You were a school teacher for almost 32 years before retiring, but then decided to continue on as a school counsellor at Bendemeer Primary School. Share with us more about your new role.
I counsel students who struggle with anger management, anxiety or have relationship problems with their family members or with their friends. Such students would typically be recommended for counselling by their teachers and only with the consent of their parents.
Before each counselling session, the first thing I do is to touch base with the parents to better understand the situation at home. I will then talk to the child to understand the situation from their point of view and reassure them that I’m not here to judge them and whatever they share with me will remain confidential. This is very important in building trust with the child. Most of the time, the students feel wronged because no one listens to their side of the story. So, I make time to listen to what they have to say before I share with them ways to cope with their feelings.
What inspired you to take on this role and what keeps you going?
I lost my mother when I was 11 years old. My father was badly affected by this loss and so my elder brother and I took on the responsibility of taking care of our younger siblings. It was a difficult period in my life but I was fortunate to have very caring form teachers in Primary 5 and 6. Their kindness helped me to cope and overcome the grief of losing my mother. This experience was what inspired me to become a teacher. It would also explain why I stayed in the job for more than three decades – just my way of “paying it forward”. Unfortunately, I was diagnosed with cancer in 1981 and 1998 and chose to retire to take better care of my health.
But in 2006, I decided to enter the education service again – this time as a school counsellor because I enjoy interacting with young people. While I could have continued to enjoy the retiree life, I keep going because I love what I do, and feel that I still have so much to give to the students.
(Photo by Joe Peter)
Tell us more about the students you’ve worked with.
Last year, a student whom I had counselled posted a tribute on the Ministry of Education website for Teacher's Day. He thanked me for not giving up on him when he was in Primary 6 and that warmed my heart. When I first met him, he had difficulty managing his anger and was violent and easily provoked. After spending time with him and introducing him to coping strategies, he became better at controlling his temper.
There was also a student with special needs whom I counselled from when he was in Primary 4. He used to scream if he got upset and had trouble managing conflicts. After working closely with his mother and form teachers, we were able to help him better understand himself and his emotions. He is now in secondary school and his mother recently updated me on the good progress he was making.
Why do you think students like talking to you?
I think it is because I take the time to listen to whatever they want to rant and rave about. I know very often they are not given a chance to be heard.
Do you have any tips for young people who are feeling overwhelmed or stressed?
Here is a practical tip I practice daily. I begin the day with slow deep-breathing exercises, followed by a couple of positive self-assuring statements. Three simple statements I tell myself daily are, "I am calm. I am ready and I can handle whatever comes"
More importantly, there could be some young people who feel embarrassed or scared to ask for help or to talk to someone when they are feeling overwhelmed by their situation. I would like to tell them: there is nothing wrong in asking for help. You can talk to your parents or other trusted adults, like your teacher or school counsellor.
(Photo by Joe Peter)
How can we connect and engage with youths better?
Listen more and judge less.
Listen to their opinions and when you don't agree with them, try to see things through their eyes. Don’t impose your beliefs on young people or be dismissive. We all have a different take on the same issue, and it is fine to disagree.
- Mrs Maznahbi Peter née Mohd Jaffar Jawahir, 74, school counsellor