Sunday, October 11, 2015

TO: MR T

INTI International University & Colleges recently had a post on their social media account in recognition of Teacher's Day. Did you know that different parts of the world commemorate Teacher's Day on different dates? 

Yeah me neither. 

Anyway, it got me thinking about all the teachers I've had the fortune (or misfortune) of having. 

I liked some of them.
I hated some of them.
I don't remember the rest of them.

I'll leave out the meh ones (I don't remember any of them anyway) and talk about those who stood out to me at their own ends of the scale (the stellar and the sucky).

*** 
Let me start with the bad. 

I was in high school and had just got back an exam paper. I was annoyed because this teacher had decided to shoot down an entire essay worth 15 marks. 

The question had been something like
" What is your opinion of such and such situation and what would you have done? Give your perspective and provide relevant elaborations and examples. "

I thoughtfully described my (very legit) point of view and dutifully backed it up with the required explanations.

What I received was a giant red 'X' and a big fat zero at the bottom of the page.

I went up to the teacher and indignantly demanded to know what went wrong.

The response I received was 'because your answer did not adhere to the marking scheme'. I thought this was bollocks and plainly told her so.

Her pitifully pathetic justification was 'it is what is stated in the textbook and in the sample answer provided by the government; to think any differently or be independent on your own would be wrong'.

I went back fuming and vowed that I would show her. I memorized the stupid sample answers and scored A for the subject in my SPM examination, but at the back of my mind I knew my grade was nothing to take pride in because it was methodical thoughtless rubbish.

*** 

Now I'll talk about the good.

Mr T was an eccentric character. Sometimes I wonder if the Ministry of Education even knew they had this intriguing individual in their ranks. (They would probably have never granted him permission to teach if they had known).

It was my last year in high school and he joined as a teacher in the middle of the year, taking over the tearfully boring subject of history. Upon his first lesson, he stood in front of the class and pulled out a set of sample exam questions with their answers. He then demanded us to tell him if the model answers provided were correct. We looked at each other uncertainly, not quite sure what was going on.

" The statements are correct! Of course they are! " someone eagerly quipped.

" Really? Is that what you think, or what you have been taught to think? " He boomed while giving us a steely glare, with just a hint of twinkling amusement in his gaze.

He would come to class and skewer us in ways completely unexpected of a government teacher. 

" Why are you agreeing with me? Why are you agreeing with what the textbooks say? With what the news say? Do you really think everything you read and hear is truth? "

" Don't go along with me just because I'm your teacher! Disagree with me, challenge me, have a mind, speak your own, command authority of your opinion! Don't be a fruity empty-headed nodding ninny! "

When we were sometimes unable to defend ourselves or were slow to respond to his quick-witted razor-sharp bullets, he would roar in frustration 

" Seventeen years of age, seventeen years of being alive and not a single original thought of your own? What is to become of this country's future? "

We gaped and didn't know what quite to make of him.

   " Know their rules, then beat them at it. "

Was his oft-repeated mantra when it came to studying and taking exams in conventional government education system. He instilled in us that we could play their (the government's) game, but be smarter than them and jump through their loops and work the system to our advantage.

I still remember him coming to class and starting discussions and debates on economics, politics, finances (I had an interesting argument with him about money, but more on that another time), culture, religion, society, and more. He was delighted and exuberant whenever we challenged the general consensus, or hammered home points of our own. He talked to us as equals, he wanted to know what we thought and why we thought.

I miss him.

I went back once to high school after graduation to visit and enquired after him. He is apparently no longer a teacher, which is a pity.

The students of our nation are in need of teachers like Mr T.

***

To every teacher who embodies the spirit of Mr T (and of course to the man himself),
   Happy Teacher's Day.