Teaching Thomas: Discipline

As I am teaching Thomas, I realize that as a teacher, I am very much a product of my own education. So what does that exactly mean?

Yesterday, I met Thomas’ father. He is a very nice man and speaks to me in Mandarin with a Cantonese accent. He seems largely unaware of Thomas’ educational situation except for the fact that his son needs help. It is surprising to see how concerned the parents are with Thomas’ English. After all, he is only 5 years old. When I met his father, he asked if I could work with Thomas for two hours instead of one, as if more time means a better outcome. I don’t think any child in kindergarten is able to sit still for two hours let alone work on phonics for that long. At the end of my session with Thomas, his father told me that I should try to be more strict with Thomas, such as yelling at him if he does not obey.

For some reason, I just cannot imagine scaring a kid into homework as a good thing. I know from my own experience growing up, I developed a fear whenever my dad came around to see what I was working on for homework. I remember being yelled at for not getting good grades, not finishing my homework, and any other parts of being a good student that I failed to achieve. By fourth grade, I think my father realized that all that yelling actually hindered my learning. I would blank out whenever he tried to watch what I was working on. He had accomplished what he intended – fear associated with school work.

I realize that like the picture above, I tend to use positive reinforcement as a way of encouraging Thomas to work. I try tell him he’s done a good job, that he can do it, that phonics is easy because he’s so smart. Thomas’ father also expressed that he doesn’t know what to do with his son because all he likes to do is play. It breaks my heart to think his father can’t see how bright his son is. Sure, Thomas is easily distracted and does like to fool around with anything he can. But I’ve also seen that he is so bright – pointing out that there are different “a” sounds, the short and long vowel sound. His eagerness for play and activities also makes him a very curious and inquisitive student. In working with him for a few days, he has been a lot easier to work with than I had expected. In our last session, I assigned him some homework and printed out a homework stamp sheet. I told him, if he does his homework, he gets a stamp. If he gets all ten stamps, then I give him a prize. I hope it works.

I really do hope that his parents can see their son as a child with all the capabilities of success. His father doesn’t hesitate in talking about his son as if he were already a teenage delinquent. When I look back on my childhood, I know my parents categorized me as the shy, obedient, but compassionate child while my sister was the outgoing, rebellious, and street-smart child. I can see in many cases how in being constantly defined by those categories by my parents and other family friends, that there was an unconscious reinforcement of those categories just by hearing them said by adults over and over again.

I am very well aware that being a parent is not easy, and that it is easy for me to see the good in Thomas when I only have to work with him in one hour time slots. Moreover, it must be extremely frustrating to be told that at 5 years old, your son is already lagging behind and it’s in a subject matter that the parents really have no control over. I just hope that maybe in seeing how he progresses with his pronunciation and phonics, his parents can see that he is fully capable of success and that what they see as faults can be redirected as qualities useful for any learning situation.

(Image above from Tiger Mom Says)

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