DURING the recent Hari Raya festival, when I was savouring some delicious almond cookies, I found myself thinking of an old colleague of mine named Fatimah*.
Kak Tim, as she was fondly called, was famous for her cookies in the rural school I once taught at. She was efficient in all that she did.
Her work-place in the staffroom was always clean and all papers were filed into neatly-arranged folders. They were also colour-coded and clearly labelled using the same font and size.
On her desk, there was always a simple arrangement of white, yellow-tipped frangipani floating in a shallow bowl.
Even her clothes were well-tailored, with matching chiffon head scarves fashionably draped and accessorised with the right brooches.
Her students’ exercise books were stacked in rows and in her teaching record book, the principal would find carefully planned lessons written out legibly in crisp words. Focused as she was, she never missed a deadline.
But, what I liked about her was her attitude.
It was always a joy to work with her on school projects as she always did a good job with the tasks given to her.
As a teacher, students appreciated her efficiency and efficacy.
Since she was devoted to her job, they could be assured that their homework would be returned on time, duly marked and with appropriate feedback in red.
If she was the Form Teacher of her class, there was no doubt that her class would often be voted the “cleanest class” several times a year.
She liked to bake and her cookies were “heaven-sent”.
With the start of the fasting month each year, we would receive samples of her cookies, packed in little plastic bags, neatly stapled and clearly labelled, for us to take home, savour and make our pick.
Our orders would come on time, carefully packed, without a single broken cookie in them.
She loved teaching, loved baking and loved her life.
I recall another teacher, Rubiah*, who also dabbled in the cookie business. This one failed in many quarters.
I was once assigned to work with Rubiah and Ina* for the the prize- giving ceremony in conjunction with the school’s Speech Day.
We were running late and I suggested that we could save time if we wrote out the names of the student who were to receive cash awards on the envelopes instead of typing them.
I had good hand-writing and so did Rubiah. Sitting together, we began the arduous task of writing out some 90 names.
Ina’s job was to make sure the right amount of money went into the respective envelopes.
As I began the task, I knew I had to be careful, not only in spelling out the students’ names correctly but to ensure the writing did not get smudged by accident.
You have to be a teacher to know that a name like “Muhammad” can often be spelt as “Mohamed”, “Mohd”, “Muhamad”, “Muhd” or even “Mohamad”.
As for Chinese names, “Chong” was different from “Chung”, “Choong” and “Cheung”.
With the penchant many Indian parents have for numerology, we had to be careful when writing out Indian names. We had to double check for instance a name like “Kasturi”, to make sure it was not spelt as “Kasthuri”, “Kasthuree” or “Khasturi”.
While my envelopes piled up, Rubiah, who talked nineteen-to-the-dozen, began to lag.
On her side of the table, several envelopes would be discarded as Ina kept pointing out her mistakes.
As Rubiah worked, she complained about how the head of her department was often unfair, upbraided the students who thought they were smarter than her; and moaned about her son and his reluctance to apply himself for his PMR examination.
She also talked about how much she resented the paperwork a Form Teacher like her had to do.
In the same breath, she asked both Ina and me several times if we were interested to order her baked cookies. We did not respond.
Both Ina and I noticed that she was still making mistakes and realised that we needed more envelopes.
Ina then left to get more enevelopes and Rubiah continued talking. When Ina returned, she was breathless — who wouldn’t after walking up two flights of stairs?
Rubiah was quick to comment on Ina’s panting. “You should exercise regularly you know and lose weight! I’m sure the fasting during Ramadan will do you some good,” she told Ina.
Blotching one more envelope, Rubiah asked again, “What’s wrong with my cookies? Why don’t people order from me?”
The minute we finished our task, Ina let out a loud sigh and said to Rubiah, “You know what your real problem is?”
Startled, Rubiah looked up.
“You complain all the time but you just don’t do any job well!” said Ina as she stomped off.
I then told Rubiah gently, “Ina’s got a point, you know. If you do even the simplest job you are assigned to do diligently, you will succeed in everything you do.”
It’s a lesson I learnt years ago at school from my Mathematics teacher. I had a tendency then to be side-tracked and often made mistakes in my homework as a consequence.
He then told me: “Focus on the job at hand. The rest will fall naturally into place.”
Kak Tim knew how to do it right. As for Rubiah, she had a long way to go.
*Names have been changed.
TEACHER TALK By NITHYA SIDHHU Sunday September 11, 2011
Source: The STAR Home Education Sunday September 11, 2011