Were you in for the money or nothing better to do or can’t think of anything else to do?
Years ago.. in fact almost a decade ago, when I decided to make teaching in govt schools as my profession, I was often asked those questions. Back then our island was in recession, teachers then and even more now, were and are paid well. Very well in fact where I came from. ( ok my fellow teachers back home in sunny island set in the sea down south from where I am now, if you hear how much Malaysian government schools teachers get paid, you will faint, or kiss the feet of your Education minister. Let’s just say they get paid like 1/5 of what we got or those of you still in the service are getting. So go sujud syukur for your big fat year end bonuses, connect plan, performance bonuses and all the carrots dangling in front of your faces just because you mould the future of our island nation. And yes, they do just as much admin work as you doif not more… consider the rural schools ).
Now where was I ? Ahh yes, education, educating and being an educator. Maybe my answer to those questions back then was yes, I was in for the money–economy was bad when I finished school, teaching in the government schools gave me the security I needed. And yes, I had nothing better to do and also can’t think of anything better to do, when all around me back then was rampant retrenchments throughout the island. And lastly, my father wanted me do it. There, as honest as I could get.
But when I look back, did have I any regrets being an educator? No. The money was good in hard times. When some of my peers had trouble getting jobs, I was enjoying bonuses and benefits. Ok fair enough, some peers in private sectors and in MNCs especially enjoy better packages, but in economic downfall, they couldn’t sleep thinking of their rice bowl breaking should retrenchment happens.
Along the way, teaching was not just a profession. It became a way of life for me, when I grew to love it. When I felt I look forward to see the children’s faces every day and do actually miss them during the school holidays. Of course there were hits and misses. There were painful heart wrenching moments too. But there were also moments of sheer exhilaration. One that gave me that sensation was looking at N.N came in the top PSLE student last year with a groundbreaking aggregate score of 294 out of 300, making history as the first student on the island to do so. And a Malay girl at it. I had taught her and was her form teacher for 3 years before she went on to do her GEP program.
In my recent trip back home, I was pleasantly surprised by a chanced meeting with someone I had wanted to see for quite a long time. I had written about him here. My Durian King, as I nicknamed him. When I wrote that entry, I never thought I would meet him again, or even if I do, I won’t be able to recognize him. And for that matter, I don’t eat durians. I have no business going to any durian kings around Geylang should I be back in my hometown.
I had barely reached the island less than an hour on the 2nd day of Raya. It was around 11.30 pm and we were quite famished. Bapak brought us to Simpang Bedok. I was still quite blur from the journey when I heard someone called out ‘ Eh teacher!!! It’s me lahh’
Then I saw the face. The body has changed definitely but the face is still there. A sturdy young man in his late teens now, the sight was a far cry from a scrawny, undernourished boy, whom at 12 and 13 years old was still struggling to read even 3 pages of the Peter and Jane reading series. He was dyslexic but coming from a poor background meant that there was no early intervention. His parents were working day and night to make ends meet.
Anyway, he looked gleeful to see me. He said ‘ I remember you lah teacher.. You teach me how to read long years ago last time’. Ok his English is still kaput, but he can string a sentence now. And what he said sent me to space and back without even going to Russia like the Angkasawan. Years later, I am remembered as a person who taught him how to read. That feeling was not only nice and warm and fuzzy, but out of this world.
So I asked him, are you a durian king now? He laughed, surprised to still see me remembering his noble ambition back then. ‘ No lah teacher.. now I work as waitress in a kopitiam. Good hor.. wait I one day want to open my own restaurant lah’. What about your durian king ambition, I asked. ‘ No need one lah teacher, I go learn how to cook nice nice hor, later I become famesss chef ! ‘ He knows the word ‘chef’ and I am impressed. ‘ Eh teacher, you live where now ah ? ‘ I told him I have lived in Malaysia since January last year. ‘ Ohhh the one which must take bridge that one ah? ‘ I think he means Penang. Many of the Chinese on my island actually came from Penang and he must have heard from them about the Penang bridge. No, I told him. You know where the twin towers? The two tall buildings? ‘ ‘Ahhh I know! I know.. they say that place call Kee Ehhl that one ah teacher? I know. Now hor, I working already. Wait I save to buy big bike I go Malaysia to see you can or not teacher???’ Sure you can dear, I told him. We exchanged numbers and it was time for me to join bapak and the husband at the table. Before I walked away, he called out to me again.. ‘ Eh teacher !!! Wait, wait.. why you so fat now hor ? ‘
Decorum, was something that I forgot to teach him. But other than that, I knew I have at least done something right in my life.
Something is not so right. Last week we had our friends’ kids over at our place. They are from my hometown. 3 of them attend an international school here, loosely translated as ‘Sekolah Antarabangsa Taman ‘ or G/I/S. On the way back to sending them home, the eldest kid told me ‘ Auntyyyyyy … You know, Datuk H‘s children all go to our school ? ‘
Datuk H‘s children? Really? Wahhhh. I said. Not in an admiring way but that of wonder. If Datuk H is the Education Minister and his children go to international school instead of the sekolah kebangsaan here, does that mean that he is like a chef who does not dare to eat his own food after knowing what he puts inside the food in the cooking process? Or his own portfolio is beneath what his children deserve ? Or he knows there are flaws in the education system which he himself created and spared his children from it, but its ok for the common masses to be moulded by it?
Something’s not so right I feel…