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.