Wednesday September 26, 2012
Children, about that teacher ...
By EVE YAP
What should parents tell their children when authority figures behave badly?
WHEN Pang Sze Ann read in April about her former school principal being charged with having paid sex with an underage girl, the 11-year-old “felt a little angry”.
She says: “He had put Pei Chun Public in the spotlight for a very bad reason.”
She was referring to Lee Lip Hong, who had been principal of Pei Chun Public where she studied from Primary 1 to 3.
She had already been studying at another school, Tao Nan, for more than a year when the reports emerged.
Her mother Teresa Wee, 47, a housewife, says she and her husband discussed the matter privately and brought it up with their daughter only when Lee’s name was cited in media reports in April.
“I told her I had something important to tell her – that he had slept with an underage girl and was caught,” says Wee, who is married to a fund manager and lives in a semi-detached house in Serangoon, Singapore.
“I asked her, ‘Are you all right?’, and she says she was shocked but ‘okay’,” says Wee. “I told her that for a person in a high position, especially an educator, the impact of his lapse in standard is greater than for someone who isn’t.”
Following reports of Lee expressing his wish to make amends to his family after his jail term, Wee says: “I said to my daughter that I could respect him more as he has learnt from his mistake and shielded his wife and kids from the incident.”
For her part, Sze Ann says she has “worked it out” – that she should still respect other educators based on their actions, including her current principal, Dr Chin Kim Woon, who “stands at the gate every morning to greet parents and pupils”.
There have been numerous reports of authority figures to children falling from grace.
In July, a former teacher in her 20s from a top secondary school was investigated for allegedly having sex with a member of one of the school’s sports teams, who is now 16.
A coroner’s inquiry two weeks ago into the death of a 16-year-old student at ITE College East, Chiu Ka Ying, found that she had jumped to her death.
Investigations showed that she had confided in a friend that a lecturer had molested her, The New Paper of Singapore reported.
How do parents handle the issue of respected figures who bring disrepute to the profession and betray the trust of young ones who look up to them?
Housewife M. Fong says if she had her way, she would rather not discuss such a thorny issue with her children. The less they know of the seedy side of life, the better, she adds.
Fong says she talked to her youngest child, a Pei Chun pupil, about ex-principal Lee’s case only because the eight-year-old boy brought it up about two months ago.
“His classmates were talking about it as they must have discussed it with their parents,” she says.
“I told him that in school, if you do something wrong, your principal or discipline master will come after you. Outside school, the law takes over,” says Fong.
Her son, too young to further the discussion, had simply nodded, she says.
Parents may not be “natural-born counsellors”, says clinical psychologist Dr Carol Balhetchet.
But their “biggest mistake would be to put their heads in the sand”, minding only day-to-day fires or school grades, adds the director of youth services at the Singapore Children’s Society.
“The best way to deal with such issues is to ask your children questions: ‘How do you feel about what you have just read? What is the word going around with friends?’” she advises.
That is what IT sales director Basil Lee, 40, and his wife Elizabeth, 39, do with their two older children – Gabrielle, nine, and Ian, seven. The youngest, Nathan, is one.
The family lives in a four-room flat in Ang Mo Kio in the city-state. The couple use reports in the newspapers to teach their children lessons in avoiding “folly”, although none of their children has experienced a situation where a respected person let him or her down.
Lee says that he tells his children that if a teacher does something wrong, he would raise the issue with the school.
He adds: “I will give the children time to work out their anger but teach them not to judge a person for the moment of weakness. Maybe in a year’s time, the person could change for the better.
“So, they should still respect other good people in authority.”
P. Tan, a teacher of more than 40 years, says she will encourage her pupils to continue to respect authority “if the person has the boldness to account for his wrong”.
“But if he is in denial, then I will tell the children to think about the negative values he is exhibiting.”
As far as M.F. Zhen is concerned, one errant teacher should not dent her children’s trust in others. Her son is 16 and her daughter is 15.
Zhen and her husband are in their 40s. The family lives in a semi-detached home in Paya Lebar. Her children study at two premier schools which have been in the news because of their teachers’ sexual indiscretions.
Zhen’s son says: “The lapse of judgment by one or two teachers should not bring down the good work of all the good teachers and coaches we’ve had, and our opinion of people in authority.” – The Straits Times, Singapore/Asia News Network