Here's a fact I often bring up in conversations, even when no one asks: My mum is a primary school teacher.
What can I say? I love my mum and I'm a proud daughter.
But here's something many aren't aware of— my mum has been teaching in the same school for 15 years.
And I was there with her for four of those years.
In other words, I attended the same primary school my mum taught at.
Everyone, literally everyone— even the canteen stall aunty and school security guards— knew I was my mum's daughter.
It wasn't exactly a secret. As for those who didn't know, well, they found out sooner or later.
To be fair, it wasn't that difficult to tell. My mum and I literally look the same. (She tried to prank me once by claiming I was adopted but I only had to look at myself in the mirror to know she was lying.)
Let's address some misconceptions
Before I share more about my experiences, let me address some misconceptions first.
No, I wasn't given any privileges or special treatment for being a teacher's daughter, and I was never the teacher's pet.
No, my mum didn't tell me the answers or give any hints for my exams.
And yes, I was subjected to the same school rules and regulations as the other students. In fact, my mum wasn't even allowed to teach the classes I was in (something about integrity yada yada).
Only transferred to her school in Primary 3
You might be thinking, 'Oh, your mum is a teacher. Surely you must have had extra lessons or special tips from her?'
This just wasn't the case for me.
You see, my mum taught— and still teaches— English, Mathematics, Social Studies and Science to lower primary students.
However, I transferred to my mum's school when I was in Primary 3, so the syllabus she was teaching was no longer relevant to me. (If I ever found myself wondering what the answer to '3 x 5' was, she'd be my go-to human calculator for the multiplication table.)
Don't get me wrong though. She helped me whenever she could, especially for science (I never understood why we had to learn the different parts of a cell. What was the point???) and the languages.
For the most part, I did the studying on my own. I didn't want to be a burden to my mum— she already had 40 kids to deal with on a daily basis. The last thing she needed was another whiny, immature kid.
I'd be lost without her
So yes, I was just like any other ordinary student... or so I thought.
On hindsight, I now realise that having my mum in the same school as me was a privilege in itself.
Here's a comparison of my first day in my old school and my first day in my mum's school.
- I walked to school while crying.
- I went into the school hall and didn't know where I was supposed to sit, so I cried.
- I met my classmates and teachers, and I cried because there were too many unfamiliar faces around me.
- It was recess time and I got lost as I was making my way to the canteen, so I cried again.
- I attempted to buy a snack but I didn't know how to count money then. I cried.
- I went home.
- I went to school with my mum.
- She brought me to the school hall and showed me where I had to sit.
- I met my classmates and teachers. I could recognise most of the teachers because they're my mum's friends and I've met them before.
- I was able to find my way around the school because my mum had already explained to me where the different facilities were.
- I bumped into my mum a few times in the school and felt comforted whenever I saw her.
- I waited for my mum at her cubicle in the staffroom after school.
- We went home together.
I'm pretty sure I'd literally and figuratively be lost if my mum wasn't around.
She's always there. But is that good or bad?
Looking back, I was lucky, although I didn't know it back then.
Whenever I found myself in a predicament, my mum would be there to save the day.
Once in Primary 3, I misplaced my wallet and had no money to buy food during recess. It was a scary moment for a 9-year-old, as you can imagine. But I wasn't perturbed. I simply made my way to my mum's class (it was on the first floor, right at the corner), and asked her for some money.
However, things were also convenient for my teachers and peers. One wrong move on my part, and they'd go straight to my mum.
Didn't realise my actions reflected on my mum
Some teachers referred to me as 'Mdm ___’s daughter', and most of my peers would come up to me and ask, "Your mother is Mdm ___, right?"
There was extra pressure on me to behave appropriately and to do well in my studies since everyone in the school knew who I was.
But still, I got into a lot of trouble.
Once, I punched a classmate's arm so hard, it started bruising (but this is a story for another time).
I was also caught multiple times for trivial mistakes like wearing ankle socks or not tucking my shirt in properly. I was also reprimanded for playing football in class, talking too much, or getting a low grade.
I couldn't hide anything from my mother, who was always aware of my mischief. She'd either find out from my teachers or from my classmates who ratted me out.
Thankfully for me, my mum rarely scolded me unless she needed to. Instead, she found it more impactful to give me 'the talk'.
It'd start with something along the lines of, "I heard from your teacher that you [insert trouble]."
It would then end with me crying, apologising and promising to be better, although I never kept my promise because 'the talk' happened nearly every other day.
(Seriously, my past self really needed a smack in the head.)
She taught me the important things in life
Now that I'm older, I realised that I was carrying my mum's name (and face) wherever I went, which meant that my actions and behaviour reflected on her.
Looking back, it must have been tough, and I daresay embarrassing, for my mum to bear the brunt of my faults.
I recently asked her about how she felt each time a teacher complained to her about me. Did she ever get upset about it?
My mum told me she never once felt ashamed of me. She took it all in her stride.
That's not to say that she defended me or made excuses for my behaviour — she simply accepted the fact that her one and only daughter isn't perfect. (But she'd still give me 'the talk', of course.)
"Everyone makes mistakes, including you. That's how you will learn and grow," she said.
That's the thing about my mum. She couldn't help me with my maths problem sums, but she always taught me about what I needed to learn in life.
She was right (she always is)
It's been exactly 10 years now since I graduated from primary school. (Yes, I'm that young.)
A lot of things have changed. I've completed my secondary and tertiary education and am now a full-time working adult.
And I continued making mistakes, but I also learned from them and grew to be a better person — of course my mum was right, she always is.
As I was writing this article, my mum came home and excitedly showed me the gifts she received from her students ahead of Teachers' Day on Sep. 3.
It dawned on me that even though I would give all my teachers a present every single year without fail, I never once gave my mum anything for Teachers' Day.
How could I possibly forget the most important teacher in my life?
So here it is, my long-overdue gift: This article was written just for you, Ma.
Thank you for teaching and guiding me through life.
Happy (belated) Teachers' Day.
Follow and listen to our podcast here:
Top photo by Syahindah Ishak.