Remembering Such Individuals on Teacher’s  Day


On 16 May, students, parents and other Malaysians will mark Teacher’s Day. There will be special events held at the district, state and federal level to commemorate this special day. Fine speeches will be made, recognition will be given and plaques will be awarded to a number of teachers. All these activities and events are determined by the education authorities and are carried out at an official level.

Real and Meaningful Recognition 

On a different level altogether,  meaningful and authentic recognition comes easily and sincerely from parents and students of truly unforgettable, inspiring and great teachers. This is the best recognition of all……………………………because it comes from the heart. Satisfied parents and grateful students are ever  ready to acknowledge the role and influence of outstanding teachers. Oftentimes, even for years to come!

The successful students, however, deserve  the praise and credit for their achievements. This is because the teacher’s interaction with the students is limited, in most cases, to one or two years. This might involve teaching them a particular subject with  uncommon competence and flair. Alternatively, it might involve being their committed and demanding athletics coach in secondary school or even being their energetic and enthusiastic Scout Master for a few years. Then these students move on to higher forms and to other educational pursuits or career opportunities.

Role and Influence of Outstanding Teachers

In the case of outstanding teachers, very often their role and influence lingers on for many years. Why you may ask is this so?

Outstanding teachers are invariably role models. A role model, as you may know, is someone who inspires, encourages and motivates us to always bring out the best. In that life long process, we ought to strive to always live up to our fullest potential. A role model is, therefore, someone we greatly admire and someone we aspire to be like.

Do remember that these were formative years for the students. In the case of La Salle Brickfields Secondary School, Kuala Lumpur, for instance many of the students came from families in the lower socio economic strata of society. With the right motivation,  the support of understanding teachers and good neighbours many managed brilliantly to overcome the odds and emerge triumphant. What a great testament to the human spirit of prevailing against the tremendous odds and in the end achieving one ‘s goals in life.

Filling A Void in Their Lives

The teachers who mattered had the good grace and sense to willingly step in and fill that void in their lives. Some of these students lacked: a real father figure that they could look up to; others suffered from a lack of love and warmth in their families; some others came to school each day without breakfast; and some others came from broken families who struggled to make ends meet. The list of social and family problems that these students had to struggle through was quite exhausting.

These teachers made quiet, discrete and strenuous efforts, however, to offer a friendly listening ear, often after school going hours. They listened sympathetically to problems the students faced and offered counseling and advice. Some of these teachers even visited the homes of the students and spent time trying to understand their problems.

They were not always successful in these efforts but these students appreciated their behind the scenes assistance and remained grateful for their teacher’s role nevertheless. That feeling of respect remained with them for years to come. What is truly marvelous is that even after these students attained career, business  and professional success, they remained gracious, grounded and grateful for the kind assistance, care and concern of their teachers.

Teaching as a Job or as a Profession?

Today with the dramatic increase in the number of teachers in Malaysia, there is a nagging and troubling question that begs an honest answer. We will come to that soon enough. According to some estimates, there are nearly 300,000 teachers in Malaysia. That is indeed a huge number .

From stories I have heard from a number of sources, teachers today seem over burdened with a multitude of administrative chores. The number of forms that need to be filled up and submitted to the education department and the ministry is quite daunting.

Teachers also need to attend too many meetings sometimes even during school hours. At other times after school hours and even on weekends. Not just teachers but also headmasters and principals of primary and secondary schools have to attend meetings at district, state and federal level.

The amount of sheer bureaucracy at the various levels is mind boggling to say the least. What takes the cake and has a negative effect on teachers is the emergence and annoying recurrence of Flip Flop policies at the Education Ministry. Think for a moment what effect this sort of policy u-turns have on the teachers!

For Some Individuals It is a Job

Some teachers these days seem uninterested in teaching. They take up that career option because it currently offers a good pay and is a pensionable position.

There are many reports by students and parents of teachers not going to class because: they prefer chatting in the staff room; they have the audacity to ‘ instruct ‘ the principal on what subjects they can teach; some graduate teachers  do not wish to teach in higher forms…………they are easily cowed by the teenagers or they lack confidence in teaching their subject options; there are cases where the principal had to ‘ promote ‘ a non graduate with sufficient competence and ability to teach in a higher form.

So for many  in this group of teachers, the answer to that nagging question is: teaching is a job.

For Other Individuals It is a Profession

These are usually from the older generation who went into teaching as a profession because they wanted to do so. The see it as a profession not because they enjoy the prestige and privileges of being a teacher but because they put their heart and soul into teaching. There is hardly any prestige in being a teacher in Malaysia but I will concede that they do enjoy some long holidays.

These teachers are willing and often carry out extra tasks and services for their students because that is in their DNA as bona fide teachers of the highest calibre and calling. They are active in coordinating and supervising extra mural activities with skill, competence and joy. They even undertake extra tasks willingly not because they were asked to but because they felt that these tasks needed to be done. These are teachers who lead the way and show by their impressive example, again and again, what it means to be a real teacher.

Other Inspiring Individuals Who Also ‘ Taught ‘

In the not so recent past, there were other inspiring individuals who by their heroic and unconventional actions taught us some valuable lessons. These individuals were not teachers by profession.

President Nelson Mandela

This was a black, South African, clear thinking lawyer who fought courageously and with dogged determination for independence from the while supremacists who had imposed a cruel and inhumane system called apartheid in his native land. He was treated harshly by the authorities in power at that time, and thrown into jail and even subjected to solitary confinement. But he did not break and remained steadfast to his principles beliefs.

Finally when the white rulers saw the writing on the wall and decided to give in, he showed the world his magnanimity and his big heart. He told his people and his party  the African National Congress (ANC) that there was no place in his rainbow nation for revenge.

Instead, he worked tirelessly to build a united nation……………………….with blacks and whites as equal partners. Most important of all, he publicly forgave his enemies. President Mandela then went on to establish a Truth and Reconciliation Tribunal to ease the  challenging process of nation building.

Mohandas Gandhi

He too was a western educated lawyer who took up the cause for India’s freedom from British rule. In the process and as a sign of the rejection of some western values, he discarded his elegant suits and ties and opted instead for a simple loincloth covering.

His many independence movement related actions like the Non Violence Resistance Movement really stumped the British government. Even in the face of many provocative acts and brutal assaults, he firmly advised his army of followers not to retaliate. His followers, in the millions, adhered to his advice and took the beatings in their stride. Gandhi also initiated a Civil Disobedience Movement which had a huge effect in de-moralising the colonial power.The British had never seen such determination and firm resolve before. They appeared flabbergasted and before long they realised that the sun was indeed going down on the mighty British Empire.

And probably the greatest tribute to Mohandas Gandhi was paid by Rev Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. This heroic and charismatic civil rights leader in the United States of America chose to adopt Gandhi’s novel approach in his fight in the sixties for de-segregation and equal rights in his country. Like Gandhi, despite the brutality he and his followers suffered and courageously endured for years, he and his movement finally succeeded.

Mother Teresa of Calcutta

This was a small sized, frail Albanian nun of a Catholic order who made a tremendous impression not just in India also throughout the world. Mother Teresa showed the world that when  one has true compassion, empathy and love in one’s heart no task is too menial or too dirty to shoulder. And she did this repeatedly over the years.

What did Mother Teresa and her order of nuns do? They willingly took in the very poor, the sick, the unwashed and the disheveled individuals  from the grimy streets and hovels of Calcutta and gave them a measure of love and care. They cleaned them up, bathed them and nursed their wounds. For those who were terminally ill, the nuns gave them a measure of dignity, relief from pain and care that they had not known.

Her outstanding work made  head lines in  India and even around the world. Dignitaries, members of royalty, film stars and even Princess Diana made  efforts to meet and get to know her. And when she died years later, the Indian government gave her a state funeral………………………….an honour normally reserved for heads of state. Such was her stature and fame.

A Candle Continues to Give Out Light till the End

Through their inspiring actions and lives lived with such clarity of purpose, President Nelson Mandela, Mohandas Gandhi and Mother Teresa taught us some valuable lessons. What are these lessons?

Forgiveness is the right and noble thing to do. Yes, it is often difficult to forgive but one needs to do it in order to liberate us from the bondage of negative and soul destroying thoughts. Non violence and civil disobedience will triumph in the end. And care, compassion and love for our fellow human beings in full measure is the ultimate, non judgemental acts of a great but humble person.

I wish my former colleagues at La Salle Brickfields and teachers everywhere a Happy Teacher’s Day. As a friend and colleague once remarked to me: Once a teacher, always a teacher! I agree with him on that score but that only applies to those who take the profession seriously.

Please continue to give out your light, even after your retirement and in the process make this a better world for those who come after you.



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