We have here the 3rd installment of UV’s account….about his teaching experiences in and around Ipoh. Happy reading 🙂


the waterfall at Buntung

Teaching In and Around Ipoh

Episode 3

Teaching is not merely the passing on of knowledge to students.  It involves and interaction that is rather complicated.  A student learns through various ways.  [This article, being mainly for lay people, will not dwell into pedagogical terms but would be using layman’s terms.]  Unfortunately, many teachers during my time still depended on the textbook or the ‘chalk and talk’ method.  That is, the teacher would write on the board a lot of notes and try to explain and idea by merely talking. 

Most of the students will be busy scribbling notes onto pages and pages of their exercise books, word for word and trying desperately to listen to their teacher.  Sometimes, the teacher would scribble and talk (facing the blackboard) at the same time.  This is when some naughty students will do cheeky things behind the teacher’s back.

Such teaching methods should be obsolete by now but unfortunately old habits die hard and many teachers today are doing the same.  Another batch of teachers don’t even bother to write notes, they merely open the textbook [insisting that every child must have one too, if not the child would be punished] and read from it, and from time to time, instruct the students to underline important sentences or phrases.  To ensure passes in their subjects, these are the parts they will set questions on during the examinations.

These are teachers that do not prepare their lessons or had done so once [underlining their own textbook so that he or she remembers where to tell his or her students to do so].  For years, until the textbook is changed, they would use this same old textbook [facts may have changed a lot] to ‘teach’!

However, there are others who would prepare their lessons meticulously and bring along to class maps, charts and models to make their lesson interesting.  They would involve their students in activities necessitating them to move to the front of the class or into groups for group work and discussion.  The lesson is different every time the teacher steps into class.  The students are never sure what to expect.  Motivation for learning is high.

Many teachers too resort to interesting anecdotes or simple but unforgettable stories related to the theme of the lesson.  Students may forget the facts but will never forget the stories told and eventually recall the facts the story is based on.  Some teachers use a joke to set the mood for teaching, but sometimes this would backfire on the teachers.  The students are set wrongly and look forward to a period of fun and follies!

In MGS Ipoh in the 60s and 70s we have all sorts of teachers as described above.  Boring teachers or interesting ones are remembered.  The in-betweens are forgotten.  When I started teaching, I modeled myself on some of the best teachers I had in ACS Ipoh.  My Geography teacher, Mr. Yee Sze Onn impressed me so much that I gave up a place in Business Management when offered to me to take up Geography as my major from the Second Year of my Degree course instead. [I was called directly a ‘fool’ by the head of the Economics Department then.] When I started teaching in MGS Ipoh, I was one of three graduates, the most junior of the lot.  I decided to emulate Mr. Yee and asked for a Geography Room to be set up and it was granted.  I had a sand tray set up so that I could make landscape models to explain to my students what features I was teaching.  To my horror, stray cats made it their toilet!

I had a map tracing table specially built so that I can trace maps and diagrams.  MGS was one of the few schools with an epidiascope that could project pictures or diagrams from text book on to a screen [but the bulb was so powerful, if we leave it on for too long it would singe the page the map or diagram is on] and this was used for projecting maps, diagram and pictures in class or in the Geography Room and used for making charts.  There were storage places for rolled up maps and drawers for topographic maps.  Globes were available for teachers to take to class.  A fantastic collection of pictures and charts, made by me with the help of my senior girls were available as teaching aids.

I give credit to the other teachers of Geography that came before me for a good collection of Geographical materials.  It made it easier to put them into a room and made available for all teachers of Geography to use.  Unfortunately, teachers being human would borrow items from the room and not return them to the proper places.  Very often they became the ‘property’ of those teachers who kept them in the Staff Room beside their favourite place of perch for ‘easy excess’ whenever they go to class.  This I consider as selfish as it deprives other teachers of the use of those items.

I also took it upon myself to take my pupils to field trips.  Geography is not a subject you learn in the classroom alone.  You need to make the students see what is really outside on the surface of the earth.  When we teach the rivers and their various stages, we could show them a real river at its various stages.  On one such field trip to a waterfall in Buntung [Guntung], we climbed up the steep slope of the waterfall and on descending; a student slipped and slide down to the base of the fall.  Luckily for me, she only sustained a small cut to her chin which she wore till today.  We rushed her to hospital and sent her home after that.  It cut short our field trip.  I never took my later students to the same waterfall again!

Visits to places of interest were another thing that made studying of Geography interesting.  I organized [like Mr.Quah Guan Teik an ACS Geography teacher of Lower Secondary classes] field trips to Singapore, Kuala Lumpur, Lumut and Penang just to name a few places.  These trips were to visit port facilities, factories, airports and other major landmarks in Malaysia.   I even organized a trip by air to Penang and back just to ensure the students could see the landscape from the air.  We raised funds to subsidize the fare for selected pupils who were the ones involved in fund raising.

Many of these were organized in the name of the Senior Geographical Society of the school of which I was the advisor.  I remembered in those days, the USA Presidential Election was on and I would allow my students to hold elections for positions in the society based on the American Presidential Election system.  This enabled them to learn about the American Election System, part of what is termed Political Geography and compare it with our own system.

I continued teaching Geography even when I became the Senior Assistant of the school.  My love for this subject never faded until now.  I wonder how many of my students went on to teach this same subject and did what I did when I was teaching it.  I would love to hear from some of them who did.