Thursday, December 12, 2013

Grateful for a great teacher


A former student has fond memories of an English teacher who never gave up.
Among the teachers who taught me in secondary school, there were a couple who made a difference in my life. These wonderful teachers were the ones who went above and beyond the curriculum not just to teach us, but to inspire us, too. Their teaching and valuable advice still make an impact on my life today. As the saying goes: “A teacher affects eternity, he can never tell where his influence stops.”
One of these few great teachers who went the extra proverbial mile for us was our English teacher, Mrs Fernandez. She was the one who piqued my interest in the English language. Like many of us who were from Chinese-medium primary schools, I did not have much interest in learning the English language. It seemed so difficult to grasp the subject – English was all Greek to me then.
Looking back now, I realise that the problem stemmed from the fact that the English teachers who taught us in primary school were either not well-trained or motivated to teach the subject. For instance, they spoke in Mandarin when trying to teach English, and they also used the rote teaching method like how they would for Mandarin classes.
The lessons were tedious and boring. As a result, many of us were just not interested and had a negative attitude towards learning the language. I thought I would just pick up the language some other day, like when I’m about to look for a job.
Once I got to secondary school, my main focus was to improve my Bahasa Malaysia because it was (and still is) a mandatory passing subject. I was not aware of the advantages and benefits of English so I put off trying to learn the language, until I entered Remove Class in 1978. My love for the English language took a drastic turn then and it was all because of this slightly plump teacher with short curly hair, whom we addressed as Mrs Fernandez.
Incidentally, many of my classmates and I had problems pronouncing her name correctly, so that became an ice-breaker for everyone on our first day of meeting her.
When she found out that most of us were not proficient in English, instead of being disappointed or giving up on us, Mrs Fernandez assured us, “Don’t worry. Let me take care of it.”
I was taken aback by her gung-ho stance and her optimism – as most of us couldn’t even string a sentence together properly without making any grammatical error, and our vocabulary was limited.
She spoke to us only in English. According to her, that was the best way to learn a language. “You have to learn by doing it. And don’t get discouraged when you make mistakes. Learn from them and you’ll improve,” reminded Mrs Fernandez.
We didn’t realise that she was actually teaching us new words and the English grammar while playing word games, telling stories and jokes during lessons. With her exaggerated, mostly funny facial expressions, she showed us how to pronounce weird-sounding words and then entertained us with interesting stories about the origins of those words. We were laughing, but at the same time, we were learning, too.
She taught us how to remember new words easily by drawing pictures that show the meaning of the word if we could. She reminded us that our brains think in pictures, not words. We did drawings and cut and pasted pictures during her lessons. That was how her “supposed to be dull” English lessons became more like fun arts and craft classes.
Some of the teaching ways she used that proved effective included writing a journal, discussing in groups and doing play reading. I think she succeeded in getting us to love learning because we were very involved in each lesson.
Mrs Fernandez had the knack of employing innovative and fun ways of teaching English. Every now and then, she brought along her own magazines, books, posters and even record covers with song lyrics on them to the class to enhance her lessons. She would pass these items among the students and then asked each of us to read out any word or phrase from them. From there, she would explain the meanings, then go on to do word association, or shared proverbs, quotes and idioms that were related to the words.
Usually, other teachers would instruct students to pay attention to the class and not to look outside the windows. But Mrs Fernandez encouraged us to look out through the doors and windows for a few minutes every now and then to take a break; she would also tell us to take the time to appreciate the world around us.
Then she would ask us to write down what we saw, heard or felt.
Mrs Fernandez was the teacher who instilled in me the love of reading. She told us that if we wanted to improve our English, we had to read voraciously. “Read anything in English – newspapers, comics, novels, pop magazines, leaflets, billboards, song lyrics, anything that you fancy,” she would say.
Each day we looked forward to Mrs Fernandez’s lessons – her classroom atmosphere was filled with enthusiasm, humour and anticipation.
In retrospect, it was her caring soul and particularly her daily encouragement that helped us gain courage and kept us interested in learning. Her lessons were always entertaining and enlightening. I am grateful to have had a great teacher like her.
After I left school, I ran into Mrs Fernandez once at a Christmas bazaar. She told me that she had retired. Out of curiosity, I asked her why she had the patience and interest to teach “slow” students like us. In jest, Mrs Fernandez said, “If there were no weak students, then we teachers would be out of a job!”
Then on a serious note, she said that she had always loved teaching no matter what, although she admitted that at times she felt like throwing in the towel. But then, she added: “Somehow there is always that one student at that one special moment that makes it all worthwhile.”


Lynn Munir said...

“Those who educate children well are more to be honored than they who produce them; for these only gave them life, those the art of living well.”
― Aristotle

Abe Kie said...

thanks Lynn...