24 May 2011

Why I hated School. Memoirs of a highly introverted child.

Late 1980’s
It’s a frigid morning and it’s pitch dark in my little room. I’ve slammed shut my alarm clock twice. I hate school days. Again the alarm rings. I long to remain ensconced in my warm blanket, in my narrow, single bed. Yet,  against the wishes of my tired muscles and mind, I jump out of bed and my fingers automatically find the light switch. The alarm clock shows five to 6:30am. Darn it, not wanting to miss the bus again, I get myself ready in record time, I’m professional at that.  I still fear school, I still get panic attacks at the thought of school. But I’ve learnt to live with the unpleasant feeling. I often sit at the back of classrooms and hope to blend in with the shadows, never to be spotted by anyone. I’m 16.
After a one hour bus ride, I arrive in school. There are hundreds dressed just like me, light blue pinafore with an opening on the sides, a white blouse underneath. We’re supposed to look the same, but there are the exceptional few who have brought along a jacket to show off, or have put on a colourful bee dees bra beneath the transparent white shirt. (Triumph’s Bee Dees bra was quite a hit then!)
The school bell rings and we automatically form straight rows of 2’s. Prefects come around conducting spot checks to ensure that nobody breaks the rules. No long nails, hair must be neatly tied up, only short stud earrings allowed, no necklaces, no tight skirts or skirts above knee lengths, badges in place, no perfume etc. My heart pounds, it always does more than usual when at school. So many years, and I still feel like I don’t belong. I hate the morning smell of school. Sometimes I hate it so much I have stomach pains and feel like puking.
Our headmistress, always in an old fashioned dress, is on the balcony as usual giving a stern speech. I wonder if she’s ever happy. There are days we’re made to watch as she conducts a public caning. She hopes to shame that poor child in public. Do I mock the girl who’s being caned? No. I turn away and feel her pain.
Classrooms and classes
I’m a shadow at the back of the class, sitting next to a really smart girl. I’m thankful for her, coz she’s saved me from  many a canings I would’ve gotten if not for her. I didn’t like most of the subjects in school, not because the subjects were boring, but because the teachers were. I only had 3 favourite subjects, English, Chemistry and Physics, not because the teachers were interesting, but because the subjects were.
Most teachers came in and wrote on the board sentences taken exactly from textbooks. Most of our assignments were marked not for content, but for neatness of handwriting. Questions were rarely allowed. Sometimes one of my more inquisitive classmates would ask questions which sometimes got teachers mad. “Don’t talk when I talk,” they’d say. There were a few teachers who wept in anger and stomped off because they didn’t like questions and took every question as a challenge on authority. Nothing beats the drama of a crying, shouting teacher who stomps off. :)
Mid 1980’s
My fear of school and teachers is still very much palpable. I’m lining up in the hot afternoon sun. Our whole class has been punished again.  I just hope no one faints or gets hysteria. The irritating teacher sits lazily on the porch with her sunshade, yawning away. She sits there with a smirk that makes me dislike her and the subject even more. Why punish the whole class for trivial issues.
The girl in front of me has been slapped for supposedly sticking a picture on the teacher’s dress. There’s no proof she did it, but she’s slapped anyway. Another has had her whole bag and uniform searched, accused of stealing.
Some days we have Mrs “Lat”, a big fat lady with curly hair and dark rim glasses that slants upwards  on both sides. She frequently made us do her pop quizzes while standing on the chair. The reason was simple, so that she could give a hard smacking whack on our calves and thighs with her wooden ruler which was about 3 ft long, 4 inches wide and half inch thick. Many have felt the sting of this ruler against their calves. Again, I’m grateful for my smart, diligent partner. She and I have a pack, I help her with English, she helps me with pop quizzes so I don’t get hit.  
I did meet a kind teacher once. I think her name was Mrs. Liu. She was an exceptional. I remember the fear and tremor when I forgot to bring my exercise book once. I expected to be slapped, screamed at. I expect because that was norm in school. I deliberated for a long time before telling her. When I did, she held my shoulders, looked me in the eye and asked “did it have to take you a full 20 minutes just to tell me that? It’s ok to forget sometimes.” I tried to avert her gaze like I always do to anyone who looks me in the eye. I felt like I wanted to cry because I’m so relieved and so touched that for once, there is a teacher who actually cares.
Late 1970’s
I’m in primary. The English teacher is conducting a spelling test. She spots me sitting silently as the rest write a newly given word. I start to tremble as she walks to me, large strides, fists clenched. “Let me see your book!!” I show her my book. In my book, I’ve neatly written the entire list of 20 words, while the rest of the class are only on number 5. “You copied!!” she shouted in her shrill voice, with an Indian accent. I kept quiet although I didn’t copy. I’m a highly introverted child. When I’m afraid, I loose my voice. I wanted to tell her that I’d memorized that list many times since last night and have also memorized the sequence in which the words appear. But I remained silent instead. My body trembled as I watched her tear my book to pieces. All the nerves in my body pricked me with a painful sensation so I became numb. I closed my eyes as she dragged with me her strong hands, dragged me to the door and threw me out. I stood outside and cried. I was only 7.
My first day
The teacher calls my name, but I do not answer. She’s mispronounced  my name and so I’ve assumed she was calling someone else. She spells it out..M A R T H A. I raise my hands to acknowledge I’m present. Instead of going on with roll call, she stops and waves her hands, signaling for me to go forward. I approach her table shyly. I’m an introvert, remember? She asks with a mocking voice. I know she did, because of my ability to pick up body language and hidden meanings easily.
 She asked “why did your dad give you such a ridiculous name that no one can pronounce?” How was I supposed to answer that question. She continued, so “How do you say your name?”
I replied “MarTHa”, emphasizing the “th” sound.
“What? Muscle? Muscle?” she laughed, pointing to her triceps,  and the whole class laughed. I still remember her large belly heaving as she let out that asthmatic laugh, her wide mouth opened showing off her crooked brown teeth that desperately needed scaling.
“Let’s see..maybe we can call you mata? (in Malay eyes), or how about matahari (sun), or masa (time).” She continued laughing and laughing. I felt the tears stinging my eyes but I kept quiet.
I’m barely 6 (A Dec child), I’d just traveled an hour to get to school, I desperately miss my parents, I’m a sensitive introverted child, and this was my very first day at school.  I thought school was a protective place where teachers cared. I was wrong. Ever since then, I hated school, I developed panic attacks at the thought of school, I crawled deeper into my own shell and suffered low esteem for many years.

It’s orientation day at a university in the USA, I’m listening to a positive speech for once in my life. I’m encouraged to speak up, to explore, to discuss.  Because I feel accepted here, I’ve begun to love learning. I go from being an A- and B+ student to being a 4.0 (All A’s) student every semester. I smile a lot more often, I’m now brave enough to do things I’d never done before because I’m no longer bounded by  fear.   I even have conversation with my Professors. I love some of them dearly because they inspire me to do greater things.
 I graduate with honours and go on to pursue my Masters. Suddenly I feel, I can do all things, I really can. The verse “I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me” has become a reality. I’ve prayed that verse for years and years, begging God to help me break free from my own prison cell. God answered my prayers and took me through the darkest tunnels in my life.
[Parent, do you have a highly introverted and sensitive child? Does your child suffer from panic attacks, or stomach ache and headaches at the thought of school? Does he/she spend a lot of time locked up in his/her own room dreaming? Loss of appetite and zeal for learning? It might be good to sit down with your child and try to understand what’s going on inside. It’s hard to understand the thoughts of an introvert, especially if you’re an extrovert parent. But it will mean a lot if you’d try to understand without scolding, without mocking, without negative words. Just be there for your child. Using our adult understanding and wisdom, it’s hard to understand and feel the reality of fear within your introverted child. Try to get into your child's shoes instead.]


mom2kiddos said...

Gosh you brought back all those memories of school...almost forgot about the bee dees bra! I was an introverted child too...well I guess I still am. I always hope that my kids will not turn out like me. I want them to be confident and have a healthy self esteem. Can you write a post about that? Haha...a post request!

Carolyn said...

Wow! You are spot on. I think there are many introvert children because of the teachers except those who are teacher's pet. I wonder whether the situation in the school is still the same? Anyway, yes please do a post on how to handle an introverted child and make them confident.

mumsgather said...

Wow. You remember your school days so vividly. I'm afraid my memory isn't half anywhere near yours. I am an introvert child as well who turned into an introvert but trying to be less introvert adult who is hoping that her kids won't turn out as introvert as her. Does that make any sense to you? Haha.

Martha J. Lee said...
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