During the long wait (months and months) to see if I would be accepted for tertiary education in the family’s college of choice, I became a school teacher – at 18. It was at a Chinese afternoon school, a private school. Our school day being only half a day, 2 schools (or 2 shifts) would share the premises. Educational facilities were restricted – not surprising in the under-developed world.
My students were Chinese, who had completed their normal school day in a Chinese vernacular school in the morning. They were now enrolled in an English-language school, to improve their English, at a much lower level of formal education. I could see that the older boys were bored with much of the curriculum. So, they would ask me questions about the English language – a very clever ploy. Fortunately, I found that I could cope.
One day, the oldest student, who must have been close to 18, asked me the meaning of the word rut. When I explained the usual meaning, he said, ‘Other meaning?’ I then noted that he had a Chinese-English dictionary on his desk. I realised where I was being led; the facial expressions on his neighbours suggested to me that this question had been well planned.
With my 2 hands engaged in a traditional gesture, I said ‘This is other meaning.’ A few words in Cantonese, followed by laughter throughout the class, established my status as an acceptable teacher. In the new relaxed atmosphere, I believe that these boys obtained the learning they sought. I too learned something useful. In the diverse training programs which I led later in life, it was by appreciating the needs of those who had come to learn that relevant progress was achieved.