Sunday, November 22, 2009

Great Teacher Inspires: The Story of an Introvert Girl

     I guess every teacher is familiar with William Arthur Ward's famous quote:

The mediocre teacher tells
The good teacher explains
The superior teacher demonstrates
The great teacher inspires

      I get this every year, through text messages from friends, fellow teachers and my students, wishing me a Happy Teacher's Day. So which category of teacher do I fall into? Naturally, every teacher would want to believe that they are in the last one!

     But, seriously. Am I in the last one?

     How much have I inspired my students? In my years of teaching have I touched any hearts? As a teacher, have I made a difference in any person's life?

     I believe only my students can answer those questions. I certainly can't answer them myself. But if some of my former teachers were to pose those very questions to me; my answer would be: "Yes, you have. You have inspired me. You have touched my heart. You have made a difference in  my life".

     "In fact, because of you, I am who I am today. A teacher".

     This post is about one such teacher.

At the boarding school
      I used to be an extreme introvert. As a school girl, I was extremely shy, quiet and timid. I had lots of ideas in my head but was too scared to express them.

     I went to a boarding school. As a passive, introvert teenage girl, life in the hostel wasn't easy. I used to envy extrovert, easy-going, talkative people who seemed to make friends very easily. How popular they are. How easily they fit in.

     All students were supposed to go to the field and play games every 4.30 p.m.,  but during such 'game time' I would rather sit behind the school block all by myself with my books. I would spend the entire hour reading or writing in my journal. One day, during one of those 'game time', I was just opening my book to start reading when a teacher came up to me and sat beside me. I thought I was going to be scolded for not going to the field and playing with the rest of the girls. Instead, this teacher just sat there and tried to have a chat with me.

     I responded the best I could - stammering all the way, too bashful to even look at her in the eye. Then, she said something that I didn't expect at all:

I am going to conduct a selection for our school's debate team tomorrow. Would you give it a try? I want you in the debate team.

     (Debate team? What is she talking about? I can't even say ten words without blushing and stammering, and she expects me to join the debate team? Is she out of her mind?)

I think you would make a really good debater. You are smart. You just need to have more courage to speak out your mind. So, I'll see you tomorrow then. 2.00 pm, at the English Room.

     I lay on my bed that night, thinking and wondering. Should I go to the selection? I was certain that by going I would only end up making a fool of myself.

     I went anyway. Not because I wanted to, but because I was too scared to disobey her.

Four years later...

     I was on the stage receiving a 'High Standing Order' from the school's English Panel for my contribution in the debate team. As the First Speaker for three years in a row, I managed to navigate our school's team, an underdog team, to its greatest achievement in 1996 when we managed to reach the quarter final in the Prime Minister Cup Debate, beating some of the more popular teams from more prestigious fully residential schools in the country, not to mention being awarded Best Speaker every time throughout the competition.

      Four years ago I was this quiet, shy girl hiding behind the school block, too shy to play volleyball with the other girls, too scared to speak and to face the world. Being a debater hasn't changed the person I am. Today, even as an adult and a teacher,  I am still the same shy and quiet girl I was before (some people might disagree, but it's true!)

     I didn't manage to be the Best Debater in my school because I was a good speaker.

     I managed to become the Best Debater because someone believed in me.

     Someone said, "I know you can do it".

     Someone told me that I had the potential.

     Someone inspired me.

     Throughout the years I had received endless guidance, support and encouragements from many excellent, wonderful and inspiring English teachers and trainers of the debate team - Mr Chan Cheng Huat, Mr Bakhtiar Ibrahim, Mr Anuar Sidek and Madam Wong Vui Hang to name a few. They made me become the debater that I was during my school years.

     But it all started with one teacher. A teacher who took the time to tell a shy, quiet girl who was hiding behind the school block that if she wants to, she can go up the stage and speak in front of an audience. And wow the audience.

     About 10 years later, family members and relatives who hadn't seen me for a while would ask my mum:

So...what is Cindy doing now?
     My mum's response:

She's teaching now.

     Their reaction:

Teaching?!? She can talk now?!?

     Yes, I can talk now. I am a teacher now. Someone who makes a living out of talking. Haha.

     Thank you, Ms Gertrude Jock. You have started it, by being a Great Teacher who Inspires.

Ms Gertrude Jock (in the middle), with my friend Marzin Omar (left) and myself. During a recent course for  English teachers at Borneo Paradise where Ms Jock was one of the speakers. A joyful reunion of students and teacher, more than 10 years after the memorable afternoon behind the school block that changed my life forever. Ms Jock is now the Principal of St Joseph Secondary School, Papar.

“When we treat man as he is, we make him worse than he is; when we treat him as if he already were what he potentially could be, we make him what he should be.” - Johann Wolfgang von Goethe

"A teacher affects eternity; he can never tell where his influence stops." - Henry Adams


  1. hmm.. ur story is full of motivation... i wonder if i can be like that.. i mean, not afraid to talk in front of people.. sharing idea... hehe...

  2. Well, Atiq, I can assure you that even after all these years I still find it hard to stand in front and talk to many people.
    I think in my case, and as well as yours, it is a matter of practise and not something that we are naturally born with.
    I am sure you can do it as well. I used to be a lot quieter long time ago...;-)

  3. I dont afraid to talk infront of people.?ever it is.I need a good friend who must be introvert coz iam an introvert.Its difficult to find these types in the place i live.Atleast i thought i can make one online,but no use.

  4. When I read your story, its like reflecton of my own...a shy girl who then become a teacher:)

  5. Love your story so much .. you have made a good choice and take a good chance to change yourself cindy ...god bless u .


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