Teaching runs in this family

Ms Ruth Shirley Janarthanam (foreground), with (from left) her brother Luke, mother Elaine Heng and father Janarthanam Subramaniam.

SINGAPORE - Seeing how her parents were so busy as educators is a "double discouragement" from following in their footsteps, says visual arts graduate Ruth Shirley Janarthanam.

"But I think I have their genes to be a teacher," says the 19-year-old School of the Arts alumnus, who has just graduated with an International Baccalaureate diploma with a score of 40 out of 45.

After all, she seems to have an affinity with kids. For 1½ years from 2012 to last year, she created weekly or bi-weekly art lessons for primary school pupils, including those from poor or broken homes, at Kampong Kapor Family Service Centre.

Her father, Mr Janarthanam Subramaniam, 49, head of department of physical education in a secondary school, says he does not discourage his elder child, who hopes to study sociology or international relations, from joining the teaching profession. "If she's good at it, she should teach with passion and love her kids."

His wife, Ms Elaine Heng Quek Liang, quit teaching at a primary school when Ruth was born, "to take care of and teach my own children". She became a private tutor and hired a maid to help at home when Ruth was 10 and her younger brother Luke was seven.

What early promise did Ruth show as an artist?

Mr Janarthanam: My wife kept a file of her drawings from when she was three or four years old. We took her to art galleries and exhibitions, and signed her up for art classes when she was four. But the classes lasted for less than a year because she didn't like drawing animals in class.

Ruth: From the time I was five till about eight or nine, I drew dresses and clothes every day when I came back home from South View Primary School.

Mr Janarthanam: I would like to appreciate her current art, but it's too conceptual for me. I prefer landscapes or portraits.

Luke: I don't understand her work either, but I respect her work.

So it was a no-brainer for Ruth to go to the School of the Arts?

Ms Heng: We told her about Sota when she was in Primary 4. We thought the curriculum would suit her personality.

Ruth: When I was in Primary 5, a Sota teacher came to my school and talked to us. I went for interviews the next year and showed them my artwork.

How much time did you spend with the kids growing up and now?

Ruth: Dad used to tell us stories such as Shawshank Redemption, The Lord Of The Rings and Anne Of Green Gables, from when I was four or five years old.

Mr Janarthanam: They looked forward to storytime, so I was more than happy to oblige them, no matter how busy I was.

Ms Heng: We prayed with them before bedtime when they were in primary school.

Ruth: We're all busy from Mondays to Fridays. On Sundays, we go to church together. So that leaves only Saturday to visit our maternal or paternal grandmother. Sometimes, we play tennis together.

Who is stricter: mum or dad?

Ruth: Mum. To her, respect means we must observe the parent-child hierarchy. Talking back or using a rude tone of voice means "capital" punishment.

Mr Janarthanam: Yes, the cane. My wife was coaching and taking care of two children for many years. It was stressful for her.

Ruth: I remember mum waving the cane at me from when I was a toddler till I was nine years old.

Ms Heng: She didn't like to pack her room or keep her toys.

Mr Janarthanam: And Luke would hide the cane when he was about five.

Luke: By the time it came to disciplining me, they were much more relaxed.

Ruth: I remember dad caned me only once. I called an eight-year-old friend "pig" to his face. I was six.

What values do you inculcate in your children?

Mr Janarthanam: We didn't ferry her to or from school from when she was 13. It was to teach her independence.

Ruth: They don't control my spending or check my online activities. All they taught me was to spend wisely.

Mr Janarthanam: She was taught at home and in Sunday school to be honest and live right. We trust she's mature enough.

What's your relationship with your brother?

Ruth: I used to boss him around when I was about six. I made him play with my cooking set.

Luke: I thought she was bossy, but I gave in and followed her orders.

Mr Janarthanam: They are close. Whenever we are going out now, the boy will ask if cheh-cheh (dialect for elder sister) is coming along. They talk a lot in each other's rooms, such as about movies, online games and television shows.

If the parent-child roles were reversed, what would you do differently?

Ruth: If I were dad, I'd take my daughter to school every morning even when she was over 13 years old. If I were mum, I wouldn't care about my child's tone of voice.

Ms Heng: If I were Ruth, I would be tidier and make my bed every day.

Mr Janarthanam: If I were her, I would still do art, but I'd play tennis weekly with my dad, so he doesn't have to drag me to the game once a month.

eveyap@sph.com.sg


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