Classroom Thursday: The Sweetness of An Orange

No matter how different your lives may be, there are always ways to connect with even the most difficult students – if you really try. In this edition of Classroom Thursday, 2014 Fellow Wong Theen Yew finds common ground with a student, with a little help from a mandarin orange.


No matter how different your lives may be, there are always ways to connect with even the most difficult students – if you really try. In this edition of Classroom Thursday, 2014 Fellow Wong Theen Yew finds common ground with a student, with a little help from a mandarin orange.

“C is a victim of bullying in an all boys’ class. He gets jeered every now and then by his classmates. His father’s name gets picked on whenever his classmates feel like it.

He has asthma. Sadly, his classmates love picking on that too. Every morning, they will purposely switch on the fan to its maximum strength to make him tremble in the breeze. Even if I interfere by commanding them to switch it off, they will turn it on again without me realising and then giggle while they look at him shiver.

So today, C simply couldn’t stand it anymore.

Right in front of my eyes, he stomped to the back of the class, got hold of a broom stick, went back to his seat, stood up tall on his chair and raised the stick high up in his desperate attempt to stop the fan from spinning, by blocking the motion of the blades of the fan. As he did that, he let out a thunderous roar, in defiance of the endless bullying.

Clang, clang, clang.

I took 3 clangs to digest what was happening. Before the fourth clang, I screamed at him. ‘STOPPPPPPPPPPPPPPPPPPP!!!!’

He came down, knowing that his message was sent. And before I knew it, he flipped his table with the mightiest of his strength. ‘BANG’ it went, and he burst into tears.

I had another class in the next period, so I made sure he was okay and told him to meet me during recess before I left the class.

During recess, I caught him peeling a mandarin orange alone. And so I put my right hand around his shoulder and escorted him to a gazebo. He told me about him having to reject an offer to go to a vocational college because his mum couldn’t afford it. He told me how he is constantly irritated by his classmates, how he has endured it for almost 2 years.

Just when I was emotionally affected by his family’s poverty, he accidentally dropped two pieces of mandarin orange on the floor. He picked it up instantly, as though his life depended on it. When your family is poor, two pieces of mandarin orange mean the world to you.

I listened patiently. And I told him that I understand how painful it is to be bullied everyday. I understand, because I was both a bully and a victim in my school years.

He didn’t say a thing, as though trying to imply that I was not being helpful.

In my desperate attempt to connect to him, I had to think on my feet.

‘Hmm… Saya tahu serba sedikit tentang agama Islam. Pernah dengar tak Allah maha Pemaaf?’
‘Ya, Cikgu.’
‘Nak belajar tak, daripada Allah?’
‘Nak, Cikgu.’
‘Boleh tak you memaafkan kawan-kawan you tu?’

For two seconds, he didn’t answer.

Instead, his body started trembling with his emotions and he started weeping, tears flowing down his cheek straight down to the floor where his mandarin orange dropped.

My eyes were filled with tears instantly.

‘Boleh, cikgu.’

And then, before he left to the canteen with red eyes and a smile, I received my first ever wholehearted salam from my kids, with a tinge of mandarin orange sweetness.”