Monday, May 16, 2011

Thank you, teacher. You made a difference

ONE of my primary school teachers I remember well was the discipline master who also headed the prefectorial board. I remember him not because of any significant contribution he made but for the one incident that showed his cruel side. The victim was a boy in Standard Two who was often late for school, wore heavily soiled shoes, and crumpled shirts that were usually not tucked in. Despite repeated warnings by the prefects, he kept to his ways.
That day, when the discipline master saw the boy in slippers again, he was incensed. When the boy could not explain why he wore slippers, the teacher grabbed him by the pants and shook him so hard that it snapped the raffia string the boy had used to hold his pants in place. When the teacher let go, the pants dropped. Some of the pupils who saw the incident laughed. The boy cried. I did not know if it was out of fright or embarrassment.

Later I found out that the boy came from a very poor family. They had lived on handouts. Finally I understood why he appeared the way he did. He probably had only one pair of shoes, which explained why they were often soiled. And on days when the shoes were wet, he had to wear slippers.

Instead of embarrassing the boy, I thought the teacher could have been kinder. The incident affected me so much that when I entered Form Four, I decided not to be a prefect but a librarian instead. However, luck was not on my side or was it?

Although I had passed all the practical tests for librarianship which included book arrangement and repair, and cataloguing them according to the Dewey Decimal System, I failed the interview. A safety pin was the cause.

The morning of the interview, while rushing to class, my shirt's sleeve was caught on the handle of a bicycle. The uppermost button snapped loose. Since I had no spares, I used a safety pin in place of a button. The teacher who interviewed me was a stickler for dressing. Instead of asking me why I had a safety pin on my shirt, she failed me because I was not "presentably attired".

I found out about it a week later from my seniors, after the librarians were installed.

Fortunately, I had more good teachers to remember than bad ones. Among them were Mrs Chan Wing Mun and Mr Chin Peng Weng, who both taught me English at Setapak High, and were my form teachers in Form Two and Three respectively.

I remember Mrs Chan because she had the habit of recording names of students who had more than three mistakes in the weekly dictation and spelling tests.

Those whose names were noted down for three consecutive times would be asked to sit under the table. Although she never did carry out the punishment, the fear of ending up the laughing stock of the class improved our vocabulary.

Mr Chin, who had a booming voice often threatened to cane the more recalcitrant among us. But he never did, no matter how badly we behaved.

Instead, he would regale us with stories of his younger days to motivate us. One of the phrases he often used was: "Aim for the stars so that if you did not reach them, you would at least have reached the moon."

Mr Chin's wife, whom everyone called Mrs Chin Peng Weng at school, taught science and art.

During her art classes, she never belittled any student's painting, no matter how horrible it looked. One day, when I asked her what to paint, she said I should paint what I liked.

"If I had to tell you what to paint, then it would not be art," she said.

Although I did not understand what she meant then, my friend Maamor did. And if Mrs Chin is reading this, I am pleased to inform her this Teacher's Day that her student Maamor Jantan is today an accomplished artist.

And it was Maamor who told me that if he had not met Mrs Chin, his life might have turned out differently.

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