Teacher helped heal O level student's rift with mum
Her teachers help fix strained mother-daughter relationship
When Sarmeni Ramakrishna, 16, first met her co-form teacher in Secondary 2, she was afraid of her, as seniors had told her that Ms Pauline Wong was strict and fierce.
But three years later, the former Serangoon Garden Secondary School student sees Ms Wong, 34, as a best friend and a mother figure.
She recalled how when she was going through a tough period earlier last year - her parents were getting divorced, she had problems with her friends and her grades were slipping - Ms Wong was there for her.
"I had no confidence in myself at all, but Ms Wong encouraged me to work hard. I wouldn't have made it this far without her," said Sarmeni, who spoke to The New Paper on Monday after receiving her O-level results.
She scored 10 points for her L1R4 and was one of the top students in the school.
She intends to apply for the biomedical science course at Temasek Polytechnic.
Sarmeni, who has a brother, 18, and a sister, 13, said that the stress and tension from her parents' divorce had caused her to act out and play truant.
Unknown to her family members, the teen would skip school thrice a week and stay home to sleep and play games on her mobile phone.
Her teachers noticed her absence and became concerned about her.
Said Sarmeni, with tears welling up in her eyes: "It was an emotional roller-coaster ride, I was overwhelmed by all my problems. I was angry and felt that my parents could have chosen a different time to get a divorce.
"I also didn't know how to handle my feelings and problems, so I would ignore everyone and throw tantrums."
Concerned about the strained mother-daughter relationship, Ms Wong and Sarmeni's other co-form teacher, Ms Lim Shiyun, 28, decided to get the pair together to talk things out.
The meeting took place in May, after the mid-year results were given out, and ended up being a four-hour session, with both teachers playing mediators.
But it was worth it, as it brought about a breakthrough in the mother-daughter relationship and the first time the pair ever had a "heart-to-heart" talk.
Said Sarmeni's mother, Ms Annathai Sumnugahy, 46, an admissions officer at a private hospital: "We weren't very close and wouldn't really interact at home. But the talk allowed us to thrash things out and we are now closer than before. It changed our relationship."
Following the meeting, Ms Wong kept in contact with Ms Sumnugahy over WhatsApp, watching out for Sarmeni at school and reaching out to both mother and daughter often to see how they were doing.
Said Ms Sumnugahy: "If not for a teacher like Ms Wong, Sarmeni wouldn't have made it. Thanks to Ms Wong, we can be the happy family we are today."
Ms Wong, who has been teaching in the school for five years, said: "As a child's guardian in school, I believe in going beyond the job as just a teacher to a child. I can also be a friend to a parent."
Said Sarmeni with a smile: "I share everything with Ms Wong and you can never lie to her. Ms Wong is like a lie detector, she knows everything."
Ms Wong said that she practises tough love with her students and believes in being honest and straightforward when dealing with students and parents.
She said: "Students don't always accept a teacher who is firm, and it takes time for them to know what tough love is. But I've told my students before, one day when they fall, I will still be there for them."
Sarmeni is happy for that.
She said: "Even though I've left the school, I will still contact Ms Wong for advice.
"She promised that she would be there for me and she has shown that she will keep that promise."
We weren't very close and wouldn't really interact at home. But the talk allowed us to thrash things out, and we are now closer than before. It changed our relationship.
- Sarmeni's mother, Ms Annathai Sumnugahy