“Those who failed the test must take the re-test on Wednesday afternoon.”
“I can’t. I have to finish my art coursework. I’m very stressed over it. I need to finish it.”
“You can go finish it after the re-test. This isn’t my rule. This is the H* Department’s rule. If you don’t turn up we’ll have to call your parents.”
“Call lor. I’ll tell my parents to write a letter. Ask them to complain.”
And that was the end of that, because I didn’t see why I should continue arguing with her. I walked away, feeling that my day had been somewhat ruined by that short exchange.
On Wednesday afternoon, she came. I greeted her with a smile and spoke to her in a welcoming tone. “I’m glad you came!”
“I just need to finish the questions I failed, then I can go?”
“Yes! Remember not to repeat your mistakes!”
And she did pass, this time.
And then we started talking.
“Why are you so stressed over your Art? Shouldn’t you have finished your coursework in June?”
“It’s because… the new art teacher this year… she wasn’t clear about the deadlines… so we started later. Now I’m stressed I cannot finish in time.”
“Yeah… I’m really scared I’ll do badly for my N Levels.”
“Why would you do badly? You’re not that bad, you’re actually one of my better students.”
“Yes. Just remember that Stalin was from Russia, Hitler from Germany. NOT the other way around.”
She replied with a sheepish grin.
“I don’t even know what course I want to go to after I graduate. I like Psychology, and Design, but I also want to do Early Childhood and become a pre-school teacher. I scared study Design, next time no future. Then I also wanted to go into Law, but that one super hard to get in.”
And on and on she rattled.
I found myself getting to know this girl whom had been nothing but just a face in the classroom, a name on paper. Papers which always produced somewhat decent grades, hiding among the many others as a blur of words and content. That was all I knew about her before she chose to open up.
After discussing with her the pros and cons of studying something which “might not have a future”, I ended by telling her: “Do what will make you happy.”
She seemed to think about that for awhile, and in that moment, we were not teacher and student, pitted against each other by the cruel system, but two humans, sighing and dreaming in the midst of this rat race of life and our search for happiness.
Also a timely reminder that even behind the seemingly worst students, there are fears, hopes, stories and dreams. We just need to take time and effort to reach out to them. And while every starfish you touch may seem insignificant to the world, you may mean the world to that starfish.