MEMORIES have a way of evolving, becoming either more gentle with the passing years or taking on added dimensions of intensity. At times we may also need to sieve through our memories of people whom we have known in the past to determine their degree of accuracy.
When I asked several people about the teachers they remembered best, there were two categries of responses. The first category consisted of teachers who were remembered fondly by their former students. The second category of “most remembered” teachers which emerged after much probing, were those who had left painful memories in the lives of those they had taught.
The response from Jess who left secondary school almost 15 years ago was so immediate it seemed that she was just waiting to spill out.
“Puan Siti ... my Standard Three English teacher of course was my favourite. We simply adored her, all the nine-year-old girls in class. “We loved English lessons because of Puan Siti . She would teach us songs and we’d play games.
“I remember once when there was a storm raging outside, Puan Siti brought a large straw mat and placed it on the floor in front of the class. We all sat huddled listening to the rain outside, while she told us really scary ghost stories. She was the best,” said Jess .
“Were her lessons effective?” I asked.
“Depends what you mean by effective,” said Jess.
“If you mean did our grades improve ... well it’s hard to say. For some of us it did, while for some it did not,” she shrugged.
“Many of the stories I tell my own kids now are those I learnt from her... even the songs. She made primary school life really enjoyable for me.
“I guess that is why I encourage my own children to speak and read English story books now. Its Puan Siti’s influence across the generations,” said Jess. There were more such stories. These tales were usually accompanied by fond expressions mostly when they were in primary school, and even if it was some 30 years ago, the memories of teachers who helped them deal with various issues were almost as fresh, as if it had just happened the day before.
Little deeds like helping them deal with washroom “accidents” or times when they had lost their lunch money, may seem trivial now, but these were pretty important issues to the children they once were. They were important enough to be remembered even after several decades.
But there were other memories too that were shared with far less enthusiasm and with a trace of leftover bitterness.
“I have never forgotten my Form One maths teacher,” said Kay, now in her forties.
“She made her lessons a nightmare for most of us. I hated her lessons and there were times I even feigned a tummy ache. just to get out of going to school whenever there was a double mathematics period.
“She yelled at us and said we were all stupid when we didn’t know how to solve maths problems. If that was not bad enough, each time we made a mistake she would hit us with a thick wooden ruler. It really hurt you know ... but those were the days when we didn’t go back and complain to our parents about being punished in school.
“Do you know till today I hate anything to do with maths because of her...I mean seriously!
“It’s like I have a mental maths block. Maybe it’s partly my fault ... I shouldn’t have let her get to me but you know we were so young then,” added Kay.
There were again more stories about teachers who judging by the recounts of those who remembered them, seemed like monsters bent on making school a nightmare and ripping their students’ self-esteem to shreds.
Undoubtedly the passing of time has played a role in either making teachers seem more angelic or monstrous than they really were.
Were there memories associated with good classroom teaching, I wondered.
After some thinking, those I asked went on to speak admiringly of certain teachers who had conducted their lessons particularly well.
However, what was more significant was that while pedagogical skills and expertise were held in high regard, these aspects were not given much importance in their recollection of “teacher” memories.
Perhaps it was because of the time that had lapsed since they left school, and the lack of relevance now.
While efficient impartation of knowledge and academic skills may be important to teachers, it may not be all they are best remembered for.
What people remembered most about their teachers was not the knowledge they received. In fact, it was the way they were made to feel in their classrooms.
Most teachers encouraged their students to become better learners while there were some who killed their enthusiasm.
The qualities that were best remembered were kindness, empathy, and the affirmation teachers gave their students.
Sometimes, we teachers don’t realise the impact we can have on our students by our words and actions, and more importantly how long that impact can last in their lives.
It would probably be good for teachers to decide the kind of memories they would want their students to have of them, long after they have left school and become adults.
It is definitely a wonderful feeling to know that your students remember you with affection and kindness even after all those years.
Happy Teachers Day !
Students young and old, distinctly remember their cikgus for their personalities, more than their teaching skills and styles.