Scaring the daylights out of them

Pint-size girls in Standard 2
In the wake of my feature on a visit to our alma mater, I was deluged with emails from school friends.  I inevitably stirred up more school memories which were sprinkled with horror stories about suffering at the hands of over zealous and perverse teachers who dished out their unique brand of punishment.  While I was tickled by the vivid but bitter recollections, I was also sad that the incidents made such a strong impact on each life. 

We can laugh about it now but they were and still are horrifying and humiliating experiences.  Today there are laws protecting children but in those days, teachers were a supreme authority and nobody dared complain about them to parents because they would only side with teachers and students will ultimately get worse punishment at home. 

As I pondered about how innocent kids were traumatized by teachers-from-hell, I felt compelled to share these true-life anecdotes (but not real names) because when we can laugh at them now, we can probably exorcise the horror from our souls. 

I was no angel and suffered my share of pain in school but what would 7-year old me know about threats to keep quiet or risk getting punished?  With more than 40 kids in class, my Standard 1 teacher was probably going mad at the crazy noise level.  But I will never forget the horror of a huge plaster slapped across my mouth and hours later, the pain of peeling off industrial-strength adhesive from my tender skin.

Peggy [Far Left] with friends [Left to Right] Kausar,
Bong, Ramlah, Siok and Mastura
Knuckles rapped with wooden rulers and standing on chairs or tables are common penalties but unkind teachers can hurt and embarrass children by verbally abusing them and deliberately mispronouncing their names.  A girl named Ee Kan, had it real bad as she was often called “ikan” or sometimes even, “fish.”  Today the name, “Fish” may be a “cool” name that pop stars adopt but it was absolutely awful when a teacher mocked her with it.

Jane in Standard 1 Blue did cross-stitch needlework and proudly showed the pattern on pink cloth to the teacher but because of one wrong stitch, she had a rude shock.  Instead of guiding her to correct it, the teacher slapped her and called her, “Stupid!”  It was a tender age to do such meticulous stitching and she ended up full of self-pity and resenting sewing for life.  She told me, “Cry lah, what to do?”

I’m passionate about reading and writing but I was, and still am, a dud with numbers.  So learning multiplication tables was a total nightmare and unsympathetic teachers did nothing to encourage.  Today I still marvel at the mystery and miracle of how I survived Math classes up to Form 4 and admire friends who, despite having mean teachers, persevered because of their love for Math. 

When Kate was in Standard 3 she was asked to write answers to multiplication sums on the blackboard.  Trembling in fear, she wrote the wrong answers.  Suddenly she saw stars in a white cloud because the teacher brought a duster full of chalk furiously down on her poor head.  Ironically she and her best pal and fellow victim of the duster, are now Finance professionals with public-listed corporations.

Hockey team resting on the school field
For Primary School physical education (PE) class we had to wear bloomers – navy-blue colour shorts with garters at the thighs.  And when girls forgot to bring their bloomers, the teacher made them run around the big field in their panties.  In those days there were no cute Triumph Bee Dees panties and Lily recalls in shame, the greatest embarrassment of her life – the sight of her skinny legs running in one-size-fits-all, made-at-home-by-mum cotton with pull-string-waistband type of panties. 

Mulling over these and other horrific tales that cannot be put in print, it’s a wonder that we were not scarred for life by such traumatic experiences, not only in Primary School but even in our Secondary years.  I assured my friends that as I borrowed their stories, no names will be mentioned to protect the innocent (students) and not-so-innocent (teachers).  But love them or hate them, we remember and respect our teachers for their good intentions in training us for our future lives.

A version of this article was published in The New Straits Times, Johor Streets in September 2009

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