My Most Unforgettable Teacher
St George’s Institution, Taiping, Malaysia
Teachers are the substance that schools are made of – breeding & nurturing students who will ultimately take their rightful places in society. Here’s a tribute to one such great teacher.
Brother Antonio was a man of most unusual and rare character. He was short and stout. No taller than five feet, he yet appeared every inch a man. A pair of deep-set dark brown eyes was hidden behind a pair of thick spectacles. He had an extraordinarily wide mouth from which fluent speech poured. A pair of sensitive ears enabled him to pick up any musical air in a second. Antonio was a scholar, a musician, an artist, and above all a great mathematician.
Mathematics had always been his favourite subject in school. He entered the seminary when he was very young. Surprisingly, he was not brilliant at first, and made a poor first attempt in the Senior Cambridge examination, but had an astonishing score of seven distinctions on his second attempt. This he would relate now and again to encourage the weaker pupils in his class.
Our Antonio’s voice could be heard long before he stepped into the classroom. He would be muttering to himself in his melodious voice as he entered, and no sooner was he in than he would be working laboriously on the blackboard. Not a fraction of a second was wasted. To him, to waste one second meant to waste precious gold.
Usually a class is varied in intelligence and attainment. Our mathematician had a fiery temper. The more backward pupils, slow to understand his explanation, would feel the full force of his rage. I vividly remember one occasion when he kicked his table so hard that he sprained his ankle. The peculiar thing was that he would later feel sorry about his stupid act and would tell us that it was punishment for losing his temper.
To make a silly error in mathematics was to him a moral sin. Time and time again he would stress the importance of being careful. If we were careless he would be vitriolic in his scolding. I recall that his most popular term was ‘fool.’ He elaborated on the word and his degrees of comparison were ‘fool’, ‘damn fool’ and ‘very damn fool’. At this he would roar with laughter.
Indeed, he frequently produced an atmosphere of gaiety. He conducted the school orchestra and he was immensely proud of his stance at the platform, as with baton in hand he conducted the flourishing orchestra of some forty members. Besides his talent as a conductor, he possessed a beautiful and powerful voice, which could be heard in church every Sunday.
Here was a man greatly admired by all who knew him. Apart from all his ability and knowledge he was a man of great piety. His occasional talks on moral subjects and Divinity swayed even some of the wicked hearts. At prayer he was fluent and composed, as if he indulged in direct conversation with God.
He lacked only one skill – he could ride a bicycle! I can still visualise the scene one Sunday morning when he was cycling back from church after early Mass in the rain. He was going very fast when he reached the school gate, and when he applied the brakes the machine skidded, hurling him through the air. His face hit the huge stone pillar, resulting in a very severe cut from the forehead down to his nose. His eyes were injured too, and his spectacles were smashed to pieces. He was confined to hospital for nearly three weeks.
He did not waste his time, however. He prescribed work to be done from his hospital bed, and as usual some boys would go up to him seeking mathematical problems, which he readily lent a hand.
Back in class he told us that his accident was designed as a punishment for his sins, and by suffering it gladly he had thereby cut short his days in purgatory.
In a matter of three short years, he was no longer just an ordinary teaching Brother, but became the Sub-Director of the school (St. George’s Institution, Taiping.).