Growing up, my parents used to regale us with stories about the time they were posted to teach in rural Pahang. The stories always stirred up fascinating imagery – dank run-down rooms, broken furniture, swatting at crickets, studying and perspiring under the light of gasoline lamps, bathing in muddy rivers. Fascinating because in my world of omnipresent lighting, comfortable bedding, and screaming as my sole but lethal weapon against large insects (help would always come flying in the form of paternal protectiveness and rolled-up newspapers) such living conditions seemed so heroic, so admirable.

As I grew up these stories became increasingly distant; the enchantment paled, because I myself, being a sullen, angry teenager, grew apart from my parents, and resisted all their moral platitudes. I know about life being hard, stop trying to teach and guilt-trip me! I also attended their math tuition classes, which cemented even more the instructive relationship I had with my parents, but chipped away at my personal interest in their teaching careers…especially when I got repeatedly admonished for talking in class. Oh, the humiliation! How my cheeks stung!

And then I grew even older.

My mother turns 60 and officially retires today; her celebration at the school where she has taught for 22 years was last week, because it was the school holidays this week. I realised as I listened to my mom’s retelling of her rural Pahang stories that it was the first time I’d ever seen my mother deliver a speech. She cried a lot. As various students, colleagues, friends, bosses each handed their personal gift to her, they cried a lot too. As she walked out of the school for the last time, in much pomp and circumstance, students fell all over themselves so they could salam or shake her hand. And then the goodbyes faded into the distance as we drove off, giving way to the sound of my mother’s quiet weeping, half with joy and half in pain.

It was so strange seeing my mother in this light. After the years of eagerly unwrapping all my mother’s and father’s Teachers’ Day presents, I finally saw what the colourful little gift tags with lovingly handwritten messages that I’d carelessly crumpled and tossed aside meant. The real gifts had never been the little trinkets I’d mercilessly appraised and judged – keeping them if I thought they were pretty, casting them aside if I thought they weren’t. They had always been the thought and intention that had been put into carefully selecting them, in honour of a teacher they respected and loved.

My father turned 60 last year. He has since returned to teaching in a private school. We were not there for his retirement, but after attending my mother’s, I realised too that my connection with my father’s teaching career had changed – now my favourite lunchtime stories at home are my father’s little anecdotes about school: The scamp who scratched another teacher’ car with a coin, but liked my father and told him so. The boy with eyesight problems for whom test papers had to be printed in large font in addition to his using a magnifying glass. The patrolling of the school grounds after recess. The occasional puzzlement over math problems. His own observations, about how teaching in public and private school compare.

My parents, having been teachers for almost 40 years, have steadily, uncomplainingly, unfailingly made a difference every single day of their working lives. And I’d nearly let the the noble significance of these 4 decades slip past me in my years as an angry, distant child. I once told my mother, a long time ago, that she should submit their story about teaching in Pahang to the Reader’s Digest. I was sure it would have been published. But I realise now that despite having heard it over and over, I was the one who really needed to hear it instead.

My mother’s speech after the jump below. I originally intended to translate it from Bahasa Malaysia to English, but I’ve decided that a lot of the nuances would be lost if I did. I wish I’d gotten my hands on my dad’s one too, but unsentimental men being unsentimental men – my father deleted his speech after he was done with it.

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Saya pernah diminta menghadiri kursus pencen 3 kali, sebelum saya berusia 56 tahun, sebelum saya  berusia  58 tahun dan sebelum saya berusia 60 tahun. Dua kali saya menerima cabaran untuk melanjuntukan perkhidmatan saya, iaitu ke 58 dan kemudiannya ke 60 tahun.

Hari ini, sudah betul-betul tiba masanya untuk saya bersara wajib dan pada usia 60 tahun. Saya bersyukur dan berasa bangga kerana saya dapat menyempurnakan suatu tanggungjawab yang berat yang telah saya memilih sendiri, dekat 38 tahun yang lalu, iaitu Profesion Guru.

Anda semua kenali Pn Choo yang sekarang, berjalan laju macam orang berusia 40 tahun di koridor tetapi menaik dan turun tangga macam orang berusia 70 tahun. Saya ingin membawa anda semua merenung kembali masa lampau Pn Choo.

Saya bermula sebagai guru bukan siswazah pada tahun 1977. Saya mengambil 6 tahun untuk mengejar pelajaran universiti, 5 tahun di luar kampus dan 1 tahun penuh masa, di Universiti Sains Malaysia dari tahun 1979 ke tahun 1984. Pada suatu ketika, saya pernah tinggal di bilik setor di asrama puteri  di SMK(Felda) Jengka 2 di Pahang, sama dengan bilik stor di tingkat atas di Blok A, dengan perabot yang diketuk sendiri daripada meja dan kerusi pelajar yang rosak atau patah. Bilik air asrama di sebelah menjadi bilik masak, bilik mandi, bilik basuh dan juga tandas saya. Bekalan air sentiasa terputus, air diangkut baldi demi baldi dari pili air di tingkat bawah.

Saya menjalankan tugas seorang guru disebelah pagi dan petang, saya belajar sebelah malam di dalam bilik setor yang gelap dan sangat panas dengan menggunakan cahaya lampu minyak gasoline kerana  jenarator di asrama sentiasa dalam keadaan break down. Setiap hujung minggu, saya menghadiri tutorial di Kuantan, dekat 80km dari Jengka 2, dengan menaiki kenderaan awam atau dengan membuat (thumb a lift) dalam kabus yang tebal jam 5 pagi. Semua cabaran ini tidak pernah memalapkan impian saya hendak menjadi guru siswazah.

Saya seorang yang kuat di minda tetapi lembut di hati. Pada tahun penuh masa di USM pada tahun 1983, saya menulis surat cinta setiap malam, saya menalipon suami saya setiap petang dan saya menangis setiap kali saya mendengar anak saya memanggil saya …mak (melalui talifon). Pada akhir pengajian saya di USM, saya ditawarkan peluang untuk belajar masters in Physics, saya terus menolak kerana saya ingin pulang untuk bersama keluarga tercinta saya, pada masa itu, suami saya dan anak sulung saya baru berumur 2 tahun.

Sebelum saya berpindah ke sekolah ini, saya  mengajar Matematik Matrikulasi di Sekolah Sains Muzaffar Syah. Pada tahun 1991, rancangan memusatkan semua kelas matrikulasi UKM di Kuala Pilah gagal, kelas matrikulasi di MOZAC ditutup sementara.  Dengan itu, bermulalah tempoh perkhidmatan saya di SMK Tinggi Perempuan Melaka pada Jun 1991 sehingga sekarang, sekelip mata, sudah dekat 22 tahun 9 bulan.

Untuk 22 tahun dalam perkhidmatan saya, saya menyerahkan setiap cuti akhir tahun saya kepada Lembaga Peperiksaan Malaysia kerana menjalankan tugas penolong pemeriksa kertas SPM, kemudiannya sebagai Ketua Pasukan Pemeriksa kertas SPM.Saya bermula setiap tahun baru bagaikan enjin yang tak pernah berhenti. (Sel-sel otak saya pasti banyak yang sudah hilang dalam 22 tahun itu!)

Pelajar-pelajar sekalian, Profesion Guru bukan suatu profesion yang glamorous. Guru memikul tanggungjawab yang berat. Di rumah, seorang guru mungkin menguruskan 5 orang anak, tetapi di sekolah, seorang guru menguruskan 5 kali 30 orang murid.  Kerana inilah, kebanyakan guru menanggung penyakit gastric, hypertension dan sakit-sakit lutut!!

Pelajar-pelajar sekalian, saya ingin mengulangi pesanan Puan Pengetua, agar pelajar-pelajar tidak lupa akan tujuan utama anda hadir di sekolah, ia itu untuk mencari pengetahuan. Di sinilah tempat anda belajar untuk lulus peperiksaan, di sinilah tempat anda mencari pengalaman dan didikan. Antaranya, anda belajar menghargai diri, anda belajar makna saling menghormati , anda belajar makna berkongsi, anda belajar bercakap dan mendengar,  anda belajar kepentingan peraturan dan undang-undang.  Anda belajar berdikari.

Bagi sesetengah orang, jejak hidup jelas dan senang. Bagi sesetengah lagi, jejak hidup mungkin banyak dugaan. Jangan kita cepat mencari alasan untuk menyerah diri. Kita harus fokus dan tabah mengejar impian.

 

Many years ago, I was told, “ A Teacher Is Not Indispensable”. Bermaksud, pergi  seorang guru, seorang lain akan datang mengganti , atau tugas seorang guru senang dicari pengganti.

During the first staff meeting 2014, I was awakened to the truth of these words. Firstly, I was taken off my Ketua Panitia post.  Secondly, the presence of my replacement was announced. The first realisation made me very sad,… the second realisation immediately brought tears to my eyes. It’s like, now I am redundant!…Finally I accepted  it is time for me to let go of this major part of my life….my teaching vocation.

SMKTPM has been where I earned my keep for the last 22 years. SMKTPM has also been where I grew and mellowed with years.

I am happy for this has been the period of my life, I realize the fruits of my labour, both at home (my children graduated one by one) and at school (our students, year after year).

I believe that everything falls into place the way God wills it, and that our serving together in this school is not by chance.

I wish to thank all of you for having shared your space with me, as I shared mine with you. Thank you for you partnership in the course of duty.

Thank you for the jokes we have shared, the giggles, the laughter, the fun, the good food, your kind smiles, and your sweet hellos… Thank you for your hands of friendship, thank you for the many happy memories you leave with me.

Saya ingin mengucapkan terima kasih kepada satu keluarga SMK Tinggi Perempuan Melaka, Pn Pengetua sebagai ketua, guru-guru, pelajar-pelajar, staf sokongan, pekerja swasta dan pengurus kantin sekolah, untuk segala kenangan manis yang akan saya membawa bersara. Hari ini, saya meninggalkan sekolah ini, masih sihat pada usia 60 tahun, kecuali tulang lutut saya yang terlebih pakai. Ini mungkin tanda SMKTinggi  Perempuan Melaka  ialah satu keluarga bahagia, satu tempat yang sesuai  untuk belajar dan bekerja.

Akhir sekali, saya minta maaf jika terlebih cakap atau beraksi, semoga kita berjumpa lagi baik dimana-mana, jangan terlupa bertegur sapa dengan makcik tua yang bernama Pn Choo Yek Kim ini!!

Sekian, terima kasih.

 

 

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