Thursday, January 16, 2014

A Tribute to My Students

A Tribute to My Students

They taught me as much about real life as 
I taught them about life in Literature books

by Mrs Thanen (formerly known as Miss Senthe)

The then Miss Senthe (left) who was fined by her student prefect, Moey Yoke Lai (right), for walking on the grass.

In Anna and the King, King Mongkut of Thailand graciously acknowledges that it is amazing how the teacher teaches, but how “by the pupils we are taught.”

In this context, I wish to record my appreciation of many values that my students taught me. There are too many instances, but I record here the ones that made most impact on my life since they happened.

In my very first year at BBGS, I was assigned a Form Five Class. I noticed a girl in my class who always appeared listless and inattentive, be it the first period or the last. When I talked to her after school, I discovered she was so poor, she never had breakfast, nor had she any food during the break.

I told her I would buy a tin of biscuits and keep it in my staff room locker and she could come to the staff room and help herself without anyone knowing about it. When the tin of biscuits was finished, it was her turn to call me aside and tell me: “Miss Senthe, yes we are poor. Yes we wash the flats in our area and sweep the compound. But we do not accept anything from anybody.”

Immediately, it flashed upon me that the poor too have their dignity and we have no right to undermine that. My God gave me the wisdom and the insight to respect her wishes and I didn’t push it down her throat. I can’t remember her name now, but I will remember as long as I live the one lesson she taught me:  "We are poor, but we have our own dignity".

Another time, I was given a rather more able class. A girl in that class had shouted back at the teacher who complained loud and long in the staff room about my class and the rude behaviour of this girl. When I confronted the girl, she meekly and obediently went and apologised to the teacher.

But another onlooker student, Teh Choon Yin came to me confidentially and told me, it was the teacher who provoked Poh Choo! And so gave me a perpective from an objective student’s point of view.

I used to teach also, as part of the lessons in argumentative writing, “flaws in reasoning”. One of the flaws used to be designated “missing the wood for the trees”. A girl in that class used to pick up a point I had made (quite out of the topic) and distract me. I would almost always be side tracked and get into the argument. Thanks to Chitra Raghavan who pointed out to me: “You are falling for her distraction every time.”

But the prize for my being taught by my students goes to Moey Yoke Lai, who was a prefect in Form 4 when I began teaching. At that time, there was a sprawling rain tree and under it, the grass grew luxuriantly. Everywhere were signs: “Do not walk on the grass.”

At that time, you could walk along the corridor to the office from the staff room. (the long way). Or you could take a short cut across the lawn, stepping on the verdant grass. The Form Four classroom in which Moey Yoke Lai sat overlooked this green.

One day, I had been summoned to the office by Miss Cooke. Not knowing what this summons would entail, I was dashing across the grass from the staff room to the office. The Form Four class (Yoke Lai is supposed to be paying attention to the teacher) was in session. And suddenly lo and behold, Yoke Lai, the prefect, stands in front of me.

“Miss Senthe, you cannot walk on the grass! You are fined 20 cents (in 1965, 30 cents could buy you a bowl of laksa!)

She taught me something that day, because I HAD to pay the fine.  Now you’ll understand how one BBGS pupil turned out to be a headmistress in true BBGS style!