By Harphal Singh
How do I even begin! Teachers are gurus. They are the spark that light passion of their charges. They are not supposed to do wrong. Unfortunately, the “guruship” has been tainted. We are only human gurus with all the pockmarks of life, usually well-camouflaged with our own brand of makeup. I was one such teacher.
Most, if not practically all, teachers have been good students either from “good” schools or are found in good classes of the so-called neighbourhood school. These academically successful students decided to join the noble profession, once called a vocation. I shall elaborate more on the concept of nobility in my next article (if I get positive responses and hopefully the editor of The Independent Singh rewards me well).
Let me begin with the truth and I hope the truth will not make me a lesser being. Academically, if I had been born later, I would have been placed in the Normal Technical Stream. Yes, the Normal Technical and not even the Normal Academic Stream. I was a student of average intelligence – and would like to thank God for the education system then, and was posted to a secondary school.
I did ‘extremely’ well in my secondary school, by my standards of course. I went from Secondary 1 to Secondary 4 without repeating any year. “So, what’s the big deal in that?” Yes, I am a mind reader too. I am quite sure that thought crossed your mind. The education system and the school were extremely kind to me. Now, this is the whole truth and nothing but the truth. (Just as an aside, our religious gurus preached and practised the value: The Highest Virtue of All is Truth. Higher Still is Truthful Living. I confess, I have fallen short of this expectation.)
Let me continue. The truth is that I received an overall FAILED grade every year of my secondary school life. The authorities ADVANCED me to the next grade every year. I believe they felt it was the best way to get rid of a student from the school system. I was not RETAINED and, thank God, we did not have the system where you were laterally transferred to either a more challenging or, as for me, a less challenging stream. Simply put, if I had been born much later, I would have moved from Secondary One Express to Secondary Two Normal Academic and then, from Secondary Two Normal Academic to Secondary 3 Normal Technical.
The basic truth is that I would have never become a teacher. Believe me, I was a great teacher, who even taught in one of the top schools in Singapore, helping to grow my pupils and at the same time guiding them to get their academic distinctions. One of my students who did extremely well at Stanford University identified me as the teacher who most influenced his life (definitely positively) and I was invited to Stanford University on an all-expense-paid trip to receive the Frederick Emmons Terman Engineering Scholastic Award for impacting my student’s life. I taught the student, Justin Tan Kah Hoe, when he was a student at The Chinese High School. I predicted that he could possibly be the next Prime Minister in Singapore but he broke his bond. I do not view him as a bond-breaker as defined by the establishment. There was a price on the bond and the price was paid. Enough said.
While I am writing this article, I received a message from one student whom I taught in The Chinese High School. This is his message verbatim:
Hallo Mr Singh
Here is wishing you a happy belated Teachers, Day!
I was just telling my wife that if not for you teaching us “Fair is foul and foul is fair” and “Kill the pig, cut her throat, bash her in”’ I don’t think I would want to read and could enjoy English books until now. May you continue to have many rewarding returns in your teaching career and life.
Keep in touch!
The Chinese High School, 1986 -1989
Thank you, Jinzhao. I shall reply to you soon. Just to update all, I am only 56 and I retired last year after 35 years of service. Why I retired is another story. I will come to that one day. Yes, one day.
Harphal Singh is a retired school principal.