Friday, May 23, 2008

The Real Bullies

After an incident with the discipline teacher when she was in Form 3 (Grade 9), my daughter begged me to transfer her to another school. She said she's had enough of Chinese-type schools where students had no say and teachers get into a rage over small things like the color of your hairband. I did transfer her because I was confident she'd do well in any school (she was an all-rounder good academically and athletically), and she told me years later, when she was in university, that that was the best thing I did for her, because those two years in 'A '(an 'English' school) were her happiest school years. To me, 'A' was a little too liberal. Teachers and students were truly like friends.

The incident with the discipline teacher was really a small thing. The school's rule was that students are to be in their uniforms at all times except for sports. One day after sports, they asked the art teacher's permission to keep their T shirts on until after art class, to which their teacher agreed. Some of them went to the water fountain and were 'caught' by the discipline master who then lined them up and started shouting at them. Yi stepped out of the line and informed the teacher that they had the art teacher's permission. Typical of an authoritarian with a super ego, the discipline teacher declared that Yi had challenged his authority by speaking up, and imposed demerit points for all the students. If this is not a clear case of intimidation I don't know what else to call it. Long story short, I didn't step in and Yi made her own arrangements to leave school. It was October, a month from the end of the school year. When she got into my car after meeting with the principal, Mr T, to get her school-leaving certificate, she burst into frustrated tears. The principal was insulted that she dared leave the 'top' school for a school like 'A', and warned her that if she goes to 'A' she'll never be a person of anything because only students from his school will excel in life! This, from a principal of what most people think is a top school! I was upset but I had never been the type to barge into the principal's office about everything although looking back I should have. Two years later, we got our sweet revenge when Yi was one of the top 3 scorers in 'A', mentioned in the local papers for scoring 10As in her SPM (at that time nobody here knew about sitting for 16 subjects).

So you see, I was not exactly the type of parent who wagged a finger at the teachers all the time. Recently, my friend F told me that when her daughter was hit on the head by a teacher, she had gone to the principal and told him that 'if the teacher ever ever touch my daughter again, I will slap her in front of the class!" I thought "Wow, cat woman, a real fighter!" But you know what, recent happenings at Wey's school has made me resolved that that's what I'll do too if they ever hit my child. (Not slap the teacher, but I'd threaten to do so.)

At SF where my boys spent their primary years, I have heard of many cases where parents made trouble for the teachers over disciplining of their kids. The main reason for the parents' bigger presence (than other schools) was that SF was a private school and parents were usually more educated and thus more vocal. Contrary to what most people think, kids at SF are very polite and well-mannered. When I went to the school, I would always be greeted by the students and the teachers but when I went to the government Chinese-type schools (which erroneously are famed for raising well-mannered kids who in reality are being raised as a bunch of suppressed rebels because they aren't allowed to speak up), the students never greeted me, and worse, the teachers too. Yet most people have the opinion that the non-English type of schools are doing a better job disciplining the kids. To me, those schools are not disciplining, they are controlling the kids. Discipline involves teaching and correcting. Point again? Oh yes, my point was I tried my best to let the schools do their job and not meddle in anything, not even when Ming was made to kneel in the corridor with his schoolbag on his head in Form 4 (Grade 10) and even punched by a teacher at one point (correction: he was caned instead, in Form 3, for failing his Chinese. The teacher apologized when he found out that Ming came from a non-Chinese school). I felt that schools are having a hard time with kids and parents should be supportive of the schools. The old me used to think that parents like F are trouble-makers who are too defensive of their precious kids. That was me then.

Me right this minute is very troubled. There have been two clear cases of bullying by a certain teacher in my son's class. In last Wednesday's incident, a boy (Form 2, 13 years old) was talking to his friend when the teacher was teaching. She flew into a big rage, went over to the boy and struck at him but he held out his arm against his face to defend himself. Since she didn't manage to slap him, she grabbed his hair and banged his head on his desk, then slammed his head against the wall. And we wonder why kids are getting more violent! Later, some of the boy's classmates encouraged him to tell his parents but the boy said (listen, parents!) his parents aren't the type who'd come to his defense. Come on parents, talk to your kids! The real bullies are the teachers, especially in this country where the Education Dept is never on the parents' side. Take the case of the kid who collapsed last month and was left unattended for an hour until his parents came, and it was too late when they took him to the hospital. The education people actually defended the school by saying it did right because no one knew if it was safe to apply first aid. Excuse me, he passed out. He wasn't bleeding. For one hour he was on the floor, totally unattended to.

Two days ago, the same teacher again flew into a rage. She was upset that another boy didn't do his work and was walking around/talking (I need to confirm this) so she went to him and pinched him hard, then scolded him while wagging a finger at his mouth, screaming at him and calling him "Kurang ajar!" over and over again because he had replied that he didn't know he was to do that much work. Suddenly, the boy, like her, lost it and slammed his fist on the table. Long story short, the discipline master and form teacher were called in, the boy hauled into the office for some interrogation (and confession I suppose) and yesterday the parents were called in and told the son had been given a 'black mark' (3 black marks and you are expelled). Wey said some of them spoke up in defence of their classmate but their form teacher not only was biased, she said it was good that the teacher pinched the boy because he deserved it. And when they told her about last Wed's incident, she said so what, that was last week. As Wey vented his frustrations, these things came to my mind: that these aren't dumb kids, they knew their rights, so they were angry and frustrated with unfair treatment by the powers in charge who use humiliation, intimidation, condemnation and finally, dismissal from school to keep them under control instead of kindness, understanding and mutual respect. Students can't respect teachers who don't deserve it.

So the teacher can loose control but not a kid who's 30 odd years younger? And she can lie that she didn't touch the boy when the whole class of 50 saw it?(Another teacher also blatantly lied about another incident, and my son wondered to me how a teacher can so unashamedly lie to the whole class). Is that the example to the kids, that teachers can lie and get away with it? What kind of kids are they raising who aren't allowed to speak up? What is the message to these kids? That teachers can be violent and out of control but not the students, that teachers can lie to save their asses, that teachers can preach but not lead by example? If anything, the kids now totally do not respect this teacher. All she has is tyrannic control, not respect. If I was the teacher, I would earn respect by apologising for loosing my temper and ask that the black mark be deleted. We all know teachers are human and it isn't easy to teach a large class of unruly kids. But kids will be kids and they will make more mistakes than adults (ideally) and if it isn't really life-threatening and treacherous (you know what I mean), there's no need to take these incidents to such limits. My Hub, when I told him about this, remember being pinched by a 'Teacher Wong'. But Hub said he has deep respect for this teacher because while he pinched, he never did it out of anger. It was his method for reprimanding students who didn't do their homework, and he did it in half-jest. Hub's opinion is sometimes teachers can cane the primary-level kids lightly, not as a punishment, but to correct, and never to be done in anger. This was Teacher Wong's way, firm yet loving, and that's why the students never took his punishment negatively. I however think that teachers are not to punish kids physically, because many of them are just half-crazed egotistical tyrants who can't and won't control themselves.

Parents, please talk to your kids and assure them that you will always be on their side (provided they are right), and that they are to tell you if their teachers ever are mean to them. (I have deleted part of this article bc I don't want to attract any legal action, not by the school but by the parents against the school. Case closed) I want to urge parents to know their rights and not let teachers get away with such crimes. If we continue to accept these practices, these teachers will never change. The whole system works against kids whose parents aren't well-informed or assertive about their rights. However, I must tell you that there are good teachers in the school too. I was driving out of the school compound one day last month when I saw, away in a corner near the teacher's car park, a female student crying on her teacher's shoulder and the teacher hugging and comforting her. It moved me to tears, especially since a suicide had just taken place a week or so before that, and I really want to uphold that teacher, Teacher M.Yap. If I was a teacher, I'd want to be the type whom the troubled kids want to run to.

I chose this school for Wey and Ming because I find the principal a very approachable, encouraging and humble person. Unfortunately many of his teachers are not like him. The fact that this is the same school where a boy jumped to his death last month because he was accused of cheating in his exams makes these incidents even more troubling. Some of you may have read my post on the suicide before I took it off, because I felt it was too tragic and out of respect for the family, I felt I shouldn't write about it. But today I'm writing this post because as I had pointed out in that deleted post, while I do not blame the school for the suicide, I had asked that the school be kinder to students (I talked to someone 'higher up' in the school) and adopt a better discipline system so that this boy's death will not be in vain. It looks like the school's not learnt anything from that tragedy.

p.s. I would love to hear from you, parents, students and teachers.


Shan said...

Reading this made my blood boil. I was in a government school in Labuan during my kindergarten and primary years.

Even at that young age I remember being terrified of going to school because the nuns used to regularly beat us kindy kids. I remember once being beaten with a stick because I was drawing a picture and I coloured outside the lines (shock, horror). Guess the Sister was having a bad day.

Things didn't get any better at Primary but at least there were some genuine teachers who really did try their best to take care of us and gave us the opportunity to speak to them about anything we were upset about. They were, sadly, the minority.

And I was lucky in the sense that my mother, who could never understand why I cried everytime she dropped me off at school, believed me when I told her about the treatment we were getting and totally supported me.

From what I hear from friends who work in this industry today, there is so much bias and politicking, it's a miracle that kids actually get taught anything.

I worry for the future. What kind of example does this set for young people when they see that adults are able to get away with blatantly shocking behaviour.

*shakes head*

Terri @ A Daily Obsession said...

shan: my blood boiled too when wey told me tt his friend was blackmarked even though it was the teacher who provoked him.

as you said, the good teachers are the minority. when i think back on my school days in st. francis convent, not many caring teachers stand out but i don't rmber ever being spanked. it was usually an hour in the sun or run around the school yard. n my mom never went to the school. in those days u just leave it to the school, parents had no say.

our education system went to the dogs a zillion years ago, n things r getting totally crazier esp the tuition part. haven't u heard of teachers who place kids at the back of the class if they don't sign up for private tuition with the teacher?

the strange thing about our so-called chinese-style schools is tt according to my friends frm china, it is NEVER a practice to strike a child in china chinese schools. u just cannot do tt in communist china. they r horrified when they hear about what happens here n r indignant tt the chinese schools here do such unheard of things n call themselves chinese schools. they said our chinese schools shd be known as malaysian-style chinese schools. offtrack, did u know tt in china kids get to school by 7am and get a 2hr lunch break, then go back to school, 2 hrs dinner break, then go back to school until 9pm?? Mondays to Sats! in higher forms, they go to school 3 sundays out of 4 in a month!

Anonymous said...

Terri - we are luckier in the U.S.A. It is against the law, now, for a teacher to administer any type of physical punishment without parental permission. Also, an 'assault' like this would be completely illegal. The teachers know it, and the students know it. Unfortunately, many of the students in the American schools now don't get any discipline at home so are undisciplined at school and everywhere else. I believe in parents talking to their children all the time and vice versa. My son knows he can tell me anything and I have gone to the school many times over the past years to stand up for my children when I felt they were unfairly treated. Hang in, Terri.

Anonymous said...

Mr.T said exactly the same thing to me AND my mum too when I went to get my leaving cert before going to Australia. He even told me that my mum's ruining my life and future if we choose to leave their top school and guess what,he didnt even sign the cert for me in the end. I went back to re-request for one a year later.It's my right, i am entitled to have it! I'm so glad I made the choice and left and I wish I could tell him that I'm now happily persuing my dreams. Might not even be here now if I stayed on in TTSS. Haha =P I'm sure Hong Yi made a smart move too =)

Anonymous said...

hi auntie terri, i regularly read your blog but am particularly compelled to comment on this entry. sounds like ttss is getting more out of hand even though you'd think it'd get better with time. i think that a police report should be made on the discipline teacher who inappropriately touched that student really. that's completely unacceptable. and i think i know who it is that you're talking about there.

Anonymous said...

I had mixed feelings when I read this. Coming from the school your son wey is studying, I know all of the staff, principal discipline master and all including the suicide incident. I am quite close with all of the staff. But things are not all like what you have heard.

Sometimes these kids really really really have NO regard for their teachers at all. They do not pay attention to all your hard work as a teacher and they do that intentionally most of the time. Teachers are usually patient at them but they have their limits too.Though resorting to such violence is not all that right. It would have been very different for you if you were the teacher in that/ those classrooms. The kids cuss at you even when you're teaching. They use extrememly hurtful ways to bully other kids usually mentally. These kids do not succumb to patient counselling or any non violent methods. Its scarry how ignorant they are and how menacing and rotten they may become. I come from that school. I would know. And I used to come from the classes with less bullies/disobedient students class, so I kinda get the big picture. The tactics and methods used to handle these crisis are sort of out of hand, that I do agree. But, the teachers are all very very very dedicated and pateint. Please do know that.

Chinese school teachers are perhaps the most unfortunate among all teachers. They have really long hours, low pay, loads of assignments to mark, extreme pressure from the school board, more pressure from parents and the principal so that the kids and all students in general perform up to a certain high level, and they have to donate oh-my-goodness amount of money to keep the school alive. Oh, they don't get holidays off too. Its usually spent by holding holiday remedial classes by ORDER of the school. I am close friends to most of the teachers. And they do rant. And usually, before inflicting any punishments, the teachers would have given the students a few warnings. Cease to heed the warning and you'll get it. Personally, its hard being an obedient student at such an age where students start rebelling. But students should know better than to NOT RESPECT the teachers. So its not all the teacher's fault too. I'm sort of an obedient rebel or is that what you call it ? hmm, but the teachers are very cool there. They understand and try to go with the flow of the students. They do try to understand us and how we are different. But some students really get out of hand. You have no idea how bad it is sometimes. And yeah, one more thing, teachers seldom or do not at all hit students there. What we usually get is: running the yard; standing with bag on top of your heads for the whole period; copy lines; singing the national anthem in the field during reccess hours in front of everyone; washing toilets and stuff like that. And we are usually warned before that punishing really takes effect.

Another thing is, chinese school teaches the students how to be humble, how to give back to society what you have earned in life be it riches or skills, how to listen and also how to speak up ( just that most student ignore this due to their traditional chinese upbringing). We ARE encouraged to SPEAK UP for ourelves you know. And about the suicide incident, it wasn't the teacher who DROVE the student to his death. *Hint,out-of-comtrol-rage from parents who did not know how to handle the misbehaviours of their kids, clearly brought to light in front of them by the school? I know that kid. I know that teacher. Not to be insensitive, but he shouldn't have cheated AT ALL.

And as for the discipline master, his tactics are indeed recently more extreme, but he, Mr.S is a good discipline master who knows what he's doing. If its not for so much scrutinising from the principal,(the principal is another story.well, lots of stories.) he would be more lenient. It just happens that you've always heard how he messed up. Usually, he handles troubled students and lots of incidents VERY nicely and very cooly. And that comes out from the mouth of a student he used to discipline. That, you did not see or know of.

Please have faith in chinese schools. ( except for the ttss principal's statement part.. what the heck...and their discipline master.. what the hell...). And as for DSF kids. Yes. they are creative and sociable and well mannered kids who grow up to be great adults.Very confident, eloquent and pleasurable. Agree. But there a large part are spoilt rich brats who grow up to be snooty hedonistics with some fake manners. Its from the polished society they are brought up in. The staff there are always having a hard time dealing with compulsively demanding parents, whose demands are usually outrageous. But some of these parents dare to say one thing to the teachers and another thing again to other parents and friends. Horrible. Even until today. HOwever, parents there are in general very nice and pleasant, but teachers deserve more respect than that really. Even in chinese schools where they are treated like slaves already.

Oh and, I love reading your posts on food. It gives us students outside here a visual taste of home cooking eventhough we are so many miles away from home. Thank you.

Terri @ A Daily Obsession said...

tealady:the schools here will often quote the condition of schools in the usa n other western countries as an example of utter lost in discipline. i used to disdain the system say, in canada, where kids r so protected they can sue parents for laying a finger on them. but i've come to realise tt there's so much abuse on children tt the law over there would rather err on the side of kids than adults bc kids R it is the opposite, tt old asian tradition of kids never questioning adults' authority results in kids being abused with no recourse. why do u think asians r so gullible n submissive? frm young they have been supressed n repressed. these traits also serve a purpose: so dictatorial govts can control the ppl.
thanks, u always r encouraging esp on parenting issues n i welcome n appreciate tt! i am hanging in here but they better not touch my boy!

sharon: oooh! tt makes me so mad!tt's his recorded msg it seems!he's just so arrogant n egotistical!of cos it's ur right! didn't u tell the stupid guy off? he just can't take a rejection can he. he's the reason y i refused to send my boys to ttss.when u think about it, ttss is only good for their iron-arm control n parents like it for the fact tt it's mostly a chinese school. r ttss students better academically? to start off they choose the cream of the crop, cram them beyond what they need to study (but tt doesn't mean anything as u would know) but honestly i've met some who can't converse beyond "My name is Michael." n nearly all ttss students have private tuition like other schools so whats the big deal about their education?? yes, u made the right decision leaving ttss for oz, high 5!
p.s sharon who again pls :)

kimmei:hi there! u do read this blog?? ha, now tt i know tt i want constant communication ah! oops, my boys r at 'the other top chinese school', not ttss. i would never ever describe mr t as encouraging or humble or approachable. he was my add math teacher in form 6, n he was a really nice guy in those days. time changes ppl...hey, coming back yr end? yi'll be here. we'll have a bbq?ur ma can cook us penang laksa...take care honey...

Anonymous said...

my brother who is now 50plus still want to hit back at his bully teachers.See how much damage they had done to the children. It happened in good school in KK.But the other non goverment school, the parents are real bullies,too.Scolding the teachers and other children in the school.I had witnessed one incident when my girl was in primary school during the baazer.The president of the PTA thanked me for that.

Terri @ A Daily Obsession said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Shan said...

I emailed this post to friends in KK, a majority of whom are parents and have kids in high school. I got some email replies back thanking me for highlighting this to them. So I guess the real thanks goes to you.

Shan said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Terri @ A Daily Obsession said...

'mice' not 'mices';'disciplinary' not 'disciplination'...!

anon 10:54: i too can think of certain teachers i want to slug. like my home science teacher who screamed at the way i cut onions (hey, i'm now writning a food blog, mrs nathan!) or those math teachers who terrified me until i still can't dy/dx.i think with warmth of mrs robertson (SFC primary 2) who wash my undies once when i had a tummy run!

i now c the reason for PTAs! good on u, for coming to somebody's defence. high 5!

Terri @ A Daily Obsession said...

frequent reader: hi we must've been posting at the same time:) *deep breath*

1. i know how hard it is, i'm a mother of two very difficult boys, one of them likes to talk back n have the last say all the time, n i'm very like lee kuan yew--no play play! but, i'm talking about kids of 13/14. how well did u control urself at tt age? don't u think the teacher at 40+ shd be better-controlled? don't u agree tt teachers here generally r very bossy n authoritarian bc they think tt's the best way to control the kids?? i can tell u tt my kids behave better when i am understanding n non-judgemental, n most of all when i respectfully listen to them. when i scream at them (which is often, i must admit) they turn off. teachers must realise they can't go on using the old methods!

2.i know many teachers at my boy's school r kind, i really was impressed tt they r appproachable n helpful n tt's y i chose tt school. but when form teachers lie n unfairly side their colleagues, these kids at their age aren't stupid. i was told tt at last friday's term-end n teacher's day ceremony, tt particular teacher was heckled at. u get what u deserve i say.yes, teachers have a tough job (i honestly mean tt) but think of the young lives tt r shaped by them!it is a very honorable n priviledged job but unfortunately teachers r not paid well here when they should be!

3. if chinese schools r having such a hard time, they must change the system n not let the fact tt bc they r having a hard time cause them to take it out on the students!chinese schools here need a total re-vamp!

as for s, i have given examples of how he handled recent cases. i rest my case on him.'s funny how our perceptions of schools will never change unless we have 1st hand experience. SF students are better mannered than students of any other school! but tt again depends on what we define as behavior. if a mouse quiet-type of person is considered well-behaved, then u can get those at chinese schools. at home however, i'm told the mice become tigers so its very supericial. tt's bc the kids r so oppressed! i like tt SF kids r allowed to be creative, speak up (chinese schools SAY they let kids speak up, but when they do,as in the cases i gave, they punish them for being disrespectful.very sad) n have fun at the primary age instead of being locked up for endless hours in classes. i do agree tt some parents r overbearing bc they r datuk this or tt (these parents will breed the same kind of obnoxious kids as themselves!), but generally most parents r fine (like me!). if there r spoilt brats, it's up to us to teach our kids not to be influenced, just i teach my boy not to be overly submissive like some of the kids in his chinese school.

5. oh, i never blamed the school for the suicide like many parents do. i told my kids tt survival of the fittest means not only physical survival but mental too. u shdn't think of suicide to escape the consequences of ur actions, i tell them. however, we all have difficult times in our lives when we need kindness more than anything. even if he did cheat (who hasn't in one way or another??), is tt so bad tt he is made to feel so low tt he has no other choice but kill himself? r we grown ups so sinless we cannot give a person another chance? if God can forgive us over n over, shame on those who can't forgive others!i think of the times i got into trouble in school n was humiliated. you know, u can change a person more by kindness than by wrath. r teachers at tt school so heartless tt not one of them think: if i had the chance to be kind to tt kid when he needed it, he'd still be alive today!no matter tt he cheated in exams!i know of a person who was caught cheating in an exam n he is a uni grad n doing well today! everybody needs 2nd chances!

i agree tt some kids r very difficult. but i think the majority of kids here r easy to handle. disciplinary actions must be in line with the crime. in most cases, schools overreact to deter others from disobeying. with tt kind of thinking n methods, disciplinary actions will have to be more n more stringent n harsh n in the end, again i say, the kind of kids tt they churn out r just a bunch of suppressed n frustrated rebels.

hey, i welcome more of ur comments anytime. next week we go back to more cooking (provided i don't hear more unfair cases again!)

backStreetGluttons said...

Your long post highlights a delicate situation vis a vis the continuous conflicts between teacher,student,parents and the Authorities. There are so many tales of differing problem solving methods, adverse overreactions and uncontrolled responses so it would seem from the many hard core cases. Generally there could be subtle ( or glaring as the case may be) differences between Asian/Western , religious and liberal schools or even between public , private and semi-govt institutes of learning. As a parent your prime concern is your kid while the teachers, in contrast with the school , principal and the usual self interests of other parties which need not be complementary and usually are at odds, with the usual vested interests/incompetencies/maybe fraud coming into play. Therein lie the real problems. Not simple ! Good luck !

Terri @ A Daily Obsession said...

team bsg: ur summary is 100% correct! A+!

Anonymous said...

Tay ! :P

Anonymous said...

hey auntie, i'll be back this august and hopefully, if my dad will get me the ticket, in december too. a barbie sounds fun. i'll make sure my mom makes the laksa

Unknown said...


I'm Kenneth, both friends of Hong Yi and Hong Ming. Ex student of sttss and a member of the prefect board.

All the scenarios mentioned do ring a bell as it does happened in my secondary school years too! But just to becareful not to generalise all teachers acting ignorantly as it is distasteful as I do know a minority of teachers that dedicate their time and life for education!

As all these issues had existed chronically, I suggest we really should have a Parent-Teachers liason association to address all these issues mentioned. It certainly would address the root of the cause which in my humble point of view would be the school board giving the fact that teachers are low-paid with long hours and no holiday day-offs! Plus removing the bad apples(with Dirty Rotten Attitudes) in the teaching team!

Aunty Terry, I give you credit for not only raising the issue but certainly has stir the still waters among the parents get involved in defining what type/form of education should kids have!
Cheers from Manchester!

Terri @ A Daily Obsession said...

kimmei: yi might be back in august too, so i'm looking forward to checking out ur ms world bod (pressure, pressure huh!).how come u could grow so tall??

kenneth:'s a pleasure to hear frm silent readers :) so is this what i need to do, write some controversial topic to draw u guys out?
i have been feeling uneasy about this post bc i am not giving the teacher a chance to defend herself. having said tt, i still think teachers ought to check themselves n change their attitudes, really really really. n i do know there r lots of dedicated teachers out there as u have pointed out. PTAs always seem to me like a fighting ring. what we need is a change in the education dept. right now its made up of a gang of xyz# who aren't interested in any positive changes. they just want to make sure books are reprinted in diff formats every year so u can't pass it on to the next sibling, so their printing co can make more $.again in the end its up to the govt, n u know how our gov has been so far.white elephant projects where billions have been spent. the next rally shd be by the underpaid overworked teachers of malaysia.

Terri @ A Daily Obsession said...

sharon: the doc to be? we met at palmerston?where r u now?

Terri @ A Daily Obsession said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Anonymous said...

Yea ;) That's me,haha.I'm in Dublin:) Far far away...

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