The Story of a Teacher
I first met Mr Liang when I was in Primary 5 (6th grade by K-12 standards). It has been *a few* years since, so my memory of Mr Liang has faded with time. But I remember a few things:
Mr Liang, or 梁老师 as we addressed him half the time, was our form teacher and taught us Chinese and Mathematics. This was an atypical combination since in Singapore, Math was taught in English.
So we had this stern-looking man who walked into class every day, and taught us in 2 different languages.
That was amazing because as I understood it, Mr Liang went to a Chinese-medium school. So the Math concepts and terminology he learnt in school was entirely in Chinese. Yet here he was, decades later, imparting knowledge to us in English (decent, by the way).
I also remember how much ‘off-curriculum’ material he introduced to us, with such passion.
All while his ‘KPI’ in Singapore’s exam-focussed system, must still have been to get us past the exams… so it would have been perfectly rational to have “kept to the syllabus”.
In the 2 years Mr Liang spent with our class, among other things, he transported us to ancient China, and through his eyes, we saw the Great Wall being constructed, the unification of the Warring States, and the advancement of Chinese society.
We flew with him to witness the beginnings of the universe, as he put the magic into science — introducing us to Stephen Hawking’s “A Brief History of Time”, Charles Darwin’s “Origin of the Species”.
We stood with him at the top of the Mayan / Incan monuments, seeing images of large animals carved into cornfields, and wondering if they were made by extra-terrestrials.
He also got us to learn, among other things: 唐诗三百首 (300 Tang poems), regaled us with stories of the Arabic origin of the numeral system, sparked our imagination with theories of time-travel, Leonardo Da Vinci’s inventions… and many others too numerous to list here.
We were all of 11 years old.
In a pre-internet, pre-Google, pre-Youtube, pre-iPhone world, Mr Liang opened our eyes to a brave new world, way bigger than the classroom.
I have had many teachers in my life, and each left an impact.
But I’ll always remember — this teacher of mine, who with his stories, and his passion for knowledge, instilled the love of learning, to read, and be intellectually curious, to keep finding out more about the world around us, and working to make things better.
“老梁” (as he was affectionately known) taught us to always 跑在时间前面, to run ahead of time, so that our surroundings and those around us would not make us irrelevant. That we should always work hard, think different, do better, rise higher.
Words that would not be out-of-place today, as our lives, jobs, and workplaces are getting disrupted by technology at an ever-increasing pace. In a way, Mr. Liang lived it himself, as a Chinese-educated student who later mastered English, at a level that was more than competent.
Mr. Liang walked the talk. He led the way.
Today, increasing amounts of the content we learn in class are at the tip of our fingers. They are a Google search, a Siri question away.
Yet our teachers, our educators— they continue to be invaluable to our lives. Second, only to parents, our teachers are the shapers of our lives and our children’s lives from the earliest years.
The best educators inspire us, guide us, nurture us. They impart more than just content and knowledge. They help us make meaning, join the dots, draw our own dots, our own lines, create our own knowledge.
They teach us that most important skill — HOW TO LEARN.
So how can we better support our educators, in the classroom, in the workplace? For there are many Mr. Liangs among them. There are various angles, and I’d write more in a future post.
I’ve long-forgotten the academic subject matter that Mr. Liang taught us (though not his specialty “mee goreng” for when we strayed off-course), but his love of the pursuit of knowledge has stayed with me all these years.
I hope that in some small way I have put this love of learning into what I do, through my academic years, my previous career in public service and financial markets, and now our work to empower organisations to create better training.
It would be great to see Mr. Liang again. But even if I don’t have this privilege, I will always be grateful for having once been his student.