If you are a teacher, how do you get ‘attention deficit’ (that is, IF they are really ADD) children or teenagers to listen to you? They simply don't care!
The most challenging classes to teach in Singapore would be the Normal Stream (Technical) classes. When I did relief teaching some years back, I was often asked to relieve teachers of NT classes who seemed to be frequently away on sick leave. What (or WHO) were they 'sicked of '?
Faced with about 30 boisterous and uninterested students bent on nothing but annoying you, how do you get their attention?
Ah, my present work somehow brings back memories of the time when I was doing relief teaching. Good and bad memories, successes and failures. Allow me to share some meaningful moments with you eh?
Hm ... this happened many years back, I remember staring at them and groaning inside, “Who are your parents? Why are you so angry? Why come to school, wasting time and resources if you don't want to study?”
I tried to be tough, it was tiring. Then an idea hit me and I decided to experiment with it.
One day I said to them, “I want you to write an essay."
They were like, "Gasp, you must be joking."
"The title of your essay is, “I, Me and Myself”. They got interested.
"You see, I was a Probation Officer, and you people reminded me of the defendants whose cases I’d to process. Most of them came from very complicated family backgrounds. Speaking of broken homes, I myself didn’t grow up happily." Silence fell.
"I’m curious to know more about you. Share with me about your family, yourself, what makes you happy, what makes you sad and what’s your ambition? Write anything you want about yourself. While I may not be able to provide solutions to your problems, I will at least be able to listen to you, and perhaps offer some suggestions and advice which you are free to accept or reject. Your story is safe with me, I will not tell others about your problems.”
Guess what happened next?
Cautiously, some began to pull out their A4 notepads and started writing. Then, those without papers didn't want to be left out and started begging, borrowing or snatching pieces of paper from their neighbours! Soon, the whole class was engrossed in writing! The transformation was striking! They wanted so much to tell their stories!
Then, I was quite amused when the Principal passed by and was amazed at this unbelievable sight of NT students resolutely scribbling away! Heh heh heh ... This class had never been quieter.
Occasionally someone would raise his hand and asked, “Teacher, how do you spell ‘angry’?” I spelt it out on the board for all to see and use if required. Another called out, “Teacher, how to spell ‘family’?” I wrote on the board again. Before the two sessions were over, the board was filled with words from left to right. “Hmm, not a bad way to teach English” I thought.
I spent the next 5 days (at least) marking their essays, not stumped by their poor standard of English, but floored by the problems they revealed!
... One girl wrote a 4 page essay on her family problems, highlighting her misconceived guilt that she had accidentally caused the death of her granny when she was, but a little girl.
... Another girl lamented her parents’ divorce and feared that she would eventually forget how her natural father looks like one day.
... One boy penned down his hatred against his dad and how he would rather spend the nights hanging out with friends than staying home with him.
... Another boy wrote of his experiments with different kinds of drugs, and another of his bisexual inclinations
Their stories overwhelmed me. I replied each one in detail, giving encouragement when encouragement was due, and advice when advice was due. Some of my painstaking replies were longer than their essays.
All eyes were fixed on me the next time I entered the same class. I returned their essays with my type-written responses. Thus, they spent another session quietly with me, as they carefully poured over my replies. Then (surpirse, surprise, I was quite amused) they started exchanging and reading each other’s essay/reply. "Hey, that's confidential" I thought, but I didn't stop them 'cos it was their prerogative to share their stories.
Then in the days that followed, our relationship improved. When I requested them to keep quiet in class, they obeyed. When I attempted to teach them, they listened. A few even came to me individually to discuss personal troubles and sought advice.
I'll never forget this girl ...
She ran away from home after hearing her mother's damaging insults. When her friend brought her to me, I'd only 10 minutes to talk to her! I really didn’t know what to say and how to comfort her. I prayed silently and urgently in my heart as I fumbled around for a word in season.
Then God’s wisdom guided me as I earnestly spoke from my heart on how I had always felt positively about her, and thank God, what I’d said in those 10 minutes redressed what her mom had said earlier. It was like magic! Her countenance shone and her eyes sparkled! She smiled appreciatively. I perceived that she'd regained her confidence that moment!
The next time I met her, one of her eyes was bloodshot after a hard slap from her mom! I was shocked! How could anyone do this to her own flesh and blood? I listened to her story for an hour, not because she'd asked for it, but because I knew she needed the support. She assured me that she'd managed to stay calm this time and didn’t run away from home. She had learnt resilience.
Well, well, well, what else can I say?
Sometimes, what we need is someone to come alongside us once in a while, to tell us that we are worthy. Being loved and cared for is the greatest motivation to succeed in anything we do.
Teaching is an emotionally draining job. I salute all teachers out there who are committed to their teaching profession. My best wishes to you teachers, and oh, make sure you have sufficient insurance coverage for all types of illnesses.