Thursday, 28 March 2019

Why a co-ed school was the wrong choice for my son

My son had his first Sec 1 PTM and having experienced regular complaints from his teachers in primary school, I was dreading the meeting. From a co-ed primary school to an all boys school, I had no idea what he was getting up to in school. Fights? Bullying? Bad behaviour? Getting information out of him is like pulling teeth. I get scanty details which I have to piece together.

I approached his 2 form teachers, gave my son's name, and waited with bated breath. After scanning the master sheet, the first thing Mrs Teacher said was, "Oh, he did ok, you didn't have to come, you know?"

Yes, #5 had told me that his grades were fine and it was not compulsory for me to attend. However, I wanted to have a talk with his teachers to find out how he has been behaviour-wise, and to see if he is settling in well as it was a huge transition for him.

Mrs Teacher gave me a smile and said, "He is an interesting boy. The things he says are quite different from the usual answers." Hmm, I couldn't quite decipher if that was a good or bad thing, but drawing from her grin, I don't think I should be too concerned. "What about his behaviour? Is he naughty in class?"

"No, not in my class. Sometimes he tries to wriggle out of doing work, but he knows when I mean business and he will get my work done nicely. No issues at all. However, he has some scratch marks on his face. Is he cutting himself? I also notice he yawns in class, he must be tired." I told her that he wakes up at 5.30 to get ready to take the bus to school, but he goes to bed by 9pm. And those scratch marks were done by little Kate.

I was surprised at how they are genuinely concerned about the whole well-being of the child, not only the academic aspect.

Mr Teacher started to talk, and I was keen to hear from a male teacher's perspective. "I don't have any problems with him in my class either. In fact, he scored 100/100 for art! He is a very creative boy and you can tell that he is bright. He pays attention and is very focused when he is doing his work. Looking at his overall results, the only thing that is worrying is his Chinese. He scored 16/100 and that will pull his average down. You may want to speak with his Chinese teacher. She's a very experienced teacher."

I thanked them for their time and Mrs Teacher got up and escorted me to his Chinese teacher as the hall was crowded.

I felt much better knowing that everything was going fine and he was in such good hands. The last concern was Chinese! I was expecting the same-old, like the past 6 years, where his Chinese teachers tried to tell me (in too cheem Mandarin) how bad his Chinese was, that I had to encourage him to read more Chinese books, sit with him to revise the words he didn't know, or hire a tutor for him.

Mdm C was a pleasant, smiling lady, and we conversed in English. She started off by saying, "Your son is a joy to teach!" I almost fell off my seat.

My son? Chinese? That was impossible! Was I hearing wrong? Wait a minute, she probably got the wrong child. I scanned the list and pointed out his name.

She was concerned at his score of 16/100, but showed me his compo. "Look at what he wrote. Not bad at all. 2 pages, good sentences, neat handwriting. He's a bright child, but his foundation is very weak. His standard is below his peers, and sometimes they will laugh when he doesn't understand even the simple words, but I tell them not to laugh at him because he is trying to learn."

I asked if she had trouble getting him to pay attention in her class, and that previously he gets bored and would fold origami under the table or disturb his friends. She was surprised to hear that, and assured me that he concentrates in her class and tries his best to complete her work.

What a nice change, that unlike Primary school, she did not handover the responsibility of revision to me nor ask me to outsource to a tutor, but took full responsibility and said that anything that had to be learnt will be discussed with the students directly. She reassured me that he had a good learning attitude and will try her best to help him.

I left his school on cloud nine. Can you imagine how I felt?! To have had teachers complaining about your son for 6 years, with only 2 or 3 out of 20 who had positive things to say about him, and finally finding a school where the teachers accept him and are able to bring out the best in him.

I texted our family chat group with the good news and the girls were so proud of him. One of them said, "Lol, he's in a boy's school now, so that is just normal boy behaviour. For years, he has been judged by girl standards at home and in school. He's given up trying to be good a long time ago."

For years, he was labelled as naughty simply because he couldn't pay attention, talks too much, disturbs his friends when he's bored, and as a result, constantly punished by being made to stand in the corner. All because his Executive Function skills like attention and impulse control were weak and he just could not sit there and take in this "teacher talk, student listen" approach for long periods of time.

An experiential approach is needed for children with such profiles, especially when they are in lower primary. Instead of viewing these kids as disruptive, they are the ones who will be most needed in the changing future landscape where we need creators, inventors, innovators and entrepreneurs.

It was only after 5 years that his first male teacher Mr Tan understood him and told me that he is simply an active boy with a quick mind who gets bored easily and when he gets excited about a new idea, he talks too much, too fast and too loud. Mr Tan made the effort to build rapport with him, and would remind him to tone it down instead of punishing him, and thus could gain the cooperation of #5 to behave well in his class.

I have seen it in the neighbourhood schools and now in a boys' school, where because these students are the norm instead of the exception, teachers have found ways to handle them so that teaching can be done. And most importantly, teachers seem to understand that there is a difference between learning styles, developmental needs and discipline issues, thus handling them differently. Sadly, he may have enjoyed the learning journey better over the 6 years of primary school if things had been different.

Nonetheless, I'm extremely grateful for his dedicated teachers and I'm sure they have been and will continue to be instrumental in developing the students who come through them into contributing adults with character, and to give them a fair chance to succeed in our traditional classrooms.

School Stories:

#1 - When your son gets into fights in school
#2 - My son the loan shark
#3 - So kids can't play once they start school?
#11 - How #2 topped her level in English
#12 - DSA. Yet another initiative parents have warped
#13 - Tuition - First line of attack?
#14 - Why do exams have to be so stressful?
#15 - First day mix up!
#16 - The day I forgot to pick my son from school
#17 - No more T-score. Now what?
#18 - Tackling the new school year
#19 - She did it, without tuition.
#20 - So who's smarter?
#21 - Why I do not coach my kids anymore.

~ www.mummyweeblog.com - a blog on parenting 6 kids in Singapore ~
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