Alan – “For someone to believe in me”

I just saw an inspiring commercial on TV for people to join the teaching profession. It reminded me of how important it is to believe in someone. Sometimes all it takes is for one person to believe in them, and it can mean a difference to a kid’s life. And it reminded me of a student I once had – Alan.

I first met Alan when he was in Secondary One. I had the fortune, or misfortune, to be his form teacher. Later on I found out he was from the primary school next door, where my aunt used to teach. I asked her if she knew him, and did she know him! He was in a programme for at-risk kids in her school and she was overseeing the programme. More interestingly, my husband and another friend used to volunteer at the programme and they both knew Alan too. So I got quite acquainted with Alan even before class really started.

Alan was the typical hyperactive Secondary One boy. He got into mischief. A lot. And was very disruptive and loud in class. I remember Teachers’ Day of 2007. Alan waited for me behind the door in his class, armed with a water bomb. I got alerted by his classmates (good thing I had them on my side!) and disaster was averted. To show him how mad I was, I refused to go to class for the Teachers’ Day celebration, until he came to apologise, upon pressure from his classmates. The lesson for him to learn was that he had to apologise for his mistakes, and not think he could do as he wished and get away with it! Being attacked by a water bomb was just not my idea of a wonderful Teachers’ Day celebration.

Each day as I stepped into class, I wondered what tricks this boy might be up to. Could it be taking the glass panes off the window slabs again? Or hiding his friend’s belongings? Or bullying? (One time he sent a text message to a boy he and his group of friends were ostracizing. He pretended to be a secret admirer, but the boy knew it was Alan and told me about it. Alan feigned ignorance. He was adamant that it wasn’t him. I waited a few hours later before calling the number, and it was his voice on the other end of the line. So much for “I swear it’s not me!”)

With a case as extreme as Alan, the turning point was quite memorable too (although it still took him some time to kick the habit of playing pranks and bullying his friends). I remember the day well.

We had public speaking in English class. I told the class I was grading them and the best presenter would get a prize. Alan surprised us all with his speaking skills. It should have come as no surprise, seeing how good he was at fabricating stories to get him out of trouble. My favourite story of his was how he told my friend, his ex-counsellor, that he was an orphan, and didn’t have much money, and no one to love him. It wasn’t true! He actually has good parents who both had good jobs. So Alan won the prize for best public speaking.

When I presented him with the prize, which was a little purple stapler, you could see the pride underneath his cool exterior. He muttered thanks. But it was the way he took care of the stapler that showed how much winning this meant to him. When his friends needed to borrow his stapler, you could hear the pride in his voice as he said, “Here, here, you can borrow mine!”

What made a difference was for Alan to realize he could be good at something, that he could do well, and that success was an option.

Alan started to open up to me slowly. I learnt to focus on his strengths and gave him words of encouragement instead of reprimanding words that he had no lack of from everyone around him, teachers and parents alike.

One day, he broke down when I had a heart to heart talk with him about why he had to behave badly, and that he could make a choice to do the right things. He told me that if there was one thing he wished, it was that his dad would stop hitting him in punishment. At that age, what he wanted was for his dad to talk to him like a big boy, a teenager. You could see that underlying that was a need for affirmation from his father. I called his mom to tell her what he confided in me, and to share these thoughts from a teenage boy who didn’t know how to communicate his thoughts and feelings to his parents. His parents are wonderful people and very open to communication. I’m sure his mom talked to his dad about this, because the next time I saw Alan, he was beaming, and I asked him why he was so happy. He told me his family sat down to dinner together the night before, and they talked. It was a simple conversation over a meal, but it meant a lot to him. And as his parents changed the way they dealt with him, you could also see the change in Alan.

As I said, it took some time for Alan to kick those bad habits. But you could see new motivation in him when he got the approval of his parents and his teachers. I wasn’t the only teacher, of course, whom he felt he could approach and who believed in him. He did very well in his CCA too as his teacher gave him leadership opportunities and trusted him with responsibilities that would normally not have been given to him.

Alan later on went to ITE and is hoping to go to Poly next.

I got a Facebook message from Alan today. He wanted to let me know he’s graduating from ITE with Early Childhood Studies, no less! And was scouted by soccer coach, Fandi Ahmad to play for him last year! He’s pursuing his passion indeed. And then he went on to say, “A lot has happened in the past 2 years since I graduated from secondary school and while a lot of people have written me off back then, you were one of the people who kept spurring me forward. I just wanted to say thank you for believing in me when others have clearly lost hope.”

I am sharing this story of Alan not to say I’m a good teacher, for I am still learning. But I want to remind us all, teachers, parents, youth leaders and youth workers, that it is so important to see the good in a child, and encourage him to pursue his best, and not put anyone down for the mistakes he has made. Sometimes all it takes is for one person to believe in you, and you can soar. 

I am so proud of you, Alan.

(His name has been changed for privacy reasons.)

A practical tip I learnt (for parents and teachers):

Use the positive instead of negative.

Eg. “Please put the blocks in the toy box.” Instead of “Don’t throw the blocks all over the floor!”

Or “Please sit down and read Page 78 of your textbook.” Instead of “Don’t talk, don’t walk around, don’t ….” Because then they will say, “If I can’t do this and that, what can I do then?”


Teen Stories


How many of us have talked to or worked with teenagers who are angry/depressed/confused/violent etc? Why is adolescence such a tumultuous time?

Experts can explain it from the physiological point of view (hormonal changes causing changes in brain activity which in turn causes changes in hormone levels blah blah?, emotional point of view (adolescence is a volatile period, the transition from childhood to adulthood, time of seeking identity and belonging etc) or cognitive point of view (among others).

But the reality is if you are a teacher of teens (high school, secondary school) or a youth leader, you will face countless episodes of blow ups from one or many of those you work with. If you are a parent of teens, you probably have an ongoing drama series or soap opera going on at home with a few episodes playing everyday!

No matter what reasons may be available out there to explain teenagers’ out-of-the-norm behaviour, I believe 2 things: 1) The home is a major factor contributing to instability in a teenager’s emotions and behaviour, 2) there is a way to cope with these behaviours (or misbehaviours) and teenagers should be taught to manage their emotions and behaviour. Of course, ideally, the source of the issues should be addressed. But as teachers, there are problems outside of school that we cannot solve. There could also be situations when the home environment is perfect or ideal, but the teenager has personal issues that causes problems to surface. We could coach them and help them to manage their issues and not turn into a delinquent for want of attention.

Hence, I’ve decided to start a collection of true Singapopre Teen Stories to share some of the stories I’ve encountered over my 10 years in youth ministry in church and 8 years teaching teens, with the hope that these stories will help us to understand the issues teenagers face and think about our roles as teachers or parents and how we can help guide and coach them through the difficult growing up years. This may also involve instilling discipline and putting in routine and boundaries in a teen’s life. It is better for us to be able to do this with them, than for them to have to learn that in an insitution like The Boys’ Home.

More than that, it’s about giving them a chance to grow up. If your one-year-old falls while learning to walk, you don’t immediately yell at her, “Why did you fall?! Get up!” So why do we raise our voices at teenagers who are just learning to be mature and responsible young adults? They will make mistakes, they will mess up, and they will even justify their wrongdoings and seem to honestly not think they have done anything wrong! (aggravating) But if we scold them everytime they fail, one day they’ll just stop trying…

I do not profess to be an expert or an academic in this area. I certainly do not write like they do in the books we read on our courses on teaching teenagers! (If you want someone to understand what you are writing, then write in a way they can understand!) And the names will of course be made up, but the stories are true, and they are real people, much like the ones we see in our classrooms everyday.

Enjoy! (And let me know if you have any inputs to share!)

Prophetic Destiny of a Generation

Riding on what Bill Norton preached on Saturday, this post is about the prophetic generation of the end times believer, including our and our children’s generations.

When I was expecting our first child, Caleb, I felt the Lord say that our children will see the coming of the Lord. I have always prayed that my generation will see the coming of the Lord, and am still hoping that we will not see death, but will meet with the Bridegroom when He comes again. But with each coming generation, the day of the Lord’s coming is nearer. Hence, it is even more likely that the coming generations will see the Lord’s return.

One of the names we had for the baby, if it was a girl, was Anna. Anna saw the Messiah, the Lord when He first came to earth. I felt like this was the prophetic destiny of our child. Of course, we had a boy, and named him Caleb. I didn’t think much about the thought of his generation seeing the coming of the Lord. Every now and then, I would remember that. Sometime last year, just before his fourth birthday, we were having a conversation and out of the blue, Caleb asked when Jesus is coming back. He asked me to pray and ask when Jesus is coming back when I told him I don’t know when He’s coming back. And I asked him if he wants Jesus to come back, and he said Yes, he does. It showed a sincere desire for the Lord, and to see the Lord, from the heart of a young child. I was reminded of how I’d felt that our children’s generation will see the coming of the Lord. And I saw that desire in Caleb, a desire for the Lord to return. And I told him to start praying for the Lord to return.

In the recent years, we’ve seen so much of Matthew 24 happen – earthquakes, famines, wars, rumours of wars – we know that the Lord is coming again. But the gospel is not yet brought to the ends of the earth. There is yet work to be done.

I don’t profess to be a prophet and say that our children WILL see the Lord. But this is our sincere prayer, that we will see the glorious day of His return, and the wonderful days that He will be King over all the earth.

What is your cause in life?

Save the whales? Don’t eat sharksfin? Or something greater?

If we live life without a cause, we’re living an empty life. We all need a vision in life (Read my post on Don’t be a Dream-Killer).

I was watching a DVD, Amazing Grace. This is the second time I’ve seen this movie but it always brings tears. The hero in the movie is William Wilberforce – the slave trade abolitionist. The one who wrote the song, “Amazing Grace” is John Newton. Newton was the captain of a slave ship and in his old age, “20,000 ghosts of the slaves” haunt him. At the end of his life, he wrote an account of what happened on the slave ships to bring to light the cruelty and inhumane torture that goes on in the ships. Wilberforce spent his life trying to get the slave trade abolished in England. It was kicking against the goads because the trade was what brought money to the merchants and to the country. But the bill was finally passed after years of hard work and impassioned speeches in the House of Commons.

This is not just a fairytale. It’s a true story. There have been many such stories of men and women who have given their lives to such causes. William Booth, founder of Salvation Army, for one. Are they just far-fetched stories that can only happen to ‘other people’? How about us? Can we leave behind such a story when we die?

Poverty and need is in our face everywhere, everyday. 16,000 children die of causes related to poverty everyday. Everyday. Not each year. Everyday. Can we hear the cries of these children? Or are we too far away? First world nation, third world nation, we don’t mix, like oil and water.

When we read a story like this one:, what is our response?

“a Chinese writer, describes visiting a peasant family in the Yimeng area of Shandong province. The wife was giving birth. “We had scarcely sat down in the kitchen”, she writes (see article), “when we heard a moan of pain from the bedroom next door…The cries from the inner room grew louder—and abruptly stopped. There was a low sob, and then a man’s gruff voice said accusingly: ‘Useless thing!’

“Suddenly, I thought I heard a slight movement in the slops pail behind me,” Miss Xinran remembers. “To my absolute horror, I saw a tiny foot poking out of the pail. The midwife must have dropped that tiny baby alive into the slops pail! I nearly threw myself at it, but the two policemen [who had accompanied me] held my shoulders in a firm grip. ‘Don’t move, you can’t save it, it’s too late.’

“‘But that’s…murder…and you’re the police!’ The little foot was still now. The policemen held on to me for a few more minutes. ‘Doing a baby girl is not a big thing around here,’ [an] older woman said comfortingly. ‘That’s a living child,’ I said in a shaking voice, pointing at the slops pail. ‘It’s not a child,’ she corrected me. ‘It’s a girl baby, and we can’t keep it. Around these parts, you can’t get by without a son. Girl babies don’t count.’”

My husband told me about this story and it haunted me. How many babies are being killed like this everyday? Who can save them? I wrote my pastor an email about my dream to save all the babies in the world. It’s unrealistic, but we can start somewhere. Each child we save makes a difference to that child, like the starfish story.

In the same week, my student posted a video on facebook about children in the Amazon Basin being buried alive because the village couldn’t afford to feed one more child. His comment on that video was he watched it, and he felt helpless. He wished he could do something to save these children. But he felt helpless. I commented and encouraged him and his friends to do what they can right now as students. They can work hard in school, and when they are older, they can make a difference in the world by getting a good job and giving money to help the poor, or go where the poor is and help them directly. There’s something we all can do, at all stages of our lives. I may be living in Singapore, a first-world nation, right now. But one thing we can do right now is to channel funds to children in third-world countries. We sponsor a child through Compassion, and our church has a Kids Sponsorship Program to sponsor the education of children in Uganda, Myanmar and Sri Lanka.

William Wilberforce said he had two dreams in his life: To see the slave trade abolished, and to make the world a better place. He lived his life for that cause.

What is your cause in life? Is it to live your life for yourself? Or to give your life to God and to serve those He loves?

What is your cause in life?

Some of my favourite biographies:

– Mary Slessor

– David Livingstone

– Charles Finney

– George Muller

– Amy Carmichael

– Hudson Taylor

– William Booth

– Heidi Baker (Always Enough)

And there’s this blog my husband introduced me to. This lady left the US for Uganda when she was just 19! She’s adopted 14 girls since and runs a ministry in Uganda today. She’s given her life for this cause. She says people tell her they wish they can be like her, do what she does. She tells them, don’t just wish, do it!

Stories in Mathematics

My previous few posts were a little on the heavy side. So here’s a lighthearted one.

I love Mathematics! It was one subject I didn’t mind having to study for tests and exams. I could stay up the whole night to work on questions. And there’s always such a sense of achievement and satisfaction when I get the answer. Bingo! I love to teach Math too. I started teaching in when I was giving tuition at 17/18 years old. I think I have a knack for explaining how to do sums. And explaining WHY we need to learn the countless formulae, theorums and identities.

Using stories and illustrations are a good way to explain Math concepts. Here are a few funny ones I came up with just today, while teaching a Secondary One boy.

On teaching negative numbers and operations:

“Let’s say you are a good boy. You got to know a bad kid and started hanging around him. What do you think will happen? Yes, you’ll be influenced. So when you have a Negative number and a Positive one, the answer is Negative when you multiply or divide them!”

“Now if you are two good kids, you’ll remain good. So that’s still Positive. But if two bad kids come together, they look at how bad the other is and each decided to be good! So Negative and Negative make Positive!”

On teaching improper fractions and mixed numbers:

“See, when the top is bigger than the bottom, it is like Humpty Dumpty. If you let it stay that way, what will happen? Yes, Humpty Dumpty falls over. So you need to simplify it to be a mixed number.”

Ingenious? As he was doing his work, I heard him mumbling to himself, “Good kid, bad kid… bad…” Haha! As long as it works right? 😉

Another illustration my old teacher used in Secondary School was about graphs. I’ll always remember it and tell my students that too. “If a graph is positive, it will go upwards, towards heaven. If it is a negative graph, with the x coefficient being negative, it will do down to hell.” For quadratic graphs, “If a graph is positive, you’ll get a smiley face, happy! If a graph is negative, you’ll get a sad face..” Amazing Mathematics!

Maybe these will work for you or your kid. Try it. 🙂

Don’t be a Dream-killer – Written September 15, 2010

Recently, I got my class to write an essay on Dreams. Reading their essays got me thinking about my own dreams. What are my dreams? What do I want to do in life? We all have dreams. Where do we let our dreams lead us?

“Where there is no vision, the people perish” – Proverbs 29:18 

I’ve talked to people who don’t seem to know what they want to do in life. They just go through day by day.They have no vision in life. Therefore they have no hope for the future, no goal, no motivation. Yes, that sounds like so many of our young people today. No vision, no goal, no motivation.

We need vision to live.

We need to know where we are going in order to find purpose in life. Vision comes from God. His word is a lamp to our feet and a light to our path (Psalm 119:105). We need to hear from Him to know what we’ve been created to do.

Moses met with God. Joshua met with God. Jacob met with God. Countless numbers of people met with God. Through these encounters with God, they find their purpose in life. The Creator reveals to the creation the purpose for which they were created. They found vision for their lives.

If vision is the lamp that shows us the way to go, I believe that dreams are the fuel that keeps the lamp burning. If we believe in the vision, we’ll start dreaming of how we’ll get there. I know I do that. It’s human nature. Although it’s not by human endeavour that we get there, dreams keep us going. And like my pastor said on Sunday, we just may never know, the ideas that we have in our heads may have been planted by God (yea, like Inception). Our creative God gave us a creative mind so we don’t stop thinking, and don’t stop dreaming. But too many dreams have been killed, put out like a flame. And these are some of the best ways to kill someone’s dreams:

Telling them:

1) You? You can never do it.

2) Don’t waste your time. It’s not possible. Impractical.

3) Hahaha!

Yes, our words are often what kills dreams. And when we laugh and scoff at their dreams, it quenches them! How many times have we heard a parent, teacher or youth leader say those words to a youth? How many times have we, as parents, teachers or youth leaders said that to a youth?

Please don’t do it.

When you kill someone’s dreams, you’re removing their sense of purpose in life, their motivation and energy for what they do. Do we want our youth to grow up being one of these 2 extremes?

1) A hamster running the wheel their whole lives. Run, run, run, not knowing what they’re running for. Just doing what they should be doing. Study, work hard, make money, get married, start family, die.

2) Rebel with a cause. Or so they think. Their cause is just to go against anything that people who’ve hurt them want them to do. And these people could be the very ones who think they’re helping them by giving sound words of advice. But in the process, they’ve killed their dreams.

We all want to die as great people. I’ve heard this illustration many times. The graveyard is the richest place on earth. It’s rich with potential and dreams that weren’t fulfilled. On the tombstone, we read the year that a person was born, followed by a dash, then the year that he died. People are not going to remember when you were born or when you died. But it’s what happens in between that matters. Life is short, just like the dash. What are people going to remember in the dash that is your life?

Interestingly, the National Day theme this year is, Fly our flag, Live our dreams. As children in the kingdom of God, we’ve gotta fly the flag of the kingdom high, and live our dreams for God. Let Him use us to make an impact in the world we live in, that the King may be glorified.

Live the vision that God has given in your life, keep dreaming, let your dreams fuel your way in fulfilling the vision.