Memories Are Made Of These Incredible Moments
I recently organised a long-awaited reunion of a few former teachers from La Salle Secondary School, Brickfields, Kuala Lumpur. The luncheon event was held in the Bunga Raya Chinese Restaurant at the Royal Lake Club on Monday, 25 March 2019.
Why were only a few invited?
There are a few reasons for this. LSB is a small school but with a mighty big heart. A number of its former teachers have since migrated to Australia. They include Mr. Low Kim Seng, Mr Eric Koh, Mrs Theresa Oh and Mrs Suan Fredericks. Mr Lucas Wong could not join us as he was in Malacca on that day and Mrs Thana Ponnudurai is now based in Vienna, Austria. She returns to Malaysia regularly.
A few are un-contactable. These include Mrs Breda Tay, Ms Cheah Beng Sim and Mrs Teng Chan Kam. And some teachers unfortunately have left us much too soon. These include Mr. Yeong Hin Hong, Mrs Mary Nathan, Mr Vivian Sequerah and Mrs Low Peng Lum.
Those Who Attended the Luncheon Reunion
The former teachers who graced this event were: Mrs Goh Khek Siew, Mrs Diana Yeoh, Mrs Amarjeet Mahendran, Mrs K T Tan, Mr Denis Armstrong and Benedict Morais.
These individuals could probably be considered the Last of the Mohicans from that incredible era. Their combined ages total almost five centuries! The oldest teacher present is ninety years and the youngest is seventy three.
Qualities of a Great Teacher
Here are what I consider to be some of the qualities of a great teacher. He or she has deep knowledge and an abiding passion for the subject. He or she has superior preparation and organisation skills.
That teacher is also able to make the subject matter more interesting and relevant for the students. But much more than that, that teacher has the uncanny ability and the desire to build a caring relationship with his/her students.
Impact of These Teachers on the Students
I could give you a brief overview of what these teachers meant to their students.
These are their frank comments.
Mrs Amarjeet Mahendran: “ She made the lessons in art fascinating and very interesting “ – Jeffrey Felix ( Alabama, USA ) musician and well known glass artist. His glass art masterpieces are exhibited in many American art galleries and museums.
Mrs Diana Yeoh: “ She was the reason why I chose to major in Mathematics at the University of Malaya “ – A Sikh former student ( Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia ) who submitted a letter to the editor of The Star newspaper a few years ago. Many remember with much gratitude her dedication by giving free tuition in school on Saturdays to those who were weak in that subject.
Mrs Goh Khek Siew: “ She taught us Mathematics in a simple, easy to understand manner “ – A Chinese former student from ( Singapore ) at a reunion in Kuala Lumpur some years ago.
Mr. Denis Armstrong: “ He was everything one could look for in a good mentor and an athletics coach. He groomed us to be sound professionals and made training under him a rewarding and memorable experience “ – Vinay Chandran ( Muscat, Oman ) former champion schoolboy sprinter and now a successful Landscape Architect.
Mrs K T Tan: “ A gentle, kind lady who made the geography lessons come alive………………much like NatGeo “ – Frederick Nathan, a Tengku Abdul Rahman (TAR) College graduate from ( Seremban, Negri Sembilan )
Benedict Morais: “ I can still remember the huge task you carried on your shoulders for the yearly class trip to Malacca “ – Thiagarajan K Rengasamy ( Kuala Lumpur ) Veterinarian. Although my option during teacher training was history, I never got to teach history at La Salle Brickfields. The yearly trips to Malacca therefore afforded me the opportunity to teach history in that historic city.
All these views were gathered during the regular reunions in Kuala Lumpur as well as from email communication over the years.
Kirby and Brinsford Lodge
It is important to realise that during that era ( late fifties and sixties ) there was an acute shortage of qualified teachers. The government of the day then embarked on a novel idea. They sent some of the best and brightest candidates to the United Kingdom for a two year teacher training programme.
Initially, they sent these carefully selected candidates to the Kirby Teacher Training Centre. Later on, they sent other candidates to the Brinsford Lodge Teacher Training Centre. The first group of candidates to these teacher training centres travelled by ship on a leisurely 21 day long journey to the UK. Those were the days well before low cost travel became a reality and when life moved at a relatively slower pace!
Candidates who came later, flew on the iconic British Overseas Airways Corporation (BOAC) planes from the small Sungei Besi Airport in almost the centre of Kuala Lumpur! They took off in the morning, made two much needed re-fuelling stops in Karachi, Pakistan and in Bahrain, Middle East before finally landing in London the next morning – a 24 hour marathon flying odyssey.
Former students will be glad to learn that Mrs Diana Yeoh is a Kirby trained teacher while Mrs Amarjeet Mahendran and the late Mr Yeong Hin Hong are Brinsford Lodge trained teachers.
Normal Class and St Joseph’s Training College, Penang
Mr. Vivian Sequerah and Mr Denis Armstrong were Normal Class trained teachers.
Normal Class teacher training was developed by St John Baptist De La Salle, the founder of the Christian Brothers teaching order more than 300 years ago. This system of teacher training was adopted by the Malaysian government to fill the need for more teachers. There were only a few teachers’ training colleges at that time in the country.
Mr Lucas Wong and I were trained alongside the La Salle Brothers at St Joseph’s Training College in Pulau Tikus, Penang. This college was accredited as a teacher training college by the Malaysian government. As lay teachers, we supported the noble work of the La Salle Brothers by teaching in the many La Salle schools all over Malaysia.
Lee Iacocca’s Take on Teachers
Some years ago, the celebrated former chairman and chief executive officer of Chrysler Corporation had this to say about what it means to be a teacher.
Lee Iacocca said and I quote: “ In a completely rational society, the best of us would be teachers and the rest of us would have to settle for something less “.
In Finland, which has a very fine educational policy in place, this is now the case. Teachers are also very well paid and highly respected in society. Many other countries, however, have yet to see the merits of having a sound educational policy. The sly politicians in these countries, I must concede, religiously only pay lip service to this idea whenever it is expedient.
How Are Teachers Remembered?
Those teachers who are fondly remembered usually have some wonderful qualities that remain embedded in the hearts of their former students. I am referring to the kindness shown to students and to the empathy displayed when students faced problems and issues.
One former student also shared with me that he appreciated his teachers because they knew how to talk to him! These teachers showed care and concern when it mattered most.
These teachers are also remembered for their selfless and dedicated service in carrying out numerous extra mural activities. These extra mural activities were often carried out on the fields after school, in the classrooms or even on Saturday mornings. The teachers who carried out these extra mural activities could not seek reimbursement for the costs that they incurred. They were not on the government payroll at that time.
The La Salle education philosophy stresses on wholesome, all round education for the Last, the Least and the Lost! In La Salle Brickfields, this was the case as most of the students then came from the lower socio economic strata of society.
Their fathers were rank and file policemen from the Police Station and quarters next to the school, rank and file personnel from the Customs Department opposite the school, blue collar workers and clerical staff from Malayan Railways etc. There were also the occasional sons of senior government officers, senior police officers, senior military officers and professionals who chose to attend this La Salle secondary school.
These teachers, on many occasions, willingly paid out of their own pockets for drinks and light refreshments for their students. They also used their own cars to send their teams for soccer matches, athletic meets or badminton games to other venues. In these instances, more than one teacher and more than one car was involved because of the number of students.
Memories Are Made of These Precious Moments
When the teachers met at the club there was a mixture of emotions and reactions. Many were glad to see one another after forty years or so! Mrs Goh could not quite recognise me. She remembered Denis as a discipline master but remarked that he had changed quite a bit.
And so we have indeed but the years have been relatively kind to all of us thus far. In the old days, to have lived three score and ten years was the ultimate goal! These days with the advances made in medicine, individuals are living that much longer while still retaining their mental and physical faculties … by the grace of God.
Mrs Diana Yeoh, I must stress still retains that dignified presence, aura and stature, Mrs Amarjeet Mahendran continues to radiate a positive, age defying glow, positivity and charm, Mrs K T Tan remains as sweet, kind and helpful as ever and Mrs Goh Khek Siew is a good role model for principled-centred living. Mr. Denis Armstrong maintains a healthy lifestyle, has basically one main meal a day, by choice and chooses to eat fish or seafood rather than meat.
Such was the success of that reunion that Mrs Diana Yeoh suggested that we should meet more often, say once in two months. I responded by inviting one of those present to take the lead in that direction.