How an unkind Chinese language teacher taught me to appreciate all the other teachers I've had

Biggest lesson she taught me.

Kane Raynard Goh | September 06, 2019, 04:41 PM

They say teachers make a lasting impact in the lives of students, and I couldn’t agree more.

Throughout the years, many of my teachers saw my strengths and brought out the best side of me.

But it wasn’t always all jolly and positive. I’ve had some rough experiences with teachers too.

Punished more than taught

Seven-year-old me. Photo by Kane Raynard Goh

I’ve always struggled with my Chinese language.

I had trouble understanding my Chinese homework as I couldn’t read and write the language well. My literacy in the language was way below average compared to my peers.

This probably frustrated my Chinese teacher in Primary 4, which got me into her bad books.

Due to my level of literacy, I wasn’t able to fully complete each homework assignment well and often had many incorrect answers.

I frequently scored the lowest during spelling test — or just any test in general.

Instead of guiding me and helping me understand the language better, she would humiliate me in front of the entire class.

I felt like I was being punished more than I was actually learning when I was under her care.

She would pinch my ears, slap me with a book, and chase me out of class.

Not because I was disruptor or a troublemaker, but because I wasn’t as smart as my other classmates.

At least, that was what it felt like.

This was in 2004, when parents would still cane their children. I was 10 and scared.

“Don’t buy his tears, it’s all crocodile tears”

The one incident that I still recall vividly from time to time was when she asked me to feed my workbook to the animal in the school’s eco-garden just because I couldn’t complete my homework.

While I was chased out of class and sobbing outside, other teachers would stop to ask me what happened.

She would tell them, “Don’t buy his tears, it’s all crocodile tears”.

Even when others wanted to help, they couldn’t.

I believe that my classmates started to look at me differently due to these incidents.

That year changed me.

I became more than bad at the language; I was afraid of it.

To this day, I am still unable to communicate properly in Chinese.

Moving on

On the other hand, I’ve had many teachers that I still keep in contact with until today because of the impact they made in my life during my younger years.

Till today, some of them still stalk me on my social media to see how I am doing and leave comments to congratulate me on any milestones.

It’s funny how their words and encouragement might seem so little then, but stayed with me for such a long time.

Teachers I've kept in touch with. Censored their faces so they won't be paiseh. Photo by Kane Raynard Goh

In my first Chinese lesson in secondary school, the teacher asked us to write a composition to gauge our level of literacy.

I actually felt like I had PTSD (post-traumatic stress disorder), given my levels of stress and anxiety.

I walked up to my teacher in tears and told her I couldn’t read or write at all, but she encouraged me to give it a try and not give up so easily.

With her encouragement and an electronic dictionary, I tried writing a piece.

It was a struggle and in the end, I didn’t hit the word count or scored well.

But I was relieved that my teacher didn’t put me down for it.

Throughout my secondary school years, my Chinese teachers recognised that my literacy level was below my peers and would pay special attention to guide me and making sure I understood.

Although it didn’t spark my interest for the language again, my secondary school teachers helped me to develop a better understanding of the language and reminded me of what teachers can be: Nurturing, kind, and affectionate.

Although sometimes that might mean tough love.

But definitely not the sort to ask you to feed your workbooks to other living things.

Top image by Kane Raynard Goh