A few days ago I berated a former student of mine. This was after I promised myself that I wouldn’t lose my temper. I envisioned myself as Agent Gibbs, stoic instead of flying off the handle every so often.

It has been three years since she graduated from high school and through those years she kept in touch via social media platforms and visits to school. I found her actions endearing, as it oozed with sincerity. She had cut the umbilical cord from high school life, but was still uncertain in her new world of junior college. The educational path way she chose was design school after 10th grade to fast track her way to a degree. She’d pop in my office every now and then to chit-chat before seeing her boyfriend who decided to finish the 12th year of high school. She then went overseas to the sister school of her design school to finish her course. She still kept in touch whenever she could because her academic schedule was testing her mettle to the fullest. Academically, she was, according to her mother, faring quite well than her classmates.

Sphere Balance by Danilo Rizzuti []

Spheres Balance by Danilo Rizzuti []

The last time I saw her was almost four months ago when she appeared unceremoniously at my dinner engagement in Singapore after I had innocently told her where I was going to be. I turned down her invitation to meet up earlier on because I was on holiday. It was not part of my plan to work during my brief vacation. When she showed up I thought she genuinely wanted to see me – that was what she led me to believe. Through the course of dinner, the Q&A was wearing me down because of the monosyllabic answers to questions that I was running out of. Then the true nature of her wanting to see me surfaced. A prolonged silence around the table gave her an opening.

“Actually, I really wanted to see you because I have a project. I want to ask you questions,” she uttered without compunction.

My jaw fell as a wave of disgust engulfed me. I know confidence when I see it and she didn’t exhibit it. Hers was an egregious breach of manners, of boundaries, which she cleverly hid in a veil of innocence. Not to mention a blatant manipulation of relationship – she was a former student and I knew her mother.

If I kept a score care, it is her second offense, which is completely oblivious to her, thinking, as I surmised, it is her right to ask for help. The first infraction was over an e-mail, which, obviously, she was incognizant of. Apparently, presence of mind only functioned if it pertained to her needs and wants. She was like a horse with blinders when it came to others. Back to the e-mail, she had asked help with a paper, which wasn’t the problem. The problem was there was no consideration of boundaries and by this I mean my availability and decision vis-a-vis helping her. I did help her and I regretted it because her reaction smacked of impudence. I didn’t hear from her after that.

Last week was the third offense. She texted she would be in town and asked if I am free to meet up because she needs my help with a school project of hers. Although smarting from the last encounter, my decision not to meet her was because of a prior engagement I had made. The next few texts from her were quite disconcerting, to say the least, which I quietly ignored unless I wanted to experience lalochezia right there and then before my young grade 7 students.

Text 3: “So, when are you free to meet?”
Text 4: “How about I e-mail it to you? I need your help in proofreading it. I need to submit it

I was apoplectic when I read text four. Her impertinence in making me seem like I was at her beck and call ruffled my feathers severely aside from the fact that she insulted me by reducing me to a proofreader. Apparently, I was in for a ruder awakening to how she had badly transformed, imbibing the deplorable Singapore attitude of being kiasu. Kiasu refers to always thinking of one’s self in wanting to become number one. The English word that I feel best encapsulates it would be narcissism with a dash of careerism.

I was wrong in thinking she understood my text-reply. Mea culpa – I believed too much in her ability. She came and, in a room full of people, walked straight to me, handed me her gift of red bean munchies, and proceeded to unzip her bag to get her laptop, insinuating she was prepping to ask me questions. I was thunderstruck at her really pushing the boundaries of decorum. She succeeded and Gibbs left the room. In front of and despite the presence of her mother, I excoriated her. My anger intensified when she answered back, making light of her having just ambushed me at my own workplace, reasoning she had a of hectic schedule so she couldn’t tell me in advance. Her expression, a mixture of blandness and put on gullibility, made my blood pressure climb fast. She was still clueless of boundaries.

Mea culpa – I overestimated her.

I am not blind to students spreading their wings and forging their identity in the world with as much aplomb they can muster. But it is no excuse to think the world owes them something and must give them everything. She is still young but I wonder at how she will behave 10 or 15 years later. I am skeptical – she hardly exhibited remorse and I am doubtful she will. It will be a case in the future of teaching an old dog new tricks.

Mea culpa – I lost my temper.

No, I take that back. Three strikes and she’s out. She knows what is right and wrong, and should know and observe boundaries.

Mea culpa – I should have been more straightforward, not ambiguous, with my words at the beginning.


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