Teacher who never gave up

A for­mer stu­dent has fond mem­o­ries of an English teacher who never gave up.

The Star Malaysia - Star2 - - FRONT PAGE - By KEE SUAT DAY Do you have any real-life, heart-warm­ing sto­ries to share with read­ers? E-mail them to star2@thes­tar.com.my. We’d love to hear from you.

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 dis- ap­pointed 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

The medi­ocre teacher tells. The good teacher ex­plains. The su­pe­rior teacher demon­strates. The great teacher in­spires. – Wil­liam artHur Ward

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.”

Twenty years from now, you will be more dis­ap­pointed by the things that you didn’t do than by the ones you did do, so throw off the bow­lines, sail away from safe har­bour, catch the trade winds in your sails. Ex­plore, Dream, Dis­cover.

- Mark Twain

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