Thursday, May 24, 2012

Sentimental about calling it quits


IT IS usually the simple things in teaching that I find strangely moving: walking down the aisle where heads are bent and hands are busy scribbling; or a smile and a mumbled greeting as a student meets me in the corridor.

Yesterday, a student saw me while I was driving and when our eyes met, he waved excitedly at me like long-lost friends.

There are other things too: when the class is enthusiastic about the lesson and hands waving frantically to answer my question.

When I receive words of appreciation written on cards in their own brand of English, I renew my commitment as a teacher and believe once again in the institution of education.

Yet, I am at a loss to tell you why I am opting to retire at the age of 56 instead of 60.

And to be honest with you, I do look forward to my impending retirement.

I started my teaching career in Yong Peng, a town in Johor. Thirty-four years later as the shadows lengthen on my career, I thank God for all that has been.

As a teacher in a secondary school, I have taught thousands of students in the valleys of their youth and have accompanied them on their journey to maturity.

Even with the magical ability of technology, nothing beats the magic of face-to-face interaction.

The best lessons still come from inspired teachers passionate about their subjects.

Every teacher has his or her low moments. I can relate to what D.H. Lawrence said in his poem, Last Lesson In The Afternoon.

A line from the poem reads: Not all for them shall the fires of my life be hot. There have been many hot afternoons when a teacher’s task is relieved only by the last bell of the day.

In the 70s and 80s, we typed questions on stencils but now we do it on the computer. While the computer enables a teacher to set questions with ease, ironically, modern technology has increased a teacher’s workload by leaps and bounds.

We now have to key in the students’ particulars, coursework, tests and examination marks. Teachers are bogged down by the endless paperwork in the form of new programmes and changes in education policies.

Lengthy meetings are held in the afternoon after teachers have finished teaching in the morning.

At the end of the meeting, there is usually more paperwork to be done at home and later to be handed in, both in soft and hard copies within a punishing deadline.

Several Saturdays are taken up to attend courses in school or outstation, for co-curricular activities and to chaperone students for workshops or competitions.

Unlike other government servants, teachers buy their own stationery and often photocopy materials for students out of their own pockets.

As a teacher in the twilight of my career, I believe that a teacher’s work is never done.

I recall another line of D.H. Lawrence’s poem — I will keep some of my strength for myself and the lure of languishing in leisure, make sense of early retirement for me.

MARY EU

Via e-mail

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