[The PV Series] Canteen Duty During Ramadan

The past month, I’ve been hanging out at the primary school where I volunteer almost every evening. Parent volunteers and Parents Support Group (PSG) members (volunteers whose children were already enrolled in the school) were being called in to assist in caregiving during the Ramadan period, so the Muslim teachers in the afternoon session could leave earlier to break their fast. The classes they were in charge of during the last period of the day would all be seated in the canteen for about half an hour to the capable hands of the available 1 or 2 non-Muslim teachers, and us.

PV-Canteen-Duty

When we were first briefed in what the school called “canteen duty”, we were handed a list of standard operating procedures (SOPs) to follow, which went to the tune of the following:

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SOP for doing Canteen Duty during Fasting Month

1) Do ensure that the pupils are doing their own work in the canteen.

2) Do ensure the safety of our pupils in the canteen.

3) Assist the pupils in their work (when needed).

4) Allow only 2 pupils to go to the restroom at each time for each class.

5) Assist in the dismissal of the pupils from canteen to the parade square at 6.30pm.

6) During wet weather, do assist in the dismissal of the pupils from canteen to the respective gates upon the instructions of the teacher-in-charge.

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It seemed simple enough… until the pupils came in.

How Do The Teachers Do It?!

The most notable difference between full-fledged teachers and parent volunteers is the volume of their voice: parent volunteers will tend to speak gently to the oh-so-cute Primary 1 and 2 kids, making sure we attend to as much of their needs as possible within the stipulated guidelines. The teachers, however, have no qualms carrying their voices across the entire canteen area to make one simple point to the 5-6 classes – SILENCE, OR ELSE.

You can imagine whose heads the kids will tend to climb over.

About 4 sessions later of observing how the teachers skilfully navigate their way around the rowdiness, and I was barely getting the hang of controlling a crowd I never imagined I would have an audience of, though I was gaining a reputation among the other parent volunteers as “the one who will scold”.

As for the SOPs…

1) Do ensure that the pupils are doing their own work in the canteen.

PV-Pupils-Work

It’s one thing to guide your preschooler through spelling 8 words on a Sunday night just before bed (though the wife and I will still attest to it being suitably stressful). But just try to ensure a class of 30 kids will complete their allotted schoolwork in the span of half an hour, and you will appreciate why it takes 1 year of training for university graduates to qualify as a primary school teacher.

2) Do ensure the safety of our pupils in the canteen.

We had very little problems with this one, because the kids were mostly able to look out for themselves. In fact, they were so adept at it, they would avoid certain tables because “Uncle/Teacher, here got bird poopoo! We cannot sit here!”, and subsequently ostracise the poor table and benches for the rest of the period.

3) Assist the pupils in their work (when needed).

Again, easier said than done. You know you shouldn’t be giving them straight answers; they come to school to learn, don’t they? But it takes brain cells to come up with a suitable roundabout way for the pupil to come up with the correct answer him- or herself.

Pupil: “Excuse me, uncle. what is the answer to this?”
Me: “Okay. 7 plus 6 equals… what?”
Pupil: “I dunno.”
Me: “Er, well, count with your fingers.”
Pupil: “6, 7, 8, 9… Uncle. I not enough fingers.”
Me: “Uh… borrow some more from your friend.”
Kid next to pupil: “I duwan.”

4) Allow only 2 pupils to go to the restroom at each time for each class.

There’s a trick to this that I did not understand until a few days later: most kids do not go to the toilet because they need to pee. They ask to go to the toilet because they want to be anywhere but where they should be.

I learnt this the hard way, when two girls came up to me the first day of my canteen duty and asked to go to the toilet about 5 minutes before it was time to leave the canteen for the flag-lowering ceremony. They did not return until after the national anthem was sung and everybody was carrying their bags, ready to bolt.

After a while, you learn to identify when someone seriously needs to go to the toilet and when someone is just trying to make a break for it. When a pupil comes up to you with a slightly worried look, legs pressed together and doing tiny hops from left to right, they need to go. But when a pupil comes up to you, with a cheeky smile and an inexplicable glint in his eye, you say NO.

5) Assist in the dismissal of the pupils from canteen to the parade square at 6.30pm.

PV-flag-lowering

This brought back memories for me. The off-sync, faster-than-what’s-being-played-on-the-PA-system singing, the class-by-class dismissals, the occasional teacher silently sneaking up behind an overtly fidgety pupil who only notices too late that he’s just gotten into trouble, and the crying boy who was made to stand right in front of everybody at assembly because he already got into trouble earlier on in the day.

I used to be that boy.

6) During wet weather, do assist in the dismissal of the pupils from canteen to the respective gates upon the instructions of the teacher-in-charge.

This happened only once. The parade square was still a little damp from the afternoon rain that day. I’ve never seen such a large group of kids disappear so quickly.

The more I do this, the more I can’t wait for my own kid to get into primary school.

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