I Dreamed That I Almost Married

One day before school reopened and we got ready to march back to school with ammunition in hand, strapped on body and stuffed in bag, I had a horrifying nightmare. It could have been romantic, I think, given the subject matter of the dream… but it was more terrifying, and the emotions that toiled through my gentle sleeping soul (most vulnerable to strong tidal currents of emotion because of the haunting, foreboding nature of school) was so overwhelming I actually jumped up on my bed at 3 in the morning.

Yes, I dreamed that I almost married.

The key word here is almost. Well, if I had married in my dream, I would be elated (provided I know who the groom is and all that). It could have been a charming, satisfying, rosy little dream. But I didn’t get married. I woke up before anything could happen. So I guess I’m left hanging in oblivion.

Well, here was how the dream went. I was proposed to by X, a fuzzy while back. But because we have been so busy with work commitments, we have not had a decent conversation in ages. (Ignoring the married part, there is some degree of truth in that.) So in the dream it was a Friday, and we were suppose to get “married” on Saturday. My brain and heart was trying to recall if it was a wedding we had planned or if it was just the registering of marriage. If it was the former, things looked confusingly bleak and worrying – we may have to postpone it. But if it was just signing of some legal documents and exchanging some vows, I need only call my family and witnesses down… right? 

The only problem was, I did not know how to contact him to double check. I couldn’t just wait until he called me, could I? But I did not know if I should call, or send a text message. I was growing cold and numb from fretting (like literally cold sweat) and I would have sought advice from my mum, but the embarrassing and strangest part was that I did not tell her about X or the proposal. If I did break the news to her then, I recall feeling/thinking, it would have shocked the wits out of her and raging disapproval would have flowed out from her.

So you see, it was horrifying to think that I did not know if I was getting married truly, I did not know what status my relationship with the groom was, I did not know who to turn to, and my family and friends had no clue about my possible marriage. To sum it all up, it was obviously – a bad idea.

I accredit this nasty nightmare to the fact that those emotions I felt in my dream, runs parallel to the emotions I was feeling one day before school reopened. A woman without promise of a groom or wedding can only feel extreme vulnerability and insecurity; so would a teacher entering a class after a long time. A woman without the support and comfort of her family can only feel helpless and humiliated; so did I, feeling so unprepared for school.

The strangest detail, which I left out when retelling this tale to my colleagues and friends, was that there was a face to this X in the dream. The emotions I felt through the dream is also an amplified version of those same emotions and confusions I have toward him. That is the disturbing part of it, because there is now this nagging feeling that “us” is a bad idea.

We will see.

It Works Out Anyway: Live With That.

Two weeks ago, a colleague and I conducted pre-arranged Literature holiday classes for twenty students who will be sitting for their national examinations in three months. At its lowest point, we had four out of twenty students turn up for class one day, citing a variety of reasons. I was devastated – a mixture of emotions ran through me like laundry liquids tumbling in a washer.

A part of me should have seen it coming, really. One week before the holidays, I set the class a short written assignment. Two days later, none of them bothered to complete it. A week later, I had seven assignments turned in despite numerous (apparently, obviously empty) threats.

It has been two weeks since. If I could be honest (and often, we cannot afford to), I am still deeply affected by what happened. That day, my Facebook status update read:

Today I learned that work involves learning to suffer and manage humiliation and disappointment, while being taken for granted at the same time.

It was a bad, ugly, vile-tasting concoction of humiliation, anger, disappointment, frustration, angst, concern, weariness, and how-you-would-feel being taken for granted. I wanted to lash out at them in anger, but I was too tired and disappointed to act on my frustration as an educator. I wanted to convey my concerns, but I was too angry to speak rationally and graciously to them. I wanted to be cool and pretend it did not bother me, but I was too humiliated to let it pass. At the end of the day, no decision I could have made would have resolved the situation, there was no perfect solution to the problem.

Then the mind began playing the “I Should Have” game. I should have came down harder on them from the beginning. I should have given them drills rather than try to deliver inspiring lessons. I should have gone straight to business rather than try to get through to them by being a supporter, encourager, motivator. I should have, I should have, I should have… Those words and their equivalent counterparts can suck the hope of life out of you. It was so strange that R could relate exactly to whatever I was saying over dinner yesterday. It turned out that she was going through the same doubts and angst with her graduating classes!

One and a half weeks ago in one of our staff learning sessions, we viewed a clip on someone who insisted that Teachers Are All Failures. (Whoa, right.) He seemed to be trying to validate our professional existence by undermining it – trying to make us realise that, contrary to our popular Singaporean mentality for success, failing was a norm; failing was the norm. We could never ever deliver a perfect lesson, he says, we would always be able to do something better. There would always be something we did not do, or did not do well enough, or should not have done, or could have done.

If we give ourselves enough time to sit and think on it, that list of possibilities to make a lesson, a teacher-student conference, or a moment at school be better, is endless. We would never be able to say we have “done our best”, because there is always something more we could have done. As a form teacher of my Secondary Two class, the list of things I can do for my kids is infinite and eternally non-exhaustive. The school prescribes certain procedures we need to follow, but I could also email or call the parents every week to update them on their child’s progress, I could write my kids personal letters to encourage them, I could sit down with one kid per day to give them attention, I could celebrate every child’s birthday, I could set up a class Facebook page and update it with memos, reminders and jokes every other day, I could put up a class birthday chart to build camaraderie, I could speak to the subject teachers to find out the progress of my students… you get the picture. This is just one role an educator in a school plays. “Doing our best” is infinitely out of reach.

Sounds depressing already?

Well, the truth is, I am trying to come to terms with this. We know it is depressing, and it sucks to admit it, but it is the truth (and I’m certain this does not apply only to teaching). I need to learn that as a teacher, we will never have the luxury or privilege to say “I have done my best.” We will never live a day where we can declare, “I conducted the perfect lesson.” But do we beat ourselves up over our failures? Do we condemn ourselves because I could have done this, or because I did not that?

I believe the beauty in the life of an educator, our lives, is in four words:

it works out anyway.

There is always a reason (and many more) to blame ourselves for the failures in our day-to-day endeavours. But rather than play the blame game and end up living a shorter, unhealthier and more dissatisfying life, we could choose to recognise and live each day with a smile because it works out anyway.

It sounds like I am all ready to shirk responsibility, but not when God comes into the picture. Our God is a planner, and He has already worked things out His way. Rather than look at our infinite list of “I Should Haves” as a list of reasons why we did not meet our potential or hit perfection, we should look upon them as points of reflection. Mollycoddled them earlier in the year with devastating consequences? I will learn to avoid that next year. Pandered to their requests too easily in a bid to get them to like me and feel inspired? I will be more aware of that and try an alternative approach next year. Our “I Should Haves” should help us to step higher and higher – in spirit, knowledge and experience – not drag us down.

You see, our life as an educator is not made up of right and wrongs that will pave the way to a path of success (for ourselves, our students, or whomever else). It is made up of choices. Each of these decisions (to punish or to spare, to command or to inspire…) do not carry with them a value of Right or Wrong, but they do lead to different outcomes. Sometimes these outcomes bring an instant smile to our faces, sometimes these outcomes make us cry before we laugh, sometimes the smile only surfaces years later.

The beauty of it is that we will never know, will we? We will never know what truly are the outcomes of the choices we make everyday when we educate the kids under our charge. It is scary: the prospect of having no Right choice, but a gazillion of potential choices with possible outcomes, I suppose. But when you think of how God oversees the lives of our kids, and He will work it out in His way, in His time, I am mighty glad and thankful we are not the ones responsible for writing the life story of our kids.

God is. And in love, He will write a great story for each of them.

I guess this is one truth I have come to learn this year as an educator. There are things, perpetual struggles even, that we need to learn to live with, accept and perhaps celebrate.

Before I Close My Eyes Tonight

I must have written this short draft of a New Year Resolution on my phone on 31 December 2011. Decided that it was worth letting this post see the light of day on WPC. :)

I have 35 minutes to write something in 2011. And i thought, i’d better take it, because 2012 will have to be different.

I started working this year, paid my first taxes, treated my family to meals, bought my own watch and hp (before mr shao comes along and shops for those with me) and i really need to give thanks to God simply for the ability to give back to others as a teacher.

Our dearest Reverend and spiritual father and family friend, Mu Shi has also returned to the Lord. Mum still grieves in a lot of pain sometimes. I know she misses him very much because he fought the spiritual warfare with her at the frontlines and gave her wisdom and so much courage. These few nights i hear her sobbing and sniffing more often. I pretend not to hear it to keep her privacy. But his passing though painful, hasn’t weakened our community or camaraderie as a church. I praise the Lord for that.

Next year i said i would like to be less of a couch potato and a coward, and more of a proactive servant worker. I need to be less forgiving for my own mistakes and love others with a bigger heart. May 2012 prove to be even sweeter because of His grace.

Goodbye 2011!

Tribute to All the Single-Parents

It was my third PTC (parent-teacher-conference) last week. My objectives as the form teacher were simple: to understand the child’s background and relationship with his/her parent, to offer advice on how the child can improve, and to address any concerns the parent might have.

So like previously we saw a plethora of different parent “types”. We had those who were too busy, they had no time for their child, and therefore did not turn up. We met with parents who were so strict they pulled a black face and kept heaping their child criticism upon criticism. We also had parents who were protective, and parents who had baggage of their own they came to be counseled.

But the kind of parent that strike me most deep, I think, are the single-parents.

Perhaps because my siblings and I were brought up by our single-parent mum, we know that it is sure tough to be a single-parent mum. Not only are you responsible for putting food on the table, these single-parents are also responsible in calling the shots and making the decisions in their child’s upbringing. Should they employ a domestic help, or should they let their grandparents take care of the child? What if the child becomes overly pampered, or if the child does not have proper supervision at home? How can keep tabs on my child to make sure he/she does not mess around, but at the same time give him/her enough free space to socialize and grow and learn? If my child is doing badly for a subject, how can I make up for it, if I am tied down with work until 8pm every night? How much allowance should I give to my child, and daily, weekly, or monthly? How should we celebrate their birthdays?

The decisions that any parent has to make is endless, and it will never end, even as the child grows older. The future of your household, your family, your child, lies very honestly, in the hands of that parent calling the shots.

It can be a beautiful picture, or it can be a painful one wrought with struggle.

When we were growing up, my mum often said this of her role as a single-parent: I have to be both the father and the mother at the same time; I have to wear both hats; I have to discipline and I have to love.

As a teacher speaking with the single-parents of my kids, I realize that I was witnessing that very struggle my mum was speaking about.

They have to be both the disciplinarian, who will mete out the proper balanced consequences of wrong actions – without which the child will run free and not have the proper supervision and guidance probably required during their teens. And at the same time they have to be the caregiver, the one who will show love and concern, and coax the child into doing what is right. Let’s not bring in how the natures of women and men are intrinsically different, and are probably wired to play different roles in a family.

As a result, I hear that struggle in their voices when we converse with them. On one hand they are driven by an obligation for the good of the child to discipline them, on the other hand they hate to be the one who always follow up with such disciplinary measures because it puts a strain on their relationship with the child, and many of them simply do not have the luxury of time and space to follow up with their child closely.

Many parents we spoke to, shed tears of frustration and sorrow when we met them. I don’t think I am deeply affected with grief at the sight of my students’ parents wiping away her tears, but I do feel pained for her, in a sense. “I really don’t know what to do…”, “It’s my fault…”, “I should have…” are very common things we hear. And for one moment, I feel that the school should educate the students on how to show gratitude to their parents and understand that it is not easy to bring up a child, much less if you have to do it without the support of your spouse.

I think our kids need to realize that what they see as a nag and a bother, is actually a form of love their parents are showing towards them. I just wish we did not feel such dire need to address the academic concerns of the child, but address the moral, emotional and social needs of the child more. For the first time, my heart went out not to the students, but to the single-parents struggling to deal with life and family on their own.

I think they deserve a standing ovation for their continuous attempt year after year to hold on to and bring up their children. We do not credit them enough praise and thanks, and certainly their never-ending efforts deserve all the recognition we can give.