This Teachers’ Day, I want remember and be quietly grateful for the wonderful teachers in my life.
Teachers’ Day just falls one day after the biennial Literature Symposium which we attended this year, and that makes the occasion all the more symbolic. Meeting all the familiar faces and hearing about all the good work these teachers have done in the various schools in Singapore to promote a love for literature and languages and words and life, as well as the never-ending battles fought on the ground, definitely inspired me to keep reading meaning into life and living meaning out of it. All our narratives are different, and today’s symposium celebrated that variety.
We were invited to sign up for concurrent break-out sessions for the programme today, and I have to admit, my choices were heavily influenced by my affiliation with these brilliant professors. Hearing them address the crowds of teachers for the first time in such a long time (7 years since I met one of them!) made me realise just how blessed I am to be taught by all these brilliant minds. But these people did not just have brilliant minds, they had an inspired soul, a purposed mind, and a human sincerity. Allow me to introduce some of them.
Dr Suzanne Choo was my Secondary School Literature teacher for one year. That single year made a huge difference in my life – it made me realise how fascinating words can be, it brought literature to life for me, and it made me fall in love with stories, with the process of peeling layer after layer of meaning, and the process of engaging with a dialogue of ideas about the text. It made me fall in love with the emotive value of words. It opened my mind to looking at short stories and poems like I never did before. In National Junior College, I am blessed to have been taught by the legendary Donald Whitby. The other Literature professors were fantastic too, but Mr Whitby stood out to me, because he planted a keenness and love for poetry in me. When all the teachers were ‘advising’ students to consider dropping a fourth subject by the masses after our promotional examinations, Donald Whitby told my friends and I very clearly, that “if we wanted to give it another shot, we should not let the grades stop us” because he would give us consultations every week if we wanted. It was those afternoons in the HOD conference room burying our heads in blank pages of poetry that made me fall in love with the beauty of words in poems, the representation of and speaking out about life through words. It was amazing.
It did not stop there. NUS had excellent Literature professors and tutors, all of whom inspired an understanding of text and by extension, life, in various ways. When my near-obsession with the academic grades almost caused me to walk out of an Honours degree, Professor Philip Holden’s one-time consult actually changed the minds of me and a friend of mine. He shared with us how the alphabetic or numeric symbol on the result slip would matter little in future, but the value and knowledge gained from another year of study in our field, would extend the horizons of our understanding and give us the breadth and depth that we would appreciate. We took on the challenge and never looked back since. And in NIE a few years on, Dr D. Yeo taught us how to see literature and life through a different set of lenses, one that challenged the norms, and poked fun at boundaries and conventions, one that represented the complexities and ambiguities of life which ought to be celebrated not shunned. He taught me how to laugh at life rather than mope about it; to engage with challenges rather than walk away from it; to be real, rather than be safe.
I have experienced a plethora of unbelievably wonderful educators in my lifetime, without whom I would not be who I was today. They may not remember how they have inspired us in one of those passing moments in life, or in one of the infinite number of lectures or workshops they have delivered… but I do. And I think that is also the way with our students. I hardly felt satisfaction, gratefulness and thanks so overwhelming that I would allow myself to demonstrate these emotions in acts of love and gratitude – a conversation over coffee or a gift and card. But ten, twenty years later, I remember the wonderful memories I have had with them in their classrooms, the ‘vibe’ they give, the little idiosyncratic behavioral traits (like the ‘right right rights?’ and the ‘are you alives?’), and the understated simple fact that “Literature rocks because it goes beyond the classroom into Life. And Life is worth celebrating.”
So tomorrow (in a few hours actually), I will make my way to school. This year, I want to take away the attention from myself as a teacher, and teachers like myself, and look at my teachers. I think there is a whole world of people – teachers – out there that deserves to be championed, celebrated and recognised.
So to everyone who has given a small part of yourself to someone else, who has taught, happy teachers’ day to you. You never know where your influence starts and where it ends. May it be a positive and shining one.