Bidding adieu


Goodbyes may be emotional for both teachers and students, but with the passage of time, it is easier now to reconnect with them.

DAVID BECKHAM said it with tears. In his parting words during his recent retirement, he said, “I was always a hard-working football player. On the pitch, I made sure I gave my best. More than anything else, I hope people remember that.”

Watching it all, I was moved. Saying goodbye isn’t easy. Beckham was praised for his commitment, dedication and humility but nonetheless, the football community will move on.

I am sure Datuk Mary Yap, the newly-appointed Deputy Education Minister, will also have a lump in her throat when she leaves the people who know her best in Tawau, Sabah.

Already, teachers are talking about what Yap, a member of the very profession they are in, can do for them. May I advocate patience: Let the lady get accustomed to her new role and the likes of Putrajaya first, but I am sure she will make a difference.

Having some knowledge of her (she was once the principal of a neighbouring school I taught in Sandakan, Sabah), I am convinced that she will find the “parting” from her home state somewhat difficult.

When my husband was serving in Sabah, my daughters grew to love the warmth and charm of Sandakan and its people, so much so that they cried when it was time for us to return to the peninsula.

Like it or not, one can’t run away from goodbyes.

In some cases, particularly with people, situations or habits that deserve to belong to your past and not to your future, a firm, yet gracious goodbye is absolutely essential.

Thankfully, most goodbyes are simple, emotional affairs where a measure of how much you are loved and will be missed, underline all that is said and done.

The tears and cheers

On the day I retired for instance, I wasn’t ashamed to have tears in my eyes when a burly dyslexic boy threw his arms around me and wept openly.

I was similarly moved when a former student turned up, held my hand firmly and lent her emotionally-overwrought teacher all her strength.

Saying goodbye when you are still needed or cherished is one of the most difficult things a teacher has to do.

In the famous Bee Gees song titled Words, the Gibbs brothers sing: “It’s only words, and words are all I have, to take your heart away.”

How very true. Whether it is a tear-smudged note bearing the words: Cikgu, tolong jangan pergi (Teacher, please don’t go), or a lovely poem penned in a home-made card, students often use the simplest of words to tell a teacher that he or she will be dearly missed.

But, on both sides, the memories linger. A classic example is the message a teacher friend of mine saw on her Facebook almost two years ago.

Despite the intervening years, she still values it.

The following is an excerpt of what her student Hong Kai Heng wrote:

“Dear Puan Gan, I only have positive things to say about you — from your animated storytelling to your kindness, we were really lucky to get you as our teacher. Thank you for all your hard work. We truly appreciate it.”

Cikgu Rahmah Sayuti from SM Sains Sembrong, Kluang (Johor), keeps every single note she received over the years. One of them read as follows:

“Hey, teacher... you’re the best I’ve ever had in my 13 years of school life ... Really! You always seem so enthusiastic and determined to teach us ... and teacher, you’re so creative. I simply love your ideas in teaching .... You’re doing an awesome job teacher ... keep it up. We love you!!”

Mr Choo Weng Yeen, 53, of SM Sam Tet, Ipoh, Perak, has tributes in the form of messages littered with exclamation points, capital letters and smiley faces.

Another confession? He doesn’t tire of reading them!

It’s what keeps him going, along with the fact that his current students really love his company, particularly when he supports them all the way — be it in class teaching them Chemistry or on the field, training them in softball.

Every good teacher has a treasure trove of memories which does wonders to keep our spirits up and our fires burning.

Cikgu Chanthireka Nair, for instance, still remembers a Year Two pupil named Jordan whom she once taught in SK Taman Sri Muda, Shah Alam (Selangor).

Instructed to separate a group of students and emplace some of them in a different class, Chantireka found Jordan clinging tightly to a pole and refusing to let go.

His heart-rending cry, “Teacher, I don’t want to leave you” still echoes in her mind.

Meanwhile, Anita Martin, a Biology teacher in SM Lodge, Kuching, Sarawak, cannot forget the time she taught in SMK Lubok Antu, in the rural heartland of Batang Air in the state.

“These boarding school students were really poor. But when they went home for the school holidays, they would come back laden with gifts such as smoked fish, tempoyak and tapioca leaves. Even though I now teach in town, memories of their humility and gratitude bring a tear to my eye.”

Student ‘steeple’

Some students choose to say goodbye in a unique way. Six boys once surprised me by forming a steeple (three boys at the bottom, two above and one at the top) to tell me how “tall” I had made them feel when I was teaching them.

In Malay, another boy sang, Engkau telah mengubah rentak hatiku (You changed the rhythm of my heart.)

Farewells like these are hard to forget. They remind us teachers that at the end of the day, your performance on the “pitch” is what matters the most.

As David Beckham put it, your “fans” are the best judges of how much of yourself you gave to the cause.

While no one likes a sad ending, the end may sometimes signal a new beginning.

Strengthening ties

A student of mine once put it very well when she wrote: “Goodbye does not mean a bond is broken”.

I agree. This bond can, in fact, strengthen over time. In fact, many students do return a few years later to seek a new “footage” with their teachers.

This act of coming back, seeking you out and re-establishing ties is a tribute given primarily to teachers who have really been influential in shaping lives.

When 59-year-old Chemistry teacher Mr Tay Kheng Luan, of SMK Gajah Berang. Malacca, told me of his student, Roger Lau, who makes it a point of visiting him every Chinese New Year, and has been doing so for the past 10 years, I was not at all surprised.

After all, Mr Tay was and is instrumental (yes, he’s still teaching and due to retire next year!) in making his students less stressed by Chemistry.

Meanwhile, Cikgu Maizuki Zainuddin (Zuki) from Tanah Merah, Kelantan, thought he would not hear anything from his students after finishing his English teaching stint in SMK Majakir, Papar, Sabah, in 2001.

Coffee meeting

He was pleasantly surprised when Ismail Raduan, a former student who is now a graduate teacher in Grik, Perak, reconnected with him.

They met over a cup of coffee after 12 years, but the occasion left an indelible mark on “Zuki” or “Fudgy Daddy”, as he is sometimes called.

History teacher Cikgu Jamini Francis, an ex-colleague, shared the joy she feels whenever former students of SM Konven St Cecilia, Sandakan, call her or send her a card.

“I feel a sense of fulfilment when they still remember how much I helped them when they were at school. It’s really nice to know that even though they have begun working or are at a college somewhere, they have not forgotten their teachers.”

Jamini’s words remind me of the many teachers who are gratified when their ex-students make contact with them. And the first question these young adults usually ask is this: “How are you, teacher?”

And despite the passage of years, they still address us as “Teacher” or Cikgu. I once told a 30-year-old that he could stop doing so but he wouldn’t.

“You’ll always be my teacher,” he said simply.

On her part, SMK Bandar Utama Damansara 4, Petaling Jaya, teacher, Mrs Chan Seow Chee finally resorted to calling the ex-students who chose to stay on in her life as her “adopted sons and daughters”.

“They are all special to me,” she offers, by way of explanation.

Rather than lose them, she’s taken her connection with them to a new level. She even goes on holidays with them, and enjoys their adult company to the hilt.

Some of them have gotten married and have children but Mrs Chan is always game when they invite her to join them during their family celebrations.

All said and done, a farewell tribute is after all, defined as “an act, statement, or gift that is intended to show gratitude, respect, or admiration”.

In whatever form it comes, and no matter the number of times it keeps on coming, the truth is that when it is given sincerely, a teacher can’t help but feel gratified, respected and admired.

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