ASK any teacher what pleases him or her most and almost invariably the answer would be: to see my students succeed. Understandable, as they can take pride in having had a hand, however small, in that success.
Some 20 years ago, I was walking along Lebuh Pitt in Penang when I heard someone call out, "Sir". I spun around and saw a young man in police uniform smiling broadly.
Seeing the quizzical look on my face as he vigorously shook my hand, he asked: "Can't remember me ah, Sir?" I shook my head.
"You taught me English at the free tuition classes conducted by a youth organisation at the YMHA school in Taiping. Thank you, Sir, I learned a lot from you," he said.
Since then, over the years, I have met some students whom I had taught in similar free tuition classes in Prai and Glugor, Penang.
I still remember the way I was "recruited" to teach pupils in Glugor in the early eighties by Kalidas, who now stays in Seberang Jaya, Penang. Kalidas was an office boy at the Moh Gee Chinese primary school in Jelutong. Although he earned little, his heart was bigger than that of many who earned thousands. And that is what attracted me to him. He had undertaken it upon himself to run free tuition classes for poor pupils of all races.
One day, he invited me to visit his classes and then asked if I could help teach. There was no way I could refuse a request from someone who, instead of spending the time and energy earning extra money for his family, was helping give poor children a lift in life.
Kalidas, for me, is a symbol of dedication. Untrained, yes. But all heart. He had passion, which, we are now increasingly being told, is sorely lacking in today's crop of teachers. The general sentiment is that most teachers lack dedication and that this is so, in large part, due to an uninspiring education system and an insipid bureaucracy.
I have been lucky to have had some excellent teachers at King Edward VII School, both primary and secondary.
To say that they taught me would not do justice to their passion. They did what a teacher should rightly do: they inspired a desire for learning. This is where, I think, most of today's educators fail. Of course, the school curriculum in those days was more wholesome.
I am a journalist today largely because of two of my teachers, Ms Leow Kam Fong and Ms Raja Mahtra Kamaralzaman, who inspired me to continuously read and learn; recognising something in me or my writing, they urged me to consider journalism as a career. I will always be grateful to them. Raja Mahtra has passed on and Ms Leow is in Australia.
Carl Jung said it well: "One looks back with appreciation to the brilliant teachers, but with gratitude to those who touched our human feelings."
Earlier this year, at the suggestion of my friend Kah Huat, I travelled down to Taiping to meet two of my former teachers, Mr Lim Eng Keat and Mr Francis Ho.
Mr Lim taught me Science for several years while Mr Ho taught me Economics in Form Six. I had not seen them since I left school and it was such a joy, sitting there at the Chinese Recreation Club, sipping tea and sharing stories.
I have also had the good fortune of meeting up with Haji Razak Osman, my former art teacher, early this year. The years have not robbed him of his jollity nor his wit. Two weeks ago, I joined him as he broke fast for Ramadan.
It was a warm feeling.
We can only gain by making our teachers, especially those who have had an impact on us, feel appreciated.
And today is a good day to show appreciation for our teachers, because it is World Teachers Day. Go ahead, phone your teacher.
The New Straits Times Online: 5 Oktober 2008