Tuesday, April 07, 2009

Letter #2

A while back I wrote a Letter to my recently-passed maths teacher, one of a few teachers who had a profound impact on me beyond my schooling life. Sadly, another great teacher of mine passed away recently, also from leukaemia.

He was my Grade 5 teacher, my first teacher when I made the move to Trinity. He was tall, old, skinny, and reminded me of the BFG. He was so kind – I remember that, though sometimes he’d shout and get angry and confiscate my friend’s Prodigy CD, because there was a song called “Smack my bitch up” (and ring the parents to make sure they knew that their son was listening to this sort of stuff, was a funny day) – he would smile behind all those wrinkles and it’d make you smile too.

I loved that class. It was fun, we learnt things, we were pushed. Every morning, before any study, we’d get out our exercise books and copy what he wrote on the board. Everyday, a new Thought For The Day – some gem of wisdom, inspiration, controversy, or just a joke – something I’d probably value much more now. I’m going to hunt down that exercise book. I know it’s still here. After that, we’d write the biggest headlines from the news and talk about them. He understood that there was more to learning and knowing things than just the syllabus. Still, he knew we loved competition, so every period after lunch we’d race in timetables, spelling, anything.

I always remember how much he loved computers. He ate it up. We were the first class in Trinity history to receive wireless LAN cards, because he was so into it. He also loved medieval history and combined these two loves to make a medieval encyclopaedia CD. He sold it. We spent one term doing the spell-checking for it, and were rewarded jellybeans anytime we found a mistake. I was the highest jellybean earner.

We did mad projects. We build a to-scale model of an F1 car, just because we could. We sat in it, painted it, put wheels on them and ran them down a hill. We build medieval weapons, unfortunately, not to-scale. But there were battering rams, trebuchets, catapults, castles, and we played out a medieval war on the tables. We went to our sportsgrounds, and challenged the other two Grade 5 classes to a game of soccer, medieval style. There were three balls, three goals, and it spanned across the whole sportsgrounds. We kicked the other teams butts, because he told us the secrets to the game. I was dressed as a jester that day, because it was also dress-up as someone from medieval times day.

The impression that he most left me with has to do with Asterix. He also loved that. Every year, the other Grade 5 classes would do a musical, but we’d do Asterix, and it was cooler and we had swords. He asked me to play the main bad guy – Caligula Minus (something like, ‘Low Intelligence’ in Latin). I totally didn’t want to. I was a super shy kid who had fun and could have a laugh, but had never done performing for people and wasn’t keen to start. I was so scared and asked him if I could quit. That lunchtime, he took me to the side and said, “I know you can do that role. You’re funny, you’re smart, people like you. What’s more, never let fear be a reason for you not to do something. Be confident. Prove to yourself you’re better than your fears.” So I did it, I had a blast, it was a funny play, but more importantly, I felt confident, I felt like I could do the things I was too afraid to do, and it was a big moment in shaping who I am now. All because of Asterix.

In my later years, I’d always see him wandering around when I went to the Junior School. He always smiled, always had time to chat, we’d talk about lots of things – school, church, Africa Aid, medieval stories, faith. One of those teachers that is far more interested in who you are than what grades you’re getting.

I’m not going to write a letter this time. Not here, at least. I should have already, I should have learnt. The funeral is tomorrow. I’m wanting to write one to his family, at least let them know how much he meant to us. And I’m going to write to the last few teachers left who really affected me, impacted and influenced me. Some are in my neighbourhood, some I’ll have to hunt down. But it’ll definitely be worth it.

God Bless You JW. May you forever be at peace with the God you were so faithful to, and may we always remember you for your wisdom, humour, dedication and for playing Pok√©mon on your computer sometimes when we did. You’re awesome.


  1. That is heavy.
    He sounds like a great teacher and person to have known, and that it inspiring and saddening, even though I didn't know him personally.

    It is sad, obviously, because such a good person is gone, but is inspiring to know that there were and are people like that in the world, and that there are people like you who can appreciate teachers and people they learn from, rather than the usual scorn and disrespect.

    Good luck with your other letters.

  2. Thanks Em. Got nothing else.