“Ideal teachers are those who use themselves as bridges over which they invite their students to cross, then having facilitated their crossing, joyfully collapse, encouraging them to create bridges of their own.” — Nikos Kazantzakis
It has been said that a teacher is the flame that lights the path of a child. Teachers shoulder a very important responsibility of shaping the lives of young, impressionable children. Teachers who inspire know that teaching is like cultivating a garden.
A good teacher is someone who always inspires students to want to do their best while at the same time trying to make learning interesting as well as creative. A positive or negative influence from a teacher early on in life can have a great effect on the life of a child.
Everybody remembers a favorite teacher. Whether it was someone who pushed you harder, who became your friend or who simply made you think about the world in a different way, teachers stay with us long after the last day of school.
For me, sitting in class listening to my favourite teacher teaching has been a most enjoyable experience. Today, I miss being a student. I envy the students who have the opportuntity to go to college daily and be able to listen to such teachers who make the process of learning a most rewarding, memorable experience.
When I look back with appreciation to the teachers who I’ve admired, there’s a vacuum in my heart. I would love to see them again, go up to them and tell them my gratitude for their warmth that had helped to nurture me.
I did my primary school education at St Augustine’s Primary School in Binatang (now known as Bintangor). St Augustine was a Roman Catholic mission school. I can still remember the morning prayers though I was not a Christian then. Father Wargana (again not sure of the spelling) and Father Smith were truly like father figures, towering above us and looking so autocratic. They were actually kind-hearted but as a kid, I was particularly terrified of Father Wargana.
I have difficulty remembering my primary school teachers now. I can only recall Mr Hsieh or Sia (not sure of the exact spelling now) who taught me Chinese and Mr Loi who taught me Arithmetic as well as the school headmaster Wan San. Being in an English medium school, I did not like Chinese lessons but I always felt the pressure from Mr Hsieh because he knew my parents well and would tell my parents if I did badly in my Chinese lessons. I know he meant well. Mr Loi was a very patient teacher who taught me Arithmetic. Wan San was feared by almost all the students as he was very fierce looking.
After St Augustine, I went on to Kai Chung Middle School for my secondary school education. Because I studied at this school for 5 years, my memories of the teachers at this school are more vivid. I had mixed emotions regarding my secondary school teachers. Some of them impacted me in a positive way, inspiring me to strive for academic achievements. And there were some who instilled some bad learning experiences, making me lose interest in the subjects they were teaching. Horace Mann once said that a teacher who is attempting to teach without inspiring the pupil with a desire to learn is hammering on cold iron. From my personal experience, I totally agree with Horace.
When we are young, our life can be scarred by some traumatic experience. It was during my Form Two that I had one such experience. One afternoon, I had to go back to school for PE (physical education) class. As I was cycling to school, I met a fellow classmate Michael Jimbai who was walking on his way to school. I volunteered to carry him on my bicycle and as we reached the school compound, the school principal Chen Ling Mei shouted at us and asked us to see her. She recorded down our names and during morning assembly the following day, she called out our names and asked us to go on to a raised wooden platform where she was addressing the morning assembly. And then on the platform, with all the teachers and hundreds of students watching, we were caned. To me, it was a great humiliation and the already shy me became even more withdrawn after that incident.
When Chen Ling Mei retired, Mr Tang Chok King was promoted to become the new principal. He never taught me but I never had much respect for him. I think it was during my Form Three when he gave every male student in my class a stroke of the rottan for making too much noise when we were walking up the staircase to go to the library. It was so unfair because only a few of my naughty classmates were responsible for making the noise by stamping their feet when they walked up the staircase.
I felt that my teachers during my Form 1 to Form 3 were all not bad teachers. But it was a different story in Form 4 & Form 5, particularly the teachers of Science subjects like Physics, Chemistry, Additional Maths and Biology. I began to loathe all the Science subjects.
There are many teachers whom I’ve respected during my secondary school years, but I’ve special fondness and gratitude for some of my English teachers: Madam Lai and Mr Anthony.
Sitting in their classes was elating. That they loved their subject was obvious. And I used to get a kick when they read certain part of my essays in class. I used to look forward to their classes and felt sorry when the bell rung signifying the end of the session for the day. Madam Lai oozed with kindness, tactfulness and patience. She instilled in me a deep fascination for the language. Mr Anthony had a very humorous streak and loved to make witty remarks and crack jokes, some of which really had us in stitches. Though he taught me about 37 years ago, I can still remember this quotation by him: A woman is a perpendicular, biological phenomenon in short skirts.
Other teachers who earned my respect throughout my schooling years include the followings:
Miss Constance Yii
She was a sunny person with a smile that cheered you completely. She taught me Science in Form One and was also my form teacher. Her words of encouragement remain etched in my memory and I remember her with much gratitude.
Miss Chieng Mei Ling
She taught me Mathematics during my Form 2 and Form 3. Mathematics has always been my weaker subject but Ms Chieng was a very good Mathematics teacher. She inspired me to try my best with her patience and caring attitude.
Mrs Thomas Abraham
She taught me Science in Form Two and Form Three. She loved her subject, her job was her passion and she was adept at infecting us with the same. With her inspired teaching, I was able to excel in Science in my Sarawak Junior Certificate.
Mr Teo Ee Chin
Mr Teo was my General Maths teacher during my Form Six at Tanjong Lobang College (now known as Kolej Tun Datuk Patinggi Tuanku Haji Bujang) in Miri. He impressed me as a kind and caring teacher who offered me words on encouragement and advice and was one of the most approachable teachers that I had ever encountered.
She was my English Literature teacher at Cosmopolitan College in Toronto, Canada. An Egyptian by birth, she was such a kind and lovely lady. Though that was the first time I ever studied English Literature, she inspired me to achieve great academic results in English Literature. The book we studied was “The Great Gatsby” by F. Scott Fitzgerald.
Mr Al Kussin
When I first saw him in the first Economics class of my life at Cosmopolitan College in Toronto, Canada, I was struck by his resemblance to Australian comedian Rolf Harris. Like Rolf Harris, Al turned out to have a great sense of humour. He is Jewish, maybe that is why he is such a great Economics teacher. When I gained admission to university after spending one semester at Cosmopolitan College, he passed me a farewell note which not only touched me but also greatly motivated me. Though that was over 30 years ago, I still have the note somewhere in my house. It had a lot of sentimental value to me. In the note, Al wrote that with students like me, it made his work almost too easy. I am not trying to brag; I just want to relate why that note was such an inspiration for me.
I want to express my respect and gratitude to all those teachers who have inspired me. I consider myself blessed for their presence and influence in my life. Crossing paths with them has indeed been my privilege. May God Bless you all!