Some days, I wish I was much, much younger. This isn't about me mourning the loss of youth, however. It is the yearning of someone who wishes she can turn back the clock to take another shot at her years in school.
I was from a neighbourhood primary school and later went to what was reputedly the best girls' school in the east, mainly because it was in the most convenient location. When it came to junior college, again distance trumped drive and ambition.
Transport was a big deal. In lower primary, I had to walk to school, climbing over what then seemed like a steep hill - but such was an asthmatic child's perception of a minuscule slope. That was the little school that could. In Primary 1 and 2, I had Miss Maggie Tan. She wore short dresses and had her hair flipped out girlishly at the ends, but she was perfectly capable of inflicting physical pain if you mangled your sentence structure
. Sometimes, when I catch myself slipping linguistically, I can picture Miss Tan's judgmental glare, a prelude to a knock on the head. At the back of my classroom, Miss Tan set up a small dollhouse that doubled as a shopfront on one side. This was how we learnt how to buy and sell things, how to add and subtract. We also took turns to feed the pet guinea pigs we kept in class.
One school holiday, I was tasked to babysit a pair of them. They died within days under my lackadaisical care. But when I reported back to school empty-handed and told Miss Tan that the "guinea pigs die", I did not get the scolding I had spent weeks dreading. She asked for details and then growled: "Died, died! The guinea pigs died, not die." Miss Tan was more upset that I had massacred the language than she was about the poor rodents.
Miss Tan and my Primary 6 teacher, Mrs Helen Koh, were not ordinary teachers. They spent hours beyond classroom time to do other things in the school. One Saturday afternoon, I spotted Mrs Koh, a maths teacher, painting oil murals on the school walls. The science teacher helped build a pond with fish, frogs and tadpoles.
The school even had an aviary full of birds. Secondary school was a lot different and somehow academics took a back seat. I meandered through the education system as an indifferent student before it finally spat me out at the other end, with a degree, miraculously enough. I made it, despite myself, thanks to my older siblings' expectations - and perhaps my late father, whose habit of always reading a book in his free time must have left an impression deeper than I realised.
It was only in my last two years in university that I rediscovered the love and curiosity for learning that had eluded me for the better part of my teenage years, again thanks in large part to the teachers I had.