I first saw Mr Seet Chot Chit when he walked into the first-floor classroom where Form 4A was housed. I was in Sekolah Seri Perhentian, Pontian, in 1974. I was one of about 40 pupils in the class.
Looking out the doors and windows on the left, we could see the sports/football field, and beyond that, the road connecting Pontian with the town of Batu Pahat in the North.
Mr Seet was tall, skinny, single. His English pronunciation was terrible. He was our Physics teacher.
I didn’t know what physics was. I suppose he tried to explain “physics” to us. I don’t recall what he said. My most enduring memory of him is his pointing out the door and saying “look at that lolly lolling down the slope.”
The road to Batu Pahat was a slope. We could see and sometimes hear the lorries on the road. (I don’t think we used the word “trucks” in those days.) The lorries moved all manner of goods: petrol, diesel, tree trunks, planed wood, foodstuffs, tarmac, sand, pineapples.
Mr Seet used the lorry to explain to us the difference between static friction and sliding friction. He related it to opening and closing bottles. (I don’t think we used the word “jars” in those days. Everything was a “bottle.”)
He said: “Have you noticed that it’s easy to turn and close the lid of a bottle, but difficult to open it? It’s because when you’re closing it, the only thing opposing you is sliding friction. But when you’re closing it, you’re opposed by static friction. It’s the same with a lorry. It takes a lot of energy to get it to move. But once it’s moving, it’s easy to keep it going.”
After the annual sports day that year, I remember he spent several minutes in class talking about shotput and javelin throwing. He used it to explain force, momentum, gravity, and the difference between speed (doesn’t have direction) and velocity (has direction).
He explained that the players had to not only transfer great force (mass x acceleration) to their shotputs and javelins so they would gather great speed. They also had to aim for the “just right” height and direction. They had to get velocity right, not just the speed!
Mr Seet made me love physics. I devoured the textbook. I answered every question in it.
I scored a distinction for physics in my O-levels. After I got the results, I went to the teachers’ room and thanked him. I don’t recall what he said. He wasn’t much of a talker. He was just a physics lover.
In Form 6, in English College, Johor Bahru, I excelled in Physics. My teacher was Mr C K G Pillai. He always wore grey pants and a white shirt. He never looked at his notes when he delivered his lectures. He spoke perfect English. He was in love with physics. He never lost his cool, even with the weakest students. (In Form six, we were ‘students,’ not ‘pupils.’)
I got an A for A-level physics. I think no one in my class failed. A tribute to Mr Pillai. He was unsurprised by our results. It’s what he expected. He did show pleasure when I went to tell him later that the Edinburgh University Faculty of Engineering had accepted me as an undergraduate.
While in Edinburgh, I learned that Mr Pillai died of a stroke. I don’t know what happened to Mr Seet.
Another teacher I remember fondly is Mrs Matthews. She taught me English in Forms 4 and 5. She encouraged me to become a librarian and to read much. She would always ask me what I was reading – I borrowed more books from the school library than any other student. She encouraged me to write for the school magazine and to join the debating team. Because of Mrs Matthews, I’m an engineer who likes to write!
I so appreciated these teachers that after finishing my O-levels I applied to join a Teachers Training College. I was turned down because I had been accepted for Form 6! I suppose Mr Seet and Mrs Matthews were happy.
I don’t remember either of them encouraging me or any of my classmates to become teachers. Perhaps it’s because they wanted their students to have “better lives” than them? I don’t know.
I’d love to hear your stories about your teachers!