Category Archives: education

Luxembourg Knows How to Value and Treat Teachers

Many other countries are great at paying lip service only

As we approach Teachers Day next month, I feel it is time we get real about teaching and teachers.

This is especially true in the Malaysian context. For far too long, teachers have had to cope with frequent changes in policies and approaches.

Many feel overburdened with a host of additional administrative duties that take up too much of their time.

Time to be spent in the classroom is oftentimes sacrificed because these teachers have to attend meetings and briefings conducted by school principals / senior assistants or education department personnel.

Teaching is a Noble Profession?

There is still that widely held perception by some that teaching is a noble profession.

But do these people, society in general and governments that regard teaching as a noble profession back up that perception by instituting clear policies and programmes that actually translate into that commitment? No, they do not.

Much too often this convenient saying is trotted out on Teachers’ Day in an insincere attempt to flatter the serving teachers. It is merely meant to create a ‘feel good’ atmosphere for the day. It is also an example of lip service of the worst kind.

If we continue to believe in teaching being a noble profession, then surely our policies and programmes to ensure this does happen, must ring true.

Best of Us Would be Teachers

Lee Iacocca, the famous former chairman and chief executive officer of Chrysler Corporation in the United States once remarked candidly:
“In a completely rational society, the best of us would be teachers and the rest of us would have to settle for something less”.

He and Chrysler Corporation believed that education needs to attract and retain the best of us. But that won’t happen as long as teaching ranks near the bottom of all our professions in pay and prestige. Real, concrete efforts and solutions are needed to elevate the status of teachers.

If we continue to believe in teaching being a noble profession, then surely our policies and programmes to ensure this does happen, must ring true.

Great Countries for Teachers

Is there a country in this world where teachers are truly treated with respect, have high status and earn good salaries? Or is this just a pipe dream?

Yes, there is such a country. No, it is not Shangri La in some distant corner of the universe.

Luxembourg is a great country for teachers.

It is the second richest, land-locked country in the world. It is in Western Europe. With a population of almost 600,000 inhabitants, most of whom are typically tri-lingual, this Grand Duchy is also one of the safest countries in the world.

In terms of physical size, it is slightly smaller than Rhode Island in the US.

According to data released by OECD, the starting salary for a high school teacher in Luxembourg is US$ 79,000. The peak salary for a senior teacher is US$ 137,000.

Opinion polls in that country have shown that teaching is Finland’s most admired profession!

By stark comparison, the average American teacher makes US$ 44,000 and peaks at US$ 67,000.

Most Admired Profession

Another country that knows how to value and treat teachers well is Finland.

In Finland, high-quality teachers are the hallmark of Finland’s education system.

Opinion polls in that country have shown that teaching is Finland’s most admired profession!

Factors that Contribute to that High Reputation

Believe it or not – primary school teaching is the most sought-after career in Finland.

The attractiveness of teaching has much to do with four factors:
i. the rigorous selection process;
ii. the work itself;
iii. the working conditions; and
iv. simply, respect for teachers.

Teachers are required to hold a master’s degree.

Where Teachers are Well Paid

Here is a list of the ten countries where teachers enjoy the best salaries:

  • Luxembourg,
  • Switzerland,
  • Germany,
  • Korea,
  • United States,
  • Austria,
  • Netherlands,
  • Canada,
  • Ireland and
  • Japan.

Here’s wishing all teachers everywhere a truly Happy Teachers Day.

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La Salle School, Brickfields, Kuala Lumpur

A guest post is a piece of writing that is published on someone else’s website or blog. This post today is a guest post by Denis Armstrong, one of nine pioneer teachers of La Salle Brickfields when the school was established in 1954

Beginnings
I was present at the creation. No, not THAT big one but a more modest one: the creation of La Salle Brickfields (LSB), K.L.

I was born and grew up in the fifth house in the first block of houses in Rozario Street (“Hundred Quarters”), a stone’s throw from LSB. Directly in front of my house was the Vivekananda Ashram. To the left, about 50 metres away was the Gajjan Singh petrol station along then Brickfields Road. To the right at the end of Rozario Street and the beginning of then Temple Road was the Lutheran Church.

Adjoining the church was the Buddhist Temple and a bit further on the opposite side of the road was a rice mill just next to the iconic toddy shop. Continuing along Temple Road, and where now are Brickfields Primary School and the Methodist Primary Girls’ School, used to be the town dump site for waste and discarded material. As children growing up in Brickfields in the late forties, we used to scavenge the dump site for old bicycle and motorbike rims. We removed the spokes and ran around and raced each other with these “wheelies”, controlling them with a stick.

Other landmarks at that time which now no longer exist were the original YMCA building which was demolished to accommodate the petrol station; and the Lido Cinema Theatre, also once known as the Cathay Cinema and earlier still as the Princess Cinema. Just behind the Lido cinema was the Kishan Dial Secondary School, possibly the first private school in the country to prepare students for the Overseas Senior Cambridge School Certificate.

The Anthonian Book Store started as a tiny business selling religious items like Catholic bibles, prayer books, rosaries, crosses and medals. It occupied a half shop lot in the block of shops just next to the Holy Rosary Church. Other landmarks in the vicinity of Brickfields at that period were the Royal Selangor Museum on the site of the current National Museum and a public swimming pool at the spot now occupied by the Police Station along Travers Road. These two landmarks received direct hits during the Allied bombing of the railway marshalling yards in Brickfields and Sentul in 1945 towards the end of the Japanese occupation of Malaya.

Creation
In those days the future home of LSB was a low-lying expanse of swampland. As the land was a foot or so above the canal running alongside it, the land had to be raised before the school could be built. And the cheapest solution for the landfill was garbage and discarded material from the town. Hundreds of lorry loads of this waste were dumped on the future site for the school building.

Layers upon layers of rubbish were sandwiched between layers of sand until the required level was achieved. Bulldozers were used in the operations. Almost immediately after the landfill was accomplished in early 1953, the freshly-laid landfill was promptly dug up, the foundations laid and the erection of the school commenced. Everything was completed sometime towards the end of 1953.

I saw it all happen. I was in my final year in school (St. John’s Institution) preparing to sit for the Overseas Senior Cambridge School Certificate at the end of year 1953.

Growth
In January 1954 La Salle School, Brickfields, opened its doors to welcome its first intake of students who had been housed in St. John’s Primary School the previous two years while awaiting LSB to be built. Together with the new admissions for the year 1954, there were in total eight classes. There were nine teachers. I was one of those nine pioneers.

I joined LSB in January as a temporary teacher while awaiting my exam results. After receiving my exam results in May 1954, I was accepted as a trainee teacher and began my three-year Normal School* teacher training. Thus began my teaching career.

What were those times like when LSB first opened its doors in January 1954? It was a mere eight and a half years after the end of the Second World War.

LSB then had no field for its sports activities. The land in front of the school was still a swamp. Once again, sometime in 1957, the lorries rolled in with their loads of rubbish and the bulldozers set to work to convert the swamp into a playing field. The field was ready for use in 1958. Engineers from the government’s Survey Department measured the field and succeeded in fitting an eight-lane 400-metre running track on it, thus making LSB the only school in KL other than Victoria Institution to possess such a facility. Prior to LSB having its own field, all sports activities were conducted in nearby “Chan Ah Tong Stadium”, a small playground adjoining Chan Ah Tong Street and a Brickfields landmark.

Reminiscences
What were those times like when LSB first opened its doors in January 1954? It was a mere eight and a half years after the end of the Second World War. The country was still recovering from the turmoil, destruction and ravages of the Japanese occupation. Times were still hard.

The country was in the midst of a guerrilla war, the so-called emergency, with the Communist Party of Malaya (MCP). The British High Commissioner, Sir Henry Gurney, had been assassinated by the MCP in 1951 while travelling in his car to his holiday retreat in Fraser’s Hill.

Life was simple. There were no computers or Internet, no TV or mobile phones – just fixed land phone lines and these were few and far between. There was radio but no FM, just AM broadcasts; and there was Rediffusion, a cable radio broadcast with continuous service from 6.00am to 12.00 midnight for a monthly fee of six Malayan dollars.

Fast food outlets were non-existent. The popular meeting places were the coffee shops where you could get a cup of tea or coffee with Milkmaid condensed milk (genuine milk!) for less than 20 cents. Ovaltine was then the popular health drink. Ice balls made from shaved ice, and ice cream potong were available to quench your thirst.

The most popular pastime was going to the cinema. There were cheap matinees and midnight shows in addition to the regular screenings. The first four or five front rows of the cinema hall, directly in front of the screen, were fondly referred to as “parliament seats” and tickets for these seats initially cost only 45 cents. Ticket inspectors with torchlights made spot checks to discourage “parliamentarians” from sneaking into the more expensive sections of the hall when the shows started and it was dark.

A vendor with a tray filled with tidbits and drinks and cigarettes (yes, cigarettes) made a couple of excursions along the aisles of the cinema hall during the show and you could buy things from him. The pickings “downstairs” were rather slim for the vendor. His main takings were from the patrons “upstairs” occupying the expensive balcony seats, the majority of whom were our colonial masters.

Another big attraction was the Bukit Bintang Amusement Park (BB Park) in the area now occupied by Sungei Wang Plaza. It was a brightly lit place with a carnival-like atmosphere. There was something for everyone. It had restaurants and a cinema hall (Rialto) which played second-run films. There were gaming stalls and shooting galleries where you could try your luck and win prizes. There was a cabaret and a joget stage with live music where you could dance with professional dancers for around 30 cents per dance.

Boxing and wrestling rings were erected to stage fights. Small halls offered various performances like Chinese opera and magic shows while those who fancied it could pop into Bali Hall and catch Rose Chan strutting her stuff. To keep the younger crowd and children happy there were Dodgem/Bumper cars, a Ferris wheel, a Carousel, a Roller Coaster and even a Ghost Train to scare the wits out of you.

On the roads, trishaws had replaced rickshaws. Few could afford cars; motorbikes and bicycles were predominant. Aircond was a rarity. Men carried handkerchiefs and wore sleeveless cotton singlets (Pagoda brand) under their shirts, presumably to absorb sweat. The first “skyscraper” was the Loke Yew building, all seven storeys of it, in downtown KL. “Hundred Quarters” and most houses still had the bucket sanitation system (gasp!!). These buckets, made of solid rubber, were emptied daily during the early hours of the morning by workers in their lorries (“honey wagons”).

Children still flew kites and played with marbles and spun tops and climbed trees and caught fighting spiders. An outing to Port Dickson was a treat. Visiting Singapore and shopping at Change Alley and the Arcade was a big deal. Anyone earning a so-called “four-figure-salary” was looked upon with awe.

There was hardly any pollution and the air was clean and the skies were clear. On a cloudless night you could look up and witness a sky strewn with literally hundreds of brilliant stars and you could even identify the various constellations. Today, count yourself lucky if you can spot a dozen stars.

There were fighting spiders, huge atlas moths, lots of different types of butterflies and dragonflies, bumble bees and even the occasional fireflies. The clearing of trees and greenery, all in the name of progress and development and plus all that fogging, took care of them.

Pupils and Parents
The pupils of LSB came mainly from Brickfields proper and the surrounding Bangsar and Old Klang Road areas.

Catholic families from the rubber estates and tin mines in Puchong who wanted their children to attend a Catholic school sent them to LSB. The Catholic families in newly developing PJ did likewise. Federal Highway had not been built and Old Klang Road was the only link to PJ. The land now occupied by La Salle PJ and Assunta Secondary School was then a rubber estate and tin was still being mined in Taman Jaya Lake and its surroundings (A&W Drive-In Restaurant and Amcorp) when I moved to live in PJ in 1956.

The parents were all for their children to do well in their studies so as to get decent jobs and escape the grim cycle of hardship and poverty. It was just a few years after the end of the Second World War and the Japanese surrender in1945.

The majority of the pupils’ families were from the low and lower income groups, many of them with household incomes less than 200 dollars a month. With their meagre incomes, they had to house, clothe, feed and educate their children.

In those days large families of five, six or more were the norm. At that time too, monthly school fees at the rate of two dollars and fifty cents were payable. This was a large financial expenditure, especially when multiplied by the number of school-going children in a family.

The parents were all for their children to do well in their studies so as to get decent jobs and escape the grim cycle of hardship and poverty. It was just a few years after the end of the Second World War and the Japanese surrender in1945. The dark memories and scars of the physical, mental and emotional trauma of the brutal Japanese occupation were still raw. And the parents brooked no nonsense from their children when it came to conduct and application to studies. They supported the efforts of the teachers one hundred percent.

On its part, the school did its best to assist needy pupils. Money was collected through various fundraising initiatives including cinema shows held on Saturdays. The money collected was used to clear unpaid school fees and to purchase textbooks and stationery for deserving students. Food, especially powdered milk, was obtained from charitable organisations and made into milk treats for the pupils.

Teachers
I have taught in only one school: LSB.

I witnessed the landfill on the future site of the school. I saw the school come up brick by brick in 1953. I started as a temporary teacher in January 1954. I was accepted as a trainee teacher in May 1954. I qualified as a trained teacher in 1957. I left LSB and the teaching profession in May 1974, twenty years to the very month when I began my teaching career.

I look back with fond memories of my two decades teaching in LSB. Out of humble beginnings during the final years of British colonial rule in Malaya, there rose a school second to none in its professionalism, dedication and focus on the holistic education of its students. Academic excellence is important but stellar academic results are no guarantee of success in life. Character, values, discipline and living skills are equally important in facing life’s challenges and “the arrows and slings of outrageous fortune”. In LSB there was zero tolerance for indiscipline, disrespect, vandalism, bullying, gangsterism and suchlike anti-social behaviour.

The school provided a wide range of extracurricular activities for the pupils’ participation. In addition to a robust sports and games programme, pupils were encouraged to join one of the uniformed groups such as the Boy Scouts and the Red Cross Society. The successful implementation of these initiatives would not have been possible without the fullest support and active participation of the teachers.

Fine buildings do not make a great school. It is the teachers and especially their leaders who make a school great.

All these extracurricular activities helped develop beyond-the-classroom skills: living skills which are almost impossible to impart with chalk and talk in a classroom setting. Participation in these practical activities instilled in the pupils the concepts and values of team building and co-operation, obligations and responsibilities, courage and true grit and a never-say-die mindset. This holistic approach to an all-round education was a hallmark of LSB.

Fine buildings do not make a great school. It is the teachers and especially their leaders who make a school great. LSB was very fortunate to have dedicated teachers and exceptional leaders. I was asked to highlight the contributions made by some of the teachers but I refrained except for the three stalwarts mentioned.

On my scorecard every teacher contributed, every teacher co-operated and everyone played his/her part, the only difference being that some contributions were highly visible while others ran below the radar. Therefore, to highlight one will be to highlight everyone.

For the record, every teacher was involved in at least one, if not two or more, of the following activities :
 Athletics, Football, Hockey, Rugby, Badminton, Table Tennis, Sepak Takraw. (Note: The scope of work involved all competitions viz. intramural, inter-La Salle; MSSS district, inter-district and finals).
 Boy Scouts, Red Cross, St John’s Ambulance, School concerts, Saturday cinema shows to raise funds for needy students.
 Women teachers who home-cooked delicious food for school functions.

Yes, loads of work, loads of contributions – lots of unsung heroes/heroines.

It was a privilege to be a part of this pool of dedicated professionals drawn from the various ethnic groups of our country. They viewed their pupils with 20/20 vision: each and every one was treated fairly with no bias towards race or colour or whatever. I was fortunate to share my journey with this band of professionals.

I learned so much from all my colleagues, particularly Brother Gaston, S. Ratnasingam and Albert Rozario. They were visionaries and led where others followed, and were largely responsible for the excellence, the unity and the unique esprit de corps that prevailed in LSB. All of them have passed away but their legacy still lives on.
Denis Armstrong
11th November 2017
Revised
4th April 2018

*Normal School
Educational institution to train teachers
A normal school was a school created to train high school graduates to be teachers by educating them in the norms of pedagogy and curriculum.

In 1685, St. Jean-Baptiste de La Salle, founder of the Institute of the Brothers of the Christian Schools, founded what is generally considered the first normal school, the Ecole Normale, in Reims, Champagne, France. The term “normal” herein refers to the goal of these institutions to instil and reinforce particular norms within pupils. Norms included historically specific behavioural norms of the time, as well as norms that reinforced targeted societal values, ideologies and dominant narratives in the form of curriculum. From this beginning in France, the concept of normal school teacher training spread all over the world.
(Source : Wikipedia – Normal School)

DA01

LSB in the mid-fifties. Note that the canal has no embankments. The embankments to contain the water were built later. If you look carefully, you will notice a signboard to the left as you cross the bridge to enter the school. The signboard reads “Catholic High School” (in English and Chinese), indicating the temporary occupation of some of the classrooms by CHS students prior to their school building in PJ being built.

The canal running alongside the school is actually a little stream (Sungei La Salle?!). If you follow it upstream, you will eventually arrive at its source: it starts as a spillover from then Lake Sydney in Lake Gardens. As a small boy growing up in Brickfields, I used to catch fish in the canal. The water was much cleaner then and there were many different types of fish : rainbow fish (guppies), striped tigerfish, arrowan, small prawns and plentiful mira meen.

DA02

LSB sports meet in the mid-fifties held in “Chan Ah Tong Stadium”. Our sports meets were held there before the present field was ready. The prize giving ceremonies for the sports events were conducted in the school hall after the end of the meet.

DA03

That’s me with my pioneer batch of Standard Two students. The class photo was taken in early December 1954. LSB started as a single session primary school. The secondary classes were introduced later.

Note the rather simple, plain “home clothes” worn by nearly everyone. No fancy haircuts (some even sporting “homecuts” done inhouse so as to save money), no neckties, no socks, no school badges and not a single fatty in the group, reflecting the economic realities of those years.

Fourth row :
Third student on my left is Jerry Koh Sek Lee. He now runs a successful private tuition centre (Jerry’s Tutorials) in PJ.
Sixth student in the same row (face partly hidden) is the late George Jansen, brother of Julian Jansen who is also an LSB old boy.
Front row kneeling :
Third from left, shielding his eyes from the sun, is insurance agent extraordinaire George Devan. (His memorable tagline: When you see me don’t think of insurance, but when you think of insurance see me).
All of them in this group should now be in their early seventies.

DA04

An informal group photo of the pioneer teachers taken in front of the school main entrance in 1954.

Standing left to right :
Vivian Sequerah, Francis Fernando, Denis Armstrong, S. Ratnasingam, Kok Yew Weng.
Front row left to right :
V. Thangarajah, Clifford Sequerah.
(Not in picture : Victor Santhanam (photographer) and M. Rokk)

Francis Fernando migrated to Australia. Victor Santhanam left teaching in 1955 and went to Singapore where he started VICSAN, a successful magazine distribution company.
All the pioneer teachers who taught in LSB in 1954 have passed away except for Vivian Sequerah and me.

DA05

Band of brothers…
Another informal group photo taken in front of the school in 1959

From left to right :
Noel Cheow, Victor Nesadurai, Albert Rozario, Mohd. Idris Basri, Denis Armstrong.
I am the last one standing. Sadly, all the others have passed on…

I am seen wearing my Ray-Ban sunglasses (genuine!). I was already a qualified teacher (qualified in 1957) so I could afford those Ray-Bans!
The monthly gross pay for a Normal Class trainee teacher was Malayan $175. Upon qualification, the gross salary was Malayan $375.

To put that salary in perspective, consider its purchasing power in those times :
 Cars (Morris Minor) – Around Malayan $5,000 (approximately 13 months salary)
 Houses (A single-storey bungalow, land area approximately 6,000 sq. ft. in Section 6, in newly developing Petaling Jaya) – Around Malayan $15,000 (approximately 40 months salary)

DA06

An ad in the Pan-Malayan Telecommunications Magazine “MERCURY”. Vol 2 No. 5 September 1955
FAIRWINDS HOTEL was a top class establishment famous for its Hainanese Western/Local cuisine. The building is now a private residence. It is just next to the Avillion Hotel. Food inclusive means Breakfast, Lunch (Tiffin!), Afternoon Tea and Dinner!
Yes, those were the days!

DA07

Another ad in MERCURY.
SI-RUSA INN was managed by Chelliah, an Indian Malayan and his Japanese wife. Japanese food was a rarity in those days.

DA08

An end of the year picnic at the Lake Gardens in 1959 for Std. 6A (Albert Rozario class teacher) and Std. 6B (Denis Armstrong class teacher).
Albert Rozario is in the front row, centre and I am on the left.
The boys were the pioneer batch of Std 1 pupils when LSB first opened its doors in January 1954. They would be 71-year-old senior citizens now.

 

DenisArmstrong170x200px

This is a guest post by Denis Armstrong, one of nine pioneer teachers of La Salle Brickfields when the school was established in 1954.

Important to Honour Your Solemn Commitment

Distinguishing Mark of a Person of Integrity

I recently read a news item in one of the mainstream English language newspapers where it was reported that a staggering 410,500 individuals owe the National Higher Education Fund in Malaysia a whopping RM 6.84 billion.

Of this amount, RM 2.84 billion was from borrowers who had never bothered to repay a cent thus far to the NHEF since the programme was introduced. The report also mentioned that the remaining RM 4.05 billion in arrears is from borrowers who are paying their dues.

Indifferent to their Legal and Moral Obligations

This is shocking news on many fronts.

I am simply appalled by the indifference of these individuals to their legal and moral obligations. In addition, it reveals rather starkly a lack of integrity, the mother of all virtues, in these individuals.

These graduates are not keeping to their part of the bargain when the loan was first offered to these individuals. They seem to shrug off this responsibility with an air of casual indifference.

A reputation takes time to build and if early on in your career, you choose to self destruct in this manner, it is a wholly ill considered move.

In the process, they also inadvertently reveal to current and potential employers that they are not individuals who can be trusted! What a damning indictment!

It Behoves You to Reciprocate

These individuals who have received loans and benefited from higher education as a result, have conveniently forgotten that a much needed loan was offered to them in the first place. When someone or some organisation assists you in your time of need, it behoves you to reciprocate that act.

A loan has to be repaid if one has any principles…………no ifs and buts about that. And when you do not do so, you consciously sully your own reputation. A reputation takes time to build and if early on in your career, you choose to self destruct in this manner, it is a wholly ill considered move.

Extremely Wary of Standing as Guarantors

No wonder many Malaysians are extremely wary of being guarantors when colleagues, relatives and friends approach them. The number of shameless individuals without an ounce of personal dignity, who choose not to repay is very difficult to comprehend.

These individuals approach you with all manner of sob stories and even give you their solemn promise to repay but this is all a scam to deceive you. They have no intention whatsoever of repaying that loan. They had just taken mean advantage of your kindness and goodness of heart.

Therefore, it pays to listen to the great William Shakespeare  (Hamlet) who gave us this advice: Neither a borrower nor a lender be, for loan oft loses both itself and friend, and borrowing dulls the edge of husbandry ‘.

These same individuals, I believe, have not cultivated a ‘ working ‘ conscience ( their conscience is in a comatose state  ) or even a sense of personal pride. Where are the values that they hold to guide them in life, love and career situations?

What Message are These Individuals Sending?

It is imperative that these individuals pay back their loans in a timely manner in order that other deserving candidates too can be considered for such assistance.

What message are these so called graduates sending to NHEF, their families, their employers and society at large by this wilful disregard to honour the terms of that loan agreement?

Revealing Their True Character

Finally, their current employers, regardless of whether they are in the public or private sector, should be alerted to this matter. By this casual and irresponsible disregard for their solemn obligations they have revealed their true character.

It is time we Malaysians get back to the good old fashioned values of yesteryear that have stood the test of time. Your word and your commitment must be taken seriously.

A Singular Privilege to Have Been a Teacher!

at La Salle Secondary School, Brickfields, Kuala Lumpur

On 14th January 2017, I attended an enjoyable La Salle Secondary School Brickfields, Kuala Lumpur, Class of 1969 reunion dinner and fellowship event. Prior to that, a few former teachers and I had received many invitations over the years from various groups to attend their reunion gatherings.

Wherever and whenever possible, I try to attend these wonderful reunion gatherings for a couple of reasons.  If former students still remember me and make it a point to invite me to attend their reunions, then the least that I can do is to return the kind courtesy and join them at the event. The other reason is that we (  former teachers ) must have had a positive, lasting impact and influence on these former students.

Successful but still Down to Earth

Many of these former students, I am pleased to report, are now leading academics, successful entrepreneurs, busy professionals, senior government officers and seasoned corporate leaders. A number of them, at least ten by the last count, have been bestowed high state honours and in one case, federal honours.

If these old boys really wanted to have had a closed door event, then they would not have invited the former teachers. Some of these groups even go so far as to provide transport for these teachers to attend the events.

Who are these Amazing Teachers? 

Having served as a teacher at this school for fifteen years ( 1966 to 1980 ), these are the few teachers that I vividly remember. I will name them in no fixed order.

Diana’s commitment to the students was so deep that she even held special tuition classes after normal school hours for those who were weak in the subject. This was her idea and these students did not have to pay any fee for this extra service.

Mrs Diana Yeoh was the teacher who taught mathematics with an uncommon passion. She is married to Mr. Yeoh Jin Leng, a former art lecturer at the Specialist Teachers Training Institute in Cheras, Kuala Lumpur and a well known Malaysian sculptor. She was a teacher, who dressed very simply, tied her hair up in a ponytail and got down to teaching with great skill and determination.

Extra Classes for Weak Students

Diana’s commitment to the students was so deep that she even held special tuition classes after normal school hours for those who were weak in the subject. This was her idea and these students did not have to pay any fee for this extra service. This was truly service above and beyond the call of duty and thus was hugely appreciated.

Influence for Good

A former student, years later, even wrote to the editor of a mainstream newspaper to remark that he decided to specialise in mathematics while at the university because of Mrs Diana Yeoh.

Mr Denis Armstrong is best remembered as a teacher, a feared disciplinarian and a formidable athletics coach. When I first arrived at La Salle Brickfields, Denis was already the supervisor of the Secondary School. Technically speaking, we were not recognised as a school but as a number of secondary classes attached to La Salle Brickfields Primary School 1. The headmaster of the primary school, the late Mr Albert Rozario also doubled up as headmaster of the secondary school.

Why was Denis a feared but respected disciplinarian?

Brickfields at that time had a poor reputation. Our students came mostly from socio-economically disadvantaged communities in Brickfields, Old Klang Road and Bangsar. Petty crime was rife and small time thugs made life miserable for many residents. Denis did not want this situation to be the norm at the school. Denis, I must add, is a black belt Tae Kwan Do exponent.

Over the years many former students have commented that this strict discipline in school was truly appreciated.

Tough Love at La Salle Brickfields

He imposed his brand of discipline with an iron resolve. But he also knew when to relent and look the other way on occasions. Many old boys recall that when they entered Denis’s office, he would allow them to choose from among his range of canes. He had thin ones, slightly thicker ones and a thick one. The whole episode consisted of three parts: having to wait agonisingly for him to arrive; having to choose the right sort of cane; and having to endure the number of strokes.

Over the years many former students have commented that this strict discipline in school was truly appreciated. None surprisingly expressed any resentment whatsoever! In fact, I remember a former student, Jeffery Felix, now an accomplished musician and a well-known glass artist residing in Alabama, USA saying something to the effect that they certainly needed such tough love!

A Passion for Athletics

Denis was also a highly competent athletics coach as attested to by many old boys who excelled in athletics. During his tenure as a coach, La Salle Brickfields became a powerhouse in the district and in the state much to the chagrin of bigger and better-equipped schools.

Such was Denis’s fame and stature that I once heard an old boy remark that had Denis coached the US 4 X 100 metres track team in the 1968 Mexico Olympics they would not have fumbled with the baton change! It is high praise indeed. It is worth mentioning that in all these athletics-related activities, Denis had one faithful and reliable colleague to assist him, Mr. K. Raja from LSB Primary School 1.

Mr Yong Hin Hong was a Brinsford Lodge, United Kingdom-trained teacher with an uncanny ability to teach effectively especially the subject of general science. When it was time for his lesson, the whole class had to move over to the well equipped and spacious science laboratory.

For many keen students, this trip to the science lab generated their interest in the subject. You will recall that it was an era when the first man, astronaut Neil Armstrong, landed on the moon! Science was and still is an intriguing subject and greater emphasis was being given to that subject.

A Rough Diamond

I remain grateful to Hin Hong because he was a truly supportive colleague and we got along well. At my request, he willingly assisted me by covering a part of the agricultural science syllabus. He was small in size, had a short fuse but a truly big heart. It was something in his DNA because both he and his father suffered from heart problems.

Success on the Soccer Field

Hin Hong was also the able coach for the soccer team. He and many of our students then followed the English Premier League ( EPL ) with a passion that I could not understand. He cultivated this love for soccer, coached his players with skill and competence and this usually translated into success in the field. The La Salle Brickfields soccer team did very well in district and state level championship competitions. Hin Hong sadly passed away a few years ago.

Some Other Teachers

There were, of course, many other teachers like Mrs Suan Fredericks, the talented teacher who taught art and who was responsible for the lovely, striking mural on the outside wall of the new building block at La Salle Brickfields.  The others including Mrs Theresa Oh who taught history, Mr Eric Koh who taught physical education and Mr Low Kim Seng who taught agricultural science have all migrated to Australia.

Mr Lucas Wong who taught general science, Mr V Sequerah who was the class teacher of Form Three Blue and Mrs Amarjeet Mahendran who taught English Language still live in the Klang Valley. Mrs Thana Ponnudurai, a state level hockey player and who was the class teacher of Form Three Blue now lives in Switzerland.

Some Quotes on Teachers

An arrogant individual in the past is reported to have famously made the following mean statement: ‘ Those who can, do; those who can’t teach.’ Be that as it may, there is always another side to that argument.

There is the celebrated case of how a primary school teacher in the US once put a high-flying chief executive officer in his place when he talked down to her at a social event.  He had cheekily asked her what she makes i.e. her salary.

She coolly, calmly and in a measured manner said: I teach children how to read, I teach them mathematics, I also teach them about the importance of good manners and civility. In addition, I teach them about respect….for their parents, for elders etc. I make a difference in their lives. What do you make sir? There was a stunned silence from the duly embarrassed individual.

I would, however, take some measure of comfort in the thoughtful statement attributed to Lee Iacocca, former celebrated chairman and chief executive officer of Chrysler Corporation. He said: ‘ In a completely rational society, the best of us would be teachers and the rest of us would have to settle for something less.’

And as you and I know, in these days, we do not live in a completely rational society.

No Text Book for Agricultural Science

On my part, I was tasked with the teaching of agricultural science in my very first year at La Salle Brickfields. It was a newly introduced subject in some Malaysian schools and none of the teacher training colleges had prepared budding teachers for this task.

There was not even a text book out at that time but I was nevertheless required to teach the subject to the best of my ability! It was a tall order indeed.

With the kind assistance from a senior agricultural science teacher at Victoria Institution in Kuala Lumpur who willingly lent me his notes, I was able to carry out the task with some success.

Promoted Debating Activities

In addition, for many years, I was also the class master for Form Three Yellow.

I also taught English Language to my class. I enjoyed teaching that subject and perhaps did it with some degree of success. This assessment is based on the feedback I received many years later from some of my former students. I also actively promoted debating activities. Many students were reluctant and shy to engage in debate but over time, they somehow got the hang of it.

These were not just reunions of old boys but also occasions to sincerely acknowledge the contributions of their teachers in no uncertain terms.

It is good to keep in mind that many students spoke dialect at home i.e. either Malay, Cantonese or Tamil. Thus, debating in the English Language was seen as a task too far! But I persisted, coached and cajoled them and over time they came to appreciate the merits and joy of that activity.

Acclaimed Actress’s Words

At a recent academy awards ceremony in the US, one of the greatest actresses of our time, Meryl Streep, said something to the effect that being an actor was a special privilege. She added that this remark originally came from another well-known actor, Tommy Lee Jones.

Taking that as my cue, I now feel somewhat along the same lines. The few teachers and I from this school have been on the receiving end of a seemingly endless series of reunions / dinners.

These were not just reunions of old boys but also occasions to sincerely acknowledge the contributions of their teachers in no uncertain terms. These former students, to their great everlasting credit, have been unfailingly courteous, kind and grateful for all that we did.

It was for them, I believe, the sum total of the whole edifying La Salle educational experience where due emphasis was given not just to academic activities. The unique mix of ethos, culture, traditions and extra mural activities played a huge part in the whole educational process. In addition, by being in a small school with a small enrolment and a small group of teachers, everyone got to know each other pretty well.

In that La Sallian spirit and on looking back with a degree of nostalgia, I cannot help but feel that teaching and teaching at La Salle Brickfields, in particular, was a singular privilege that I shall treasure for the rest of my life.

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