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Sunday, September 21, 2014

Not Grandma

I am Dr. Pet, not Grandma.

Learning Nothing
I find it intolerable when I see no improvement in a child. Since I mark every piece of HW from every child, I am keenly aware that a child is not improving. Quality of HW is a reliable, almost fail-safe Lead Indicator of exam performance. Rather than wait for parents to query after exams why their children did poorly, I take a very pro-active approach. I look at HW and evaluate the speed of learning. Then I make projections for each child. If HW quality shows that the child is not learning optimally, I send out email alerts to parents informing them that results will be poor unless something is done now.

I am not a crook.

It is an intolerable situation for me to know that any child I have care of is learning nothing from me. Then why am I taking parents' money? Once the lack of progress is clear, then the problem needs to be tackled or another teacher (that is not me) found for the child.

I am more than happy to brainstorm solutions with the parent. In this way, we have managed to resolve very challenging children indeed.

(1) Little D did not hand in HW for 4 weeks and each time he lied about why. Today, Little D hands in top notch HW every week habitually.

(2) Little F sat in front of her computer for 3 hours a week over 3 weeks. She adamantly insisted that she was incapable of writing Short Sentences and insisted that she doesn't know why she makes the same careless grammar mistakes week after week. Today, Little F makes very sure she does not repeat mistakes from the previous composition I marked. In her last composition, there was NO grammar mistake at all on the 2nd page.

(3) Little J sat in one corner of the classroom repetitively wailing, "I am boooooooored...". Little J's Momma threatened him to pull him out of tuition en masse. In a fit, Little J ran to his room and banged the door. 5 minutes later, he popped his head out and yelled "You can take away every tuition but you cannot take away Dr Pet!" The door banged shut again. Little J went from failing (at one point) to top in class (at another).

(4) At another tuition centre, Little T went under the table and refused to come out. He was there for 1 year and never completed a single compo. In collaboration with Mommy, we were able to get him to write a compo every week.

There are as many solutions as there are children.

However, every solution requires both Dr Pet and a parent. We have very challenging children that others have given up on but they are now performing well. We have very easy children with very minor problems but these small problems defy all resolution because for some reason, the parents cannot get their act together.

Don't ask me why. They just cannot.

Case 1: At Cross Purposes
This parent was prone to extreme bursts of temper which were highly demotivating for her child. I requested that she bite her tongue and stay calm. 2 days later, an email arrived asking for more help - "I could not stand it. I slapped her on the face."

Okaaaaaaaaay... fine! I then requested that Mommy refrain from getting involved in Dr Pet's HW. 1 week later, I heard from Mommy "I could not take it. I reminded her and sat down with her to do your HW."

Okaaaaaaaaay... fine! I next provided a set of clear step-by-step instructions on how to work with the child. Sometime later, I learnt that Mommy was not able to implement these step by step instructions because she was busy.

Finally, I decided that if the Left Hand (she) and the Right Hand (me) do not co-ordinate, the child cannot improve. If I know the child cannot improve, then I am no longer motivated to invest further time.

Case 2: Dr Pet the Secretary
This parent required reminders to buy a grammar resource. It took her 3 weeks and yet more reminders to buy an iPad app necessary for learning with Dr Pet. In Dr Pet's enrichment, such are our textbooks and learning tools.  Meanwhile, week dragged upon week and the child was learning nothing.

Parents should not need to be nagged to buy textbooks right?

This parent appreciatively noted that it was good that I followed up and sent reminders. I made clear to this parent that I was not her secretary (nor Grandma). In a time where many people working in good universities (and publishing papers) lie about their qualifications, Dr Pet REALLY does have a PhD. It was not my intention to work my tail off to get a PhD in order to now make a living as a secretary or Grandma-for-hire.

If push comes to shove, I would rather plant flowers and clean the toilet with my PhD. Of all household chores, I enjoy toilet cleaning the most. Really.

Case 3: Agree But Dun Do
I asked this parent to buy a composition assessment book from Popular bookstore and ONLY give her child the PICTURES. In the lead-up to PSLE, I had requested the parent to administer a mock exam trial at home once a week. Even a casual read-through of the model compositions in the book would compromise the weekly mock exam trials. This means that faced with a real exam, the child would be unprepared. Hence, it was important to ensure that the child be shielded from the model compositions that came with the book.

The parent agreeably said "Ok!"

When I received the first exam trial compo for marking, it was clear to me that the child had copied word for word, the ENTIRE model composition from the assessment book and passed it up to me as her own work. Clearly, the parent had not shielded the child from the model compositions at all.

My email to the parent read "May I know if she reproduced Page 1 from another compo? Or were they her own words?"

At least, after reading my email, go and open the assessment book and make a comparison, no? The second exam trial came in to me. It was yet again copied word for word. The weekly exam trial meant to prime a child for PSLE conditions, had become a penmanship exercise. 

The parent had not bothered to do due diligence at all! Not only did the child have full access to the model compositions, the parent failed to even check that the child did not copy (despite an explicit note from Dr Pet). I scratched my head. What was so hard about giving the child ONLY THE PICTURES, as agreed? Take a picture on a sterile iPad cut off from internet. Display in the photo app. Easy, right? What was so hard about opening the assessment book to compare her child's work with the model compo?

That, for me, was the last straw. It had been 1.5 years of hard work and worry, thinking up this and that strategy to help the child, only to find that the parent partner had over a period of 1.5 years consistently failed to implement any plan properly.

Case 4: Difficult! Difficult!
This parent found everything difficult. Skype? I don't know how. Please help me? Name the Word document properly? Too complicated. Hand in work on time? Schedule too packed.  5 senses incomplete? It is too difficult to edit the composition with 2 extra sentences to add in the missing 2 senses. See! My daughter is in tears. Please come to the phone and help her with 5 senses even though it is 11.30pm at night.

Again, I found myself having to remind and nag.

It required 2 weeks of reminders to set up a Skype appointment so that I could go through some technicalities with the child one-to-one. It is not something I do often because it is a fair bit of extra work for me. Many parents are keen to Skype and receive one-to-one guidance for their children.

When I found myself sending out yet a 3rd reminder to get yet something else done, I called it quits. 

Not a Nagger
My children are grateful that I never nag them, nor do I remind them. When Little Boy could not wake up in P2 in time for the school bus, he simply did not go to school. Twice. I believe that my children need to face the consequences of their own action/inaction. I don't live their lives for them. My kids are happy for it. I live a stress free life.

I don't live parents' lives for them either. I can't. It will destroy my already fragile health.

Parents are my peers. I am not superior to them. I cannot be responsible for their inaction/action. I only happen to have a specific skills set (like any plumber or electrician) that allows me to recommend (and collaborate in) strategies to bring about behavioural change in children. A TCM practitioner can develop herbal recipes. However, if the patient refuses to brew the herbal recipes properly or refuses to drink the brew... there will be no results.

Once I see that, it is time to draw the relationship to a close. I do want to see results, you see. Else, I find the cognitive dissonance intolerable. The child cannot be learning nothing from me.

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