Teachers are humans, and just as there are good and not-so-good humans or good and not-so-good students, likewise, there are good and not-so-good teachers. If you just hang around the staffroom and listen to what they talk about, that will surely confirm the fact that it takes all kinds to make the world. These few days, I’m sure a lot will be talking about the new mandatory retirement age…and some may have started calculating the amount of gratuity they can expect to get. Others will either be rejoicing (and talking about increment and promotional prospects) or grumbling about the PTK results which were released last Friday. Then we will hear people talking about Man-U emerging champion while some are talking about the share market and some get-rich schemes or trying to promote some direct-sale products. The women especially may be grumbling (or bragging) about their children now that the recipients of the JPA and other scholarships have been made known, and in the midst of all that, there will be a few talking about their lesson approaches or praising some of their students or discussing how to deal with certain difficult ones…
Well, Teachers’ Day falls on this coming Friday and here, I have something that I would like to share with one and all. It is actually an adaptation of Dick Gregory’s short story, “Not poor, just broke”; I have made some changes here and there to give it a local setting and make it a bit more concise…
I never learned hate or shame at home; I had to go to school for that. I was about ten years old then, and head over heels in love with my classmate, Lina, a petite, fair-complexioned girl with pigtails and nice manners. She was always clean and she was smart in school. I think I went to school then mostly to look at her. I even took the trouble to comb my hair and get myself a handkerchief. It was a lady’s handkerchief, but I did not want Lina to see me wipe my nose on my hand. I got sick a lot because my school uniform was the only clothes I had. When they did not dry quickly enough after I had washed them, I was forced to put them on even though they were wet.
Lina was there that day I learned to be ashamed of myself. I was sitting at the back of the room. The teacher thought that I was stupid. I could not spell, could not read, could not count – to her, I was just too stupid. Teachers were never interested in finding out why you could not concentrate. I was so hungry; I could not afford any breakfast and all I could think of was recess time, and maybe I could steal a bite of some kid’s packed food that they had brought from home.
But in the eyes of my teacher, I was nothing but a troublemaker. All she saw from the front of the classroom was this noisy boy who was a nuisance and poked fun all the time at the other kids around him. I guess she just could not see a kid who made noises because he wanted someone to know he was there, a kid craving for a little bit of attention.
It was the practice of the school to pass the hat around once a year to help the less fortunate, needy students. That day, the teacher was asking each student how much his or her father would donate. I had some money from selling 4-Digit result slips at road junctions and doing occasional odd-jobs for people. I was thinking then that I would contribute all that I had so that Lina would be impressed.
The teacher started calling out names and jotting down in a notebook the amount each parent would donate. I was trembling. I had almost ten ringgit, all in coins, in my pocket. I stuck my hand in and held onto the money, waiting for her to call my name. But she closed the book after she had called everybody else in the class. I stood up and raised my hand.
“What is it now?”
“You forgot me.”
“I don’t have time to be playing with you, Siong.”
“I…I mean, my daddy…my daddy wants to donate ten ringgit.”
The teacher turned around. She looked really furious. “We’re collecting this money for you and the likes of you, my boy,” she screamed in her shrieky, high-pitched voice. “If your daddy can afford ten ringgit, you have no business getting free handouts! Look at you! You get free books, free uniforms, free bags. Gosh! You can’t even afford to buy yourself a decent pair of shoes!”
I fidgeted uncomfortably on my feet in shoes that were a couple of sizes too big for me. “And furthermore,” she continued, looking right at me, her nostrils getting big and her eyes opening wide, “ we all know you don’t have a daddy!” Lina turned around, her eyes full of tears. I could not see her too well then, for I was crying too.
The teacher-character in the story is fictitious…or at least, I hope she is! But I would think that Teachers’ Day should be a time for teachers to reflect upon themselves – the kind of teachers they are, what they have been doing and what they can do in the days ahead. It should be something MORE than just a day with the routine assembly and some boring speeches and a few entertainment items…followed by brunch or in some cases, dinner at a local restaurant the same evening. It should not be just a day when they wait to receive presents that the students (are forced to buy and) give, but a day to think about what good they have done and how they can be better, where they have not done enough and how they may rectify that.
The students are in the teachers’ hands, not by their choice nor the teachers’ but as their teachers, it is their duty and obligation to help them in any way they can academically as well as in moulding them into morally-upright self-respecting individuals who, even though they may not make it through the public examinations, will be able to enter society and carve a decent future for themselves and their families.
I suppose most of you reading are not teachers but maybe there is one in particular that you can remember. Perhaps you would like to post a comment and share with everybody something specific that you can recall about him or her…..