Sunday 17 June 2012

Sir, You are my Inspiration

By Priya Kulasagaran

In conjunction with Father’s Day this weekend, StarEducate shines the spotlight on the dedicated men in the teaching profession who act as positive father figures and role models to children in schools.

Those who attended Setapak High School (now known as SMK Tinggi Setapak) in 1981 are bound to still remember their principal’s opening words to them.

“I told them that if they fancied themselves as gangsters, they had to deal with the biggest gangster of them all – me,” recalled V. Chakaravarthy.

The school was then notorious for serious disciplinary issues; in fact, his posting there started with one such incident.

Said Chakaravarthy: “After losing a hockey match with another school, some Setapak High School boys decided it would be a good idea to beat up players of the opposing team; some were beaten unconscious.

“I was initially instructed to expel the boys, but I decided to take a risk and give them a chance; and they did change enough to graduate.”

Chakaravarthy, who retired in 1995, still has the air of a principal from yesteryear; one is inclined to stand a little straighter in his presence.

Describing himself as a “strict but fair” disciplinarian, he believes that even the most problematic students can change for the better.

He said: “While I do believe in caning students, it’s usually for very serious offences such as threatening teachers or fighting. Otherwise, I will try and talk to them first, and listen to their problems.

“It’s about knowing when to be firm and when to be soft. I may be very strict, but I also love my students and show them that I care.”

Chakaravarthy started his career as a Mathematics teacher in 1965 at SM Alam Shah (now known as Sekolah Sultan Alam Shah), the first residential Malay medium school in the country.

He recalled: “I initially felt like a fish out water, as my entire education was in English. With the help and support of the principal, the late Halimi Sharbaini, I grew confident in teaching in Malay.

“Many of the students then came from poor circumstances, and felt like they couldn’t do well academically. But they were very keen to learn and make something of themselves; they just needed some guidance.

“It makes me really proud to see my former students, the sons of paddy farmers, going on to become key policymakers and business leaders.”

Another thing he is clearly proud of is the fact that his students still keep in touch with him.

“Some of these students have even received their fair share of the rotan from me,” he said, as he flicked though an autograph book filled with former students’ tributes.

“I remember one student, who seemed to simply enjoy getting into fights – on my retirement day, he suddenly showed up at the school I was at. He had come all the way to give me a bouquet of 100 roses, with a card that read, 'To Sir, with love.' ”

Also see:
The Frangipani Tree

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