A former principal reminisces about those who taught him and the ones who were under his charge.
TEACHERS are fond of saying that they remember best their “naughty” students. By the same token, students can also say the same especially of their “odd” teachers. They were teachers who had their own teaching peculiarities and quirks. Let me share the tales of some of my “teachers”.
I was in Standard Six in a Chinese primary school in the mid 60s. Mr Mah, our English teacher, would drill us mercilessly in reading and pronunciation during his lessons.
Raising standards: Both Liong the writer (right), and Abdul Rahman inspired teachers under them to set targets and achieve their goals.
We were made to repeatedly read sentences like: “A man. A pan. A man and a pan. A pan and a man. This is a man and that is a pan. This is a pan and that is a man.” Mr Mah would read each sentence first, then make us repeat for what seemed like 10,000 times!When we were in Remove Class in an English secondary school the following year, we were confronted with sentences like: “Monocotyledons have parallel leaf veins and dicotyledons have reticulate leaf veins.” It was agonising to say the least.
Remedial, breakthrough and relief finally came when I was in Form Three. My English teacher, Mr Paul Raj, used the textbook by Wren and Martin on English Grammar.
It was drill and more drills. We had to complete 13 exercise books of class work and homework. And, he made us write essays every week. Sometimes he grilled us for handing up “shoddy work”.
There were also hours of flipping through the dictionary. And it was a thrill to apply what I learnt correctly.
Mr Paul Raj was strict and a firm believer in hard work and self-help. It was in that year that my English picked up. The reward was an “A” in English in the then LCE (Lower Certificate of Education) for students in Form Three.
Fast forward into the early 70s. I was in University doing my Diploma in Education. We had this teacher or more properly called lecturer, a Dr Khoo, who taught us Educational Psychology.
In a tutorial with us before the final exam, Dr Khoo said he would discuss with us the exam questions. I found it strange that he would want to discuss the exam questions but attended the tutorial anyway. The tutorial went on with the lecturer proposing the questions and we students volunteering the answers. Dr Khoo guided the process but he did not endorse any “right” answers. I did not give much thought to the questions after the tutorial though some classmates went on to prepare “model” answers.
It turned out that the final exam questions differed not very much from what was discussed in the tutorial. I passed but without a distinction!
I was a qualified teacher and posted to my first school. My “teachers” then were my colleagues and the school principal Encik Abdul Rahman Yeop (now a Datuk) was my first principal. He was a visionary and possessed great leadership traits. As a young teacher, I was impressed. He was focused and promised to raise the standard of the school in five years.
He succeeded. His hands-on approach in taking the school to another level won our hearts and admiration.
Encik Rahman, as I called him, was also an enthusiast and advocate of local tradition and culture. One year, he organised a kite-flying competition and exhibition in school. The preparation was meticulous. We even hired a bomoh to ensure that there would be no rain that afternoon of the competition. The sky was clear alright, but there was no wind. Kites did not go up as high as the kite-flyers wanted them. Apparently we had forgotten to ask the bomoh to bring in the winds!
Everyone was in high spirits and were impressed with the exhibition on kites in the school hall. Through it all, Encik Rahman took things in his stride and ensured that the invited VIPs were entertained with sumptuous food and drinks and soothing music.
I became a principal in the 90s. Now “my teachers” were the teachers who were in the school. At any time, I had about 100 of them under my charge. What encouraged and inspired me most as a principal was that in spite of the “rough and tough” going, there continued to be teachers who were dedicated, committed, motivated and innovative – they went beyond their call of duty.
One such teacher was senior physical education teacher Elizabeth Chong. She wanted to implement “standard-takings” in sports for all students.
She believed it would help create a sporting culture and provide a constant pool of potential athletes and players for further training. She was prepared to go the extra mile. The students, more so those in the lower forms, would have to each show their prowess in running long and short distances, doing high and long jumps, as well as hurling discuses. This would be done annually and their performance matched against standards set according to their ages.
Students who performed well would be further assessed to ascertain the type of sports that they were most suited for.
Initially, there were some logistical problems to overcome. And there was a need to convince some teachers who felt that school hours were meant mainly for teaching and learning only. But Elizabeth and her group of teachers were clear about their final objectives and worked hard.
Eventually, more staff began to see the benefits of the programme and came on board. Believing in a cause and acting fervently on it had helped Elizabeth and her team to achieve their objectives.
Another teacher who had shown her mettle was my senior assistant in co curriculum, Ms Chang FC. A persistent “headache” for the school principal was to get students involved in co-curricular activities. Neither was it easy to get teachers to be committed in guiding these activities.
The list of excuses was endless – no after-school free time, tuition, piano lessons, no transport, no extra pocket money, can’t afford to buy uniforms or instruments, no interest and no benefit.
Ms Chang took it upon herself the responsibility of restructuring and reorganising the three streams of co-curricular activities -- uniformed units, sports and games, and clubs and associations. She initiated many intra-school competitions. These provided avenues for more students to be involved. She encouraged all levels of participation and rewarded those who succeeded.
Ms Chang spoke to parents and students, telling them the importance of co-curricular activities in inculcating character-building. She wanted the students to see the benefits of a wholesome education. She even made home visits to convince some parents to get their children involved. She took the effort in showing appreciation for teachers who had helped in promoting co-curricular activities.
Notice boards were filled with photographs of students participating in co-curricular activities. Later, when their successes were reported in the newspapers, these reports were also posted. After about a year, it was obvious that there was a new culture, understanding and commitment in the school. Students began to “compete” to enrol in certain activities. Teachers, too, became more committed
What made the difference was the proactive attitude and sense of responsibility of this senior assistant.
Chang did not let the school’s past performance determine its present possibilities. Her hands-on involvement, knowledge, skills and confidence in others made the school’s co-curricular programme a success. All these led to a “paradigm shift” in the thinking of students, parents and teachers.
Today, our schools need more teachers who are like “my teachers”! Liong Kam Chong Seremban Kuala Lumpur The STAR Home News Education 31 May 2015