JOY OF TEACHING
Grandmaster Wong Kiew Kit
The following article was written by Grandmaster Wong more than 20 years ago in 1995 when he was a school teacher.
It has often been said, rightly or wrongly, that good teachers teach bad classes, because backward pupils need good teachers to help them whereas good pupils will progress anyway, irrespective of whether they have any teachers or not. I fancy this saying because I am usually given backward classes to teach.
However I had a change in 1994 when I was assigned to teach English to the best Form Four class in Sekolah Menengah Gurun, i.e. Form Four Science, your class. This opportunity was made through the kind arrangement of Puan Cher Lee Koon, who was the senior language teacher of our school then and who is one of the best teachers I have seen at all times. I told Puan Cher, who is now transferred to Alor Star to bring benefit to other pupils, that although I had no complaint teaching poorer classes, I would like to teach a good class so that I could bring out the best from the best.
Teaching your class was different in many ways from teaching other classes. Firstly I was not concerned with your passing examinations, not because examinations are unimportant but because you would pass any examination even if there were no teachers to teach you. (Interestingly, when I teach very backward classes, my concern is also not passing examinations because I believe I shall be more useful to them teaching them how to read and write than forcing them to memorize answers to questions which they do not even understand.) Secondly I did not have to spend the first few minutes of each lesson, as I have been doing all the years in poorer classes, making sure pupils had completed their homework, or pull the ears of those who did not pay a hundred percent attention.
There were three main objectives I set myself to accomplish with your class. Firstly, I wanted to ensure that all of you could speak English. That was the main reason why I spoke only English in class, and insisted that whenever you spoke to me you must use English. That was also why I insisted that you must always stand upright, morally as well as physically, and speak up loudly and clearly.
Some people seem to think that science students could only solve mathematical problems, and could not speak at all. I am glad we have proved them wrong, for not only you can speak, but also you can speak good English. For example, when Siew Choo, the class monitor, asked me to write this article she spoke English very well.
The second objective was to arouse your interest in reading. especially reading books for pleasure and not for examinations. Walt Disney, the cartoonist and philanthropist has this to say about books: "There is more treasure in books than in all the pirates' loot on Treasure Island, and best of all, you can enjoy these riches every day of your life." As there is so much treasure, besides pleasure, in books, it is not surprising that the modern philosopher Aldous Huxley believes that "every man who knows how to read has it in his power to magnify himself, to multiply the ways in which he exists, to make his life full, significant and interesting."
You will find that the habit of reading you have developed in our English class will be very useful to you when you go to university. I remember my own English teacher told me long ago that in university you do not study physics or study law, but you read physics or read law. Even if you do not go to university, knowing what to read and where to find the books is so rewarding. Indeed, for those who can read -- especially those who can read English -- they can find almost anything in books, ranging from how to speak German to how to shoot a rocket to the moon. But I do not want you to be merely bookworms; I want you to expand your mind.
This expanding of our mind was the third objective in our English class. Hence, you would recall that we learned not only when to use the present perfect tense or how to make our composition more attractive to read, but also discussed why an electron is both a particle and a wave, and whether there are other realms of existence besides what we see with our very limited eyes. If you hope to be a scientist one day, this expansion of the mind, this looking at the world with awe and wonder, is probably one of the best things you have learned in our class.
I can proudly say that we have accomplished all these three objectives fairly well -- not so much that I was an effective teacher, but that you are excellent students. To substantiate the statement about our accomplishment, I can mention the following. None of you have ever spoken to me in any other languages besides English. The fact that you have decided to produce a class magazine, even though you are now in Form Five facing your much welcomed SPM, is an indicaion of your love of reading. (In my more than twenty five years of teaching English, I have come across only a few classes enterprising enough to attempt a class magazine.) Thirdly, your asking me to give you a photograph not of me as a teacher but as a kungfu master (hopefully in some funny posture) shows you have expanded your mind beyond stereotyped thinking.
I must thank you for giving me the opportunity to tell other teachers, especially when they are in a depressive mood, that teaching is still a joyful occupation. I enjoyed every moment of my lessons with you, and although I do not have the good luck to teach your class this year, I am sure you will give all your present teachers the same attention and support you gave me. You will, I hope, still bring your dictionary daily with you (despite the enormous weight of the present day pupil's schoolbag) and still go over your vocabulary book while, for example, drinking your morning coffee. Some of you will have to consult your good friend the dictionary when reading what I have written in this article.
As befitting a teacher, I would like to conclude this article with the following short verse, which I learned when I was also a schoolboy from a friend who is also a teacher. This verse has made life rich for me; I am sure you too will find it inspiring.
To find life's simple beauties
Put effort into our daily duties
To find life's simple joys
Take delight in our daily toil
Wong Kiew Kit,
25th January 1995.