Sunday, February 13, 2005

A teacher affects eternity; he can never tell where his influence stops. -- Henry Brooks Adams

A few weeks before Chinese New Year, a friend told me of her ambition to take up teaching English as a profession upon her graduation.

I was enthusiastic for her.

Back when I was in Form Five, I had an English teacher who then became the one teacher I never forgot.

She was one woman another would love to hate- loud, even brash; has a thundering voice which could travel miles and still not lose its magnitude, painted her fingernails with the colours that matched her wardrobe- even if she was wearing a yellow dress, oozing with confidence that one would have passed her off easily as being obnoxious...and who could forget her signature swagger?

But, boy; could she teach! A typical English lesson with her would be one that required no textbooks. "They are as good as dead!" She would exclaim in class. All that she required from us was our attention while she sidled up to any one of us; with a book in her hand; putting it on the table of one 'lucky' classmate, as a silent command of 'Read Aloud!' to the class.

She taught everything- from Philosophy to Poetry; and everything beautiful in between. She told us great stories of her own- when she was too poor to even buy a new umbrella and had to go to school with one that had too many holes in it, but would rather get wet going to school than skipping it because of her passion for learning; her wanderlust and her fascination with language and people.

Our homework were not exercises a, b and c from the textbook, rather; they were the recital of the Gettysburg Address by Abraham Lincoln, excerpts from various Churchill's public addresses during the World War II, Martin Luther King Jr's famous "I had a Dream"address, Emily Dickinson's bleak poems on Death and even on famous sayings by Socrates.

Although I could hardly remember beyond "Four scores and seven years ago..." I remembered the joy of learning that she has instilled in many of us. I remembered her enthusiasm as she read "The Road Not Taken" by Robert Frost. I remembered the words that she had scribbled in my journal, spurring me to take up writing and poetry.

And I remembered this, and it rings particularly in this entry- "Education is what survives when what has been learnt has been forgotten". a quote by B. F. Skinner.

It had been 5 years since I last saw her. So, imagine my surprise and delight when I met her in a most unexpected way during Chinese New Year. She didn't even look a year older since I last saw her- with her chilli-red fingernails that matched her blouse.

She too,remembered me-"the girl who would write pages in her journal". She must have thought.

We talked about my current plans, laughed about our old times and I finally plucked up enough courage to thank her for teaching me the finer things in life and language- something that I should have done 5 years ago.

Nevertheless, it was both a wonderful and meaningful reunion for a student and her teacher.

And a timely reflection on how inspiring teaching can be.

To Marcus, who would soon be leaving for Sabah to teach- may he be a blessing there, just as he has been a blessing to us here. Godspeed to him.


Blogger hud_callahan said...

i'm studying to be an elementary school teacher right now. good piece you wrote here. makes me think back on the teachers that have influenced my life. cheers!

12:34 PM  

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