■ 07:00 (UTC+08:00), 25 MAY 2012 | CHN BEIJING
■ ITEM FIRST POSTED BEFORE 07 FEB 2014
My wife Tracy thinks I’d make a good teacher. I’m not too sure of that. But I think, given the inspiration I’ve had both in Switzerland and China, I don’t object to being one. Although, hey, I’ve an equally big heart out for trains, because they take me to new places to learn new stuff.
That said, here’s an incomplete list of the teachers that made a big difference over the past 30 years. As a courtesy, I’m referring to them only by Mr X or Ms Y…
- Ms Leuthold: She helped me when I needed it. Coming from Hong Kong, she spoke Mandarin with Cantonese characteristics, but it was still the stuff I could basically get an idea of. She helped me on my first day in school — when I was totally, totally lost!
- Ms Zita: She believed in me. My English went up about the same speed of the Space Shuttle upon launch (at this time, trains fail, speed-wise), and it was accelerated by Ms Zita, my 2nd grade teacher, who believed in my English. She regarded me as “everyone’s favourite [Chinese student]”, and it was this kind of enthusiasm that got my English up to speed. In one of her birthday cards she was real kind — she went “I’ll never forget you”. And I’ll never forget Ms Zita either.
- Ms Kamber: A positive lady force from America. OK, she wasn’t the most faithful believer in my Helvetica-ish handwriting. But hey, are humans all born error-free? Even floppy disks aren’t (I think I remembered that they came with a sticker that said they weren’t error-free). Apart from that, though, Ms Kamber inspired us to do better in 4th grade. She was an extremely positive force, but soft as well, and she had this famous schtick about counting — OK, not sheep. Cows! Switzerland was full of cows, so when the train pulled around the bend and there was a field with cows, she’d keep count. That’s the kind of teacher I like — nice, soft (but with principles), and always coming out with the good stuff.
- Mr Greaves: Strict but for the better. Mr Greaves ranks easily as one of my most respected teachers, but he’s not one to bend the rules. It’s not hard to come across a smiling Mr Greaves, but it never happens when you don’t hand in your homework or interrupt him in a class. And Mr Greaves has some of highest standards for homework you hand it: it must not be creased! When Mr Greaves shows his “tough guy” bit (as guys all have it), the strictness and the “don’t-mess-with-me” bit is as visible as ever. But it is precisely this kind of strictness and adherence to principles that made me hold Mr Greaves in extreme respect. Mr Greaves is also extraordinarily upbeat and supportive: when he saw that I got a better mark in one of his classes, he would walk by me and start saying things to himself (in a voice I can just make out) that was extremely supportive of me. If there’s one teacher that’s dedicated himself selflessly to the interests of his students, it would be the fantastic and highly revered Mr Greaves.
- Mr Cradock: Strict, but with principles. Like Mr Greaves, Mr Cradock loves cracking jokes, but like Mr Greaves, again, he’s strict and comes standard with principles. But where Mr Greaves was about the geography, Mr Cradock was about the sports. And about the morality — as I did run into him on some of these days when my behaviour was just wild. Of course he reprimanded me, like any responsible teacher would, but he also hoped firstly I was never in trouble in the first place and, more importantly, I could owe up, repent, and behave better. The amount of respect I accord to Mr Cradock comes very close to the amount I owe Mr Greaves. They are both powerful but positive men that have shaped me the right way.
- Mr Mills: Principle-oriented with a laugh. Called by some the “Mills-Man”, Mr Mills’s most visible common denominator remains the China factor. He’s been to the country — I think some time in the Mao era — and he’s always using this as the kind of common link between us two that makes me feel I’m at home with the gent. But he’s also a man for principles. Once, I sat a test in class and wanted to relax after focusing too much on my work. A bit of excessive “looking around” got Mr Mills’s attention: “Don’t you ever let me see you looking around at people’s work ever again!” was the order I received, despite never wanting to cheat. At fault was not Mr Mills; indeed, the warning served as a reminder to harken unconditionally to the test room rules. And it was thanks to such high academic standards that I was never convicted guilty of academic fraud.
- Mr Loughrin: Solving difficult issues with a smile. Mr Loughrin was never an expert soccer player, but he was an expert teacher-cum-psychologist, and he was much better than the special needs teacher. I remember him most fondly for him not reprimanding or chiding me after a mistake; instead, he was very down to earth and reminded me in less aggressive or demanding language how to right a wrong. When you bump into these teachers, who never take you to task for a fault, that’s a good thing.
- Mr D’Arcy: The Mac teacher that made the difference. I’m happily on a Mac running applications thanks to Mr D’Arcy, the Mac teacher, Mac magician and above all, a most revered teacher and true friend. A nightmare my end when I was a kid was imagining life without Mr D’Arcy. From the HyperTalk programming language he helped everyone get acquainted to, to spending a stellar field trip in his native Ireland, I remember most fondly all the times we’ve spent together. Life was very different when Mr D’Arcy headed to another school — when 15 Mac Performas were replaced by less glitzier PC equivalents, the good times ended. Thankfully, we still communicate by email and via social media. I wouldn’t be on the Internet without Mr D’Arcy, and I wouldn’t be doing computers without him!
- Ms Willerton: Arts, crafts and onomatopoeias. I think I learnt the word onomatopoeia from “Ms W” and the textbook we used in class, Worldly Wise. After Ms Zita, Ms Willerton was the second biggest boost to my mastery of the English language — her English lessons added a great number of vocabulary I use all the time. Her handwriting was a kind of typographical role model for me — the right bit of slant, legible, and gracious. We worked together like the perfect dream team in 1997 to pull of a world-class Arts Fest for the school.
- Mr MacKenzie: Righteous and orderly. Do NOT draw anything on the front page of your book! This was Mr MacKenzie showing his rule-based self to us. But with good reason: Mr MacKenzie’s class was one of the most orderly, but also most lively, classes. My history teacher mixed the right mélange of humour with order, teaching us about the Aztec and their eventual wipeout by Spanish conquests, but also shared moments of him going down to the local lake to feed ducks over Christmas. I taught him that word — duck — in Chinese: ya zi (鴨子). And I think he loved it!
- Mr Danieli: Just do it! When Mr Danieli left for the mandatory three-week military courses in Switzerland, I remained as the sole male student in his Italian courses, which were at times also mixed with a bit of Swiss-German, and a bit of “explanatory” English. I wouldn’t have been a Jovanotti fanboy if Signor Danieli didn’t introduce this to me, and I think with Mr Danieli I had some of the most rewarding times, language-wise and social-wise. Mr Danieli was funny, but wanted us to get stuff done: his trademark “flick of the head”, a clap, and the order — Just do it! — would start us off on many an exercise in the Italian language. It was this kind of quality education that got me a first Italian score of 99%.
- Mr Leck: Funny, but also insightful. The late Mr Leck will forever be remembered as a man of humour, wit, but also of insight. The appearance of Mr Leck is a sight on his own, but the cream on the top of the cake, so to speak, lies in Mr Leck’s unparallelled mastery and mix of both humour and knowledge. I will forever remember Mr Leck acting as Dogberry, the Master Constable, in Shakespeare’s classic, Much Ado About Nothing. Only he could basically drag — I think it was the Sexton — by using just one arm. The gent’s both powerful and incredible.
- Mr Marchetti: Oh, the banana ions. Like Mr Mills, Mr Marchetti’s got a fair bit of teaching experience from Beijing. I was honoured to be in his chemistry class, where a mix of international teaching experience, a strong Scottish accent, but also a bit of educational Italianità, were the perfect mix for humour, but as always, knowledge. Funny was the bit about when the potassium nearly exploded in the beaker (I think), but also his jokes which always involved the innocent bananas. But it was also used in a way to tell us to be precisionist: to always be familiar with the units as used in chemistry. (His jokes were widely circulated on the school’s Intranet back in the day.)
- Mr Loesche: History and economics that you remember. Jeopardy was a perfect way of letting us remember all those dates and terms from US history and economics, and Mr Loesche pulled it off the best. A man of dignity, Mr Loesche always invited me back for a visit to high school, be it to inspire those in class or for a nice chat.
- Mr Pisanic: When those nice notes make a difference. If there’s one thing that Mr Pisanic remembers me for, it’s those notes I redid after those drafts I took in class. If there’s one thing I remember Mr Pisanic for, it’s his physics lessons. Never mind we had a hard time pronouncing Kirchhoff; despite my less-than-happy performance on the final exams, I still learnt a lot from Mr Pisanic. It wasn’t always easy to get the four of us students together, though, but it was easy to get me together with Mr Pisanic and to learn things — both inside the class and outside. I had my first attempt at driving a manual car thanks to Mr Pisanic’s guidance. Now, I’m happily driving it beyond second gear.
- Ms MacDermott: The language teacher from when I was a kid. Ms MacDermott taught me in primary school and in secondary school — and even if she didn’t, we always saw one another at school. She, and all language teachers at school, made me the ten-language kid I am now. It was also thanks to “Ms MacD” that I got my Chinese through with high marks on the IGCSE exams.
- Ms Downie: The nice lady on the school bus. Ms Downie was always in the school office whereas nearly everyone else were in their classrooms, but we shared some really good time together. I remember her the most as the nice lady on the school bus. Should I have acted a little “out of line”, she was there to put me back in line — and to make sure I behaved, like the driver would say, as a “good, good, good, good, good, good, good, good, good guy”. I would have liked it, though, if we spent more quality time together — she was always the last on the bus, and the first off!
- Ms Fang: Tolerant, and with a smile. I had a propensity to use standard (as in non-simplified) Chinese characters, and Ms Fang thought it was a bit odd, but she let me do so. I think one of the best teachers are those who tolerate those bits and bobs about you that make you different from the crowd. Even outside the classroom, Ms Fang would often talk with me to help me fit back into life in China after twelve years out of the country. I’m grateful to her especially because of that.
- Ms Lu: “Mama Lu”. To me and three other students who studied under Ms Lu for our MA in linguistics and media presenting, she felt like a mother to us. Quite coincidental was the fact that her kid was in Sweden, where I had just returned some years back from Switzerland. “Mama Lu” helped not only me, but also other fellow students get through our MA thesis. The three years I spent with Ms Lu were the happiest in my “higher educational” years.
- Ms Hughes and Ms Trainor: Teachers in need. Switzerland was a bit foreign to me at first, so I had a few special needs teachers assigned to me “just in case” something happened. Yes, something pretty awful did pop up at times, but they were always there for me. They saw me both in happy and more angrier days, but they were always there to guide me back onto the right track. When I left their courses at first, there was a bit of negativity looking back, but that ends as soon as I realize I’ve a family to look after, and after I’m done with “being reactionary” (as they’d say in China) after I grow out my teens. ■ ■ ■