This is a special post dedicated to a teacher I was lucky enough to have in high school. Sometimes you’ll meet people who will go above and beyond their call of duty, and she was definitely one of them for me. It was really a stroke of luck that had me landed in her maths class, though it didn’t seem like it at the time. There were rumors that said she was really nice. I was hoping she was.
What I found was a different type of niceness. In the first two weeks, a couple of girls had already asked to switch to another class from hers. It was really quite a shame because if they had stayed longer, they would have gotten to know her true intentions. In retrospect, I only realized this much later and I grew to appreciate what she had taught us as a class and as person. For the record, she did teach us maths, but she also made us aware of greater social issues and practiced what she preached.
Here are just a few things that resonated with me through all these years:
Fun is culturally defined. This is one I will probably never forget. She mentioned once a story about a woman who shipped some soft toys to a third-world country. “They breed diseases! You’re going to make them sick!” she said. “The children there are perfectly happy playing with sticks and running around.” I thought this was an interesting point, even though the class laughed at the woman’s well-intentioned but bad act of generosity. Sometimes people don’t want or need what we think they want or need. A lot of it behind that kind of thinking is fuelled by commercial advertising; a culture of materialism, rather than actually responding to people’s needs.
Tall poppies ought to stand tall. Now during my time at that high school, there was a push to bring underperforming students up to the average level. That came at a cost. Students who were doing extremely well weren’t really encouraged to do more than the expected level. My maths teacher decided to take that into her own hands and she pushed her younger students to sit the national exams, as well as mentoring us for the scholarship exams. She was a classic example of a tall poppy herself. In my final year with her, I learnt that she had gone to an all-boys school to study mathematics and science as the only female. She did that in order to study engineering and become a female engineer. At the time, there were very few and she was one of the first.
Giving is much better than receiving. Our teacher would whip us up a great end-of-year-lunch as a class. She did this every year we were there. She didn’t have to. In fact, a lot of teachers didn’t. She would spend her own time and money to make sure we had something fun to look forward to each year, without expecting anything back. I actually passed the scholarship exam in my last year, after failing the first time. I sent her an email thanking her for helping me get that result. You know what she said? She told me that the results were because of my hard work, refusing to take any credit for it. I think I almost cried when I read that.
Peace and corruption are two sides of the same coin. As you probably could already tell, she was a very anecdotal person. She actually bought a stack of postcards to class one day and asked us to sign them if we wanted to. They were actually petition cards to stop landmines. Remember, landmines were initially created for the purpose of destroying unwanted visitors. Another time, she was talking about peace corps in East Timor. She pointed out how they would go back to their tents with well-cooked meals, yet the people around them would get very little supplies. I guess they hadn’t learnt about that last lesson.
Seize the opportunity. Again, another story from the wise woman’s mouth. She knew a man who could now afford to be flying around on business trips, although he had been detained once. In prison, he actually learnt to speak other languages through the people he was around. As a laid-back teenager, I didn’t take that piece of advice too seriously. Nowadays, I’m much more aware of the time that I can never get back. We also reap what we sow. Putting the two together, I can definitely see now that I’m working towards a greater me.
I guess all I really wanted to say was: thanks a lot, Mrs McHardy.