness there were still things I had to go through by myself. I very much wished I hadn’t taken this up, very much wished for someone to go through them with.

So I didn’t prove my self-worth. Instead, I learnt how vulnerable I was. In my vulnerability, I identified very much with the kids who were new too and had to be separated from mummy and daddy for 2 WHOLE hours. When a little boy cried and continually asked for mummy, I told him, “Yes, me too.” That made him laugh. So perhaps this vulnerability is good. After all, we identify with Jesus not because he was a God who pranced around this earth but because he suffered too. My vulnerability helped me connect with the kids.

My vulnerability also made me realise how dependent I was on God. Before going to work, I would cry out to Him and ask Him to make it alright. And indeed, things almost always went well, much much better than expected. Quite importantly (to myself at least), I also did not experience negative feelings during work itself. And I need not say anything for the feeling I get after work 🙂

As for bringing joy back to learning, I’m not exactly very sure too. That’s because I’m not sure if the kids enjoy my lessons because they like to laugh at me or they really like learning. But OK, I will acknowledge my efforts. To blend letter sounds together, I draw a roller coaster on the board, write the letters on different parts of the roller coaster, take an eraser and slide it down. Meanwhile, I pretend to sit on one myself. That means i shout as i come to the various letters on the roller coaster and wave my arms, which always cracks the kids up. So yes, I have totally thrown away my pride in trying to amuse these young ones, and it helps that laughter comes very very easily for 4 year olds.

That said, I’m sure some kids don’t look forward to tuition with me. There are some kids who like me, and some kids who are neutral. I don’t believe hate is in their vocabulary. Maybe dread. I’m sure some kids dread tuition.


Before I go on to the things the kids do to make me feel it’s all worthwhile, I think I need to reiterate that I do not think that one should teach/continue to teach for the sake of little moments of joy of being appreciated.

I have a boy with dylexia I’ve been trying to help. I stay back to go through some basic concepts with him or test him spelling. But I do not gain appreciation (from the boy at least). There was once I was at my wits end because he simply stared blankly at the paper, and I felt that he thought that I was merely trying to torture him. Now I am the bad guy and I don’t even know if it’s worth it. I tried looking ahead, but it was bleak and I also wanted to give up hope.

It was then that I realised that even if I put in alot of effort into teaching him, it is very possible that this is all going to go unappreciated. What more, it might have little results. But it was then that I also examined myself, asking myself why I did all this. I decided that it was not for mere appreciation, but because it was my duty to help someone who needed it. I do not think that people would expect me to do it. I am merely a tuition teacher. But society’s values are warped anyway. It was my duty to self, to God. Of course I do want to be appreciated, but it’s something I don’t need and I should not do things for the sake of appreciation. I must try.

Having made my point clear, I must say that I cherish the love SOME kids bestow upon their quite undeserving teacher (I need to qualify my statement beause I don’t want to be in danger of giving the impression that I am damn popular).

It’s often the younger kids who make my day. Quite randomly, some of them will just tell me that they love me. I know it’s not love LOVE–I don’t think they would jump in front of a gun to save me– but I’m happy nevertheless. I do feel loved, because in their little kiddy way, they do rather sweet things.

There are a few incidents I will remember. Both of them occur during breaktime because it is then that we have some time to really interact.

One, was when the kids were eating pillow biscuits (you know the orange one, signifying gold in the loheying during CNY) during snack time.  Teachers don’t get the snacks. I take the opportunity to whine. “Ah, I’m so sleepy,” I say. Then I eye their pillow biscuits. The 4 year olds don’t get the hint though. So I say, “can someone give me a pillow to sleep on?” And this little boy holds out a pillow biscuit. I accept the pillow and thank him, then try to rest my head on the pillow. I complain again, “ohoh it’s too small! my head is too big! does anyone have a big pillow”. Immediately, the little girl chirps, “at home have I bring for you!” 🙂

Another was when it was raining. Being the whiney teacher that I am, I pretend to be very afraid. “Ahh! I’m scared of thunder! Can someone stay to protect me?” I cry.  (It is their break, they can wander around.) To my amusement, some kids hover around me. This little guy says, “I will Ben-10 the thunder!” (Ben-10 is a cartoon character. I’m not sure what he does, but he probably has some superpowers.)

Other than lifting my spirits and making me feel loved, the kids are also my role models. The way laughter (and tears) come so easily I admire, and wish to emulate. I think the adult world is filled with too many people trying to conceal their emotions and weaknesses, and the honesty and disarming nature of children is rather refreshing. I like how we can all be vulnerable together, how we can all laugh together, how innocent we can all be together 🙂


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§ 2 Responses to teaching: looking back

  • aud says:

    rene! (u noe, I just came across ur blog. All along I thought u werent updating. *blur conk conk!)

    I’ve been so touched by this post. So honest and genuine. You are a good teacher,cuz u really care and devote time. It’s gonna be sad for the kids when u leave. They’re gonna miss their cher 🙂

    Give u big applause for persevering this far. Been amazing how you just stuck on to it. =)

  • Serene says:

    aiyo audrey! yes blur conk conk haha but hi-5, i’m a blur conk conk too! That’s why we’re friends 🙂

    ahh yes, i’m gonna miss them too! 😦 It’s from them that I realised how every one is born beautiful, because it’s so easy to see beauty in these kids.

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