How harsh can it be?

How far should we go to show our appreciation to our teachers?

6 KM, on foot.

My son did that, when he was 15. With his mother away, the grown-up were busy and thought it was no big deal if a boy did not go to visit his primary school teacher during Chinese New Year.

A few years later, my son told me he took that long walk all by himself to wish his teacher a Happy Chinese New Year. Walking for nearly two hours under the hot sun could be quite harsh but he said: “Mummy, she is the best teacher I could ever have. I must visit her to wish her my best wishes for Chinese New Year.”

Cikgu Sii who has a unique name – her given name commanding another two ‘surnames’ – was my son’s primary school teacher and he also went to her house for private tuition.

Teachers are held in highest esteem, by the school children.

When I was young, while writing a composition on “what do you want to be when you grow up,” there were many times I wrote that I wanted to be a teacher. But far from it, when I grew up, I actually did not want to be a teacher – and I also did not become one.

Despite that, the role of teachers still amazes me and naturally, I respect each and every one of them, and have my own favourite teachers as well.

Showing respect to one’s teachers is a traditional attribute of the Chinese – a virtue deeply embedded in their culture. In the old days, sayings such as “a teacher to a student is like a father to a son,” and “a teacher even for one day should be respected as a father forever” were being quoted whenever respect for teachers was being taught.

Back then, teachers imparted ethics, knowledge and values to their students, and also taught them to interact with each other and how best to handle social issues. On their part, the students, while benefitting from the tutelage of their teachers, also showed the highest respect for their teachers and held faithfully to what their teachers had taught them.

Probably, the greatest of all teachers and sages is Confucius. Thousands of scholars had passed through the astute hands of this great teacher. Among those who were exemplary of Confucius teachings were Zeng Shen, Zi Xia, Zi Zhang, Zi You and You Ruo.

The classical story of how Zeng Shen showed respect to his teacher was when Confucius asked him: “Former kings had sublime virtues and profound theories that they used to teach their people. Do you know why people could live in harmony and there was no dissatisfaction between the kings and their subordinates?’

Zeng, seated next to Confucius, immediately got up from the mat, and standing beyond the edge of it, respectfully answered: “I am not wise enough to know the reason. Please teach me.”

Zeng, who became Confucius’ student at the age of 16, was the main successor and disseminator of Confucianism. In his daily living, he consistently asked himself whether he had done his best for others and been honest to his friends in diligently living up to his teacher’s ethics and values.

The King of Lu heard of Zeng’s good virtues and decided to bestow upon Zeng, who was a farmer by day and scholar by night, a piece of land.

Zeng declined, saying he could not accept anything without earning it. The King’s messenger advised: “Since you did not ask for it and the King is offering it to you, why can’t you accept it?”

Zeng replied: “I have heard that the one who receives things fears people and the one who gives things is arrogant. Even if the King has a gift for me and is not arrogant, am I able to not fear him?”

Confucius who came to know of this, praised Zeng, saying: “Zeng’s words have proven his moral integrity.”

Such is the respect for teachers who impart values and virtues to their students and for students who live up to the values and virtues imparted to them by their teachers.

Of late, the decision to terminate the services of 210 interim teachers, effective March, ahead of their scheduled second interview in June, is harsh in the eyes of a team of journalists.

There was some disagreement in the newsroom over the headline of the story on the fate of these teachers.

One of the journalists suggested: “Not the end of the road.”

Another countered: “It’s the end of the road.”

It is not end of the road, considering these teachers can apply again – up to two times.

Another of the journalists screamed: “If you are terminated now and the company asks you to apply again, is it good news?”

In this case, no, it is not good news – it is already the end of the road for them when their request for fairness was turned down outright by the Education Minister and the Education Director who asked them to respect their decision, mincing it with a hope that they could apply again.

I agree the headline – It’s the end of the road – is harsh but it also tells the truth – of how ‘inhumane’ the power-that-be is to the teachers concerned. Truth always hurts.

But we are heartened by the Chief Minister Datuk Amar Abang Johari’s sense of fair play as he is able to see how much harsher the decision is to the teachers, scheduled to have their second interview, and has stressed the need for fairness in the interview and the psychometric test.

If the requirement to complete 300 questions in 30 minutes is, indeed, true and if it is not a blanket rule for all sitting for the test but selectively applied, then the teachers in distress need compassionate leaders to ensure fairness and justice.

We are happy that the Education Minister is gracious enough to only mention that our headline is harsh. Generally, a minister will use the old canard of being misquoted to shift the blame. Kudos to Dato Seri Mahdzir Khalid!

It was a Valentine Day’s gift that the media had given to our teachers a ray of hope ahead of their second interview. However, while the Minister was gracious to the newspaper, some of our fellow journalists were not. Two newspapers – one English, one Chinese – took matters into their own hands by claiming that the minister was unhappy with our ‘misleading’ headline and for distorting his speech. I would like to think this is due to their misreading of the issue.

The most depressing comments came from the Secretary of Sarawak Division of the Malaysian Trades Union Congress (MTUC) Andrew Lo who, in his weekly column in the Metro section of a national daily, said he was aghast at the reaction of the politicians to the issue. He accused them of “jumping at the chance to be faux heroes, claiming to defend the rights of Sarawakians” and criticised the Chief Minister’s Office of joining the bandwagon.

It is sad that Lo, being an expert in employment issues, did not understand the issues well before speaking his mind. His one valid point is that the employment of teachers is an employment issue and must be handled professionally.

He has also affirmed that these teachers were unqualified by saying, “I am a parent and I am sure the last thing parents want is for our children to be taught by unqualified or, worse, those deemed not to have the required aptitude to be teachers!”

Lo may like to read the following statement from a politician and see if there are any ‘politicking of education’ elements in it, and whether by fighting for the rights of these teachers means a compromise to quality.

“The abrupt termination of the services of these 210 interim teachers was drastic. Our courts have consistently ruled that employment is part of livelihood and the termination of one’s employment without just cause and excuse is deprivation of life, a grave violation of the constitutional rights of all Malaysians.

“The due process of law must be observed. For the other batch of interim teachers who were recruited with the present batch, their interviews were conducted in August last year and January this year. Those who did not attend or pass their first interview were retained until they were tested in the second interview. It is reasonable and legitimate expectation of this batch of 210 interviewees to be treated equally.”

The statement was from Batu Lintang assemblyman See Chee How after the timely intervention of the Chief Minister and Datuk Fatimah Abdullah, the Minister of Welfare, Women and Family Development.

Hopefully, politicians, civil servants, union leaders, journalists and those from other professions will live up to good virtues and values imparted by their teachers. To the least, they should not be judgmental!

Indeed, we all have our favourite teachers who are worth the while walking 6km or more to show our utmost respect to – and also that we have not forgotten them.

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