A DEAR teacher who taught me how to craft things from metal and to draw lines with a T-square in my early years in secondary school reconnected with me recently.
His three-page handwritten letter could not have come at a more appropriate time. I was immensely touched by his sharing, and of his remembrance of me as his student, one of the thousands who have crossed his path.
The teachers we remember the most are the ones we love. They are the ones who made a difference in our lives because they did not only teach, but they gave us an education. (Of course we also remember those we hate, but that is another story.)
I liked this teacher because he was kind and humble. In the first year I entered the premier school in Penang, the school authorities made two decisions – one was to let our class take Modern Maths (it was at an experimental stage then) and the other was to let us take Industrial Arts (IA), a departure from previous years when the top classes would study Commerce while the lower classes took IA.
This teacher taught me technical drawing and metalworks, while other IA teachers taught us woodwork and power mechanics.
I loved IA because I came from a neighbourhood where doing things with one’s own hands was the norm. Growing up, I would make my own toys and build cabinets and shelves from the remnants of wood that my uncle took home from the lumberyard.
And this teacher also played tennis with us.
I am particularly attached to teachers who, like him and the others I have mentioned before in this column, do not look at us based solely on our achievements. In premier schools where results and achievements in examinations or extra-curricular activities matter, the reality is that only a small portion of the student population actually will make the honours list.
Most of us remain ordinary students. But it is the special teacher who knows that the life of a student goes beyond his schooling years. Many ordinary students bloom in their later years and the teacher who is able to recognise that potential is the one we are most thankful for.
In his letter to me, this teacher attached two poems, Lessons from Life by Ronald Russell and Desiderata by Max Ehrmann. I know these two poems well for they contain lessons that transcend age and era.
In my column last week, I wrote about reaping what we sow and this is essentially what Russell’s poem is about. Some of the lines immortalised in this poem include: “A child that lives with ridicule learns to be timid; a child that learns with criticism learns to condemn; a child that lives with truth learns justice; a child that lives with sharing learns to be considerate.”
And what about the Desiderata? Desiderata, written in 1927 by Ehrmann, is Latin for “desired things”. What are our “desired things” if we were to write a similar poem today?
How can one not be touched by this poem where the opening lines just strike deep into the heart?
“Go placidly amid the noise and haste, and remember what peace there may be in silence. As far as possible without surrender be on good terms with all persons. Speak your truth quietly and clearly; and listen to others, even the dull and the ignorant; they too have their story.”
Our world is full of noise and we often have to strain ourselves to listen to the real gems. And I am thankful for the gems shared by this dear teacher who took the trouble to pen me a letter (because he had read in this column that I treasure handwritten mail) even after losing contact with me for 35 years.
> Soo Ewe Jin (email@example.com) is thinking of another poem, “If” by Rudyard Kipling, as he reflects on the life of one incredible man who truly lived a legacy and left a legacy. Farewell, Madiba. The views expressed are entirely the writer's own. The STAR Online Home News Columnist 08/12/2013