"She makes the special
effort not only to remember our names years after leaving school
but continued to be keenly interested in whatever that is
happening in our lives and careers. At first, I thought that only
my Sec 4A Class of ’76 was special to her in that way, but I was
amazed when I realized later that she does the same for many other
batches before and after mine. As our form teacher, she considered
all of us special to her; we were not mere faceless digits that go
through the school conveyor belt year after year.” ... Mr
Ong Kian Min (Sec 4A Class of 1976)
Since its founding 120 years ago, ACS has been very blessed by many
dedicated teachers who have touched and inspired the lives of more
students than they would take credit for. One good example is Mrs. Lee Gek Kim, who recently retired after a lifetime teaching career in ACS.
Mrs. Lee taught Literature, English Language and the General Paper
when she first joined ACS in 1968, and later History and Social
Studies. She was a gem of a teacher to many of her students, among
whom is Dr. Tan Poh Heng (Sec 4A Class of ’76) who has this to say:
“Mrs. Lee made English and Literature interesting for us, which as you
know was not easy during those days. We boys seemed to be easily
distracted for one reason or other and for us to be able to pay
attention during her lessons speaks volumes for her”.
Another former student, Mr. Ong Kian Min (Sec 4A Class of ’76),
remembers Mrs. Lee well as a no-nonsense teacher who kept the boys
well in place. Just her stern look of disapproval will be enough to
stop whatever pranks or no good the boys were up to without a single
word being uttered.
“However, Mrs. Lee is also very warm and caring”, Mr. Ong said. “She
makes the special effort not only to remember our names years after
leaving school but continued to be keenly interested in whatever that
is happening in our lives and careers. At first, I thought that only
my Sec 4A Class of ’76 was special to her in that way, but I was
amazed when I realized later that she does the same for many other
batches before and after mine. As our form teacher, she considered all
of us special to her; we were not mere faceless digits that go through
the school conveyor belt year after year”.
Mr. V. Esvaran (Sec 4A Class of ’74) agrees with Mr.
Ong that Mrs. Lee’s teaching skills were legendary, and equally so was
her sternness that earned her the nickname of ‘Tigress’. “Mrs. Lee
epitomizes the true meaning of sacrifice in the teaching profession.
Not only did she nurture and inspire many of her students to great
heights in their professions, she always stood by them as a friend and
mentor, and yes … sometimes even mothering them”, Mr Esvaran said.
Mrs. Lee is indeed special to the Sec 4A Class of ’76. As Dr. Tan
summed up, “She was more than just a dedicated teacher who taught
well. She was also mentor, motivator and friend.”
We had the opportunity to catch up with Mrs. Lee recently and this is
what she shared with us:
Echo: Can you please tell us briefly a little bit of yourself?
Mrs. Lee: I had my early education in St Hilda’s in Katong. I then
spent two years in ACS Pre-U before proceeding to the University of
Singapore. After my graduation, I applied for teaching posts in both
my former schools. St Hilda’s wanted me because my former Girl Guide
mistress was going back to England and the school hoped I would take
over the ECA (CCA).
How did I end up in ACS? The school had an immediate vacancy and I was
eager to start working. There were moments in the past, when I
wondered what it would have been like to have taught in St. Hilda’s
but then my days in ACS have been very happy and most satisfying ones,
to say the least.
About my family – I am married to Boon Chong, whom I met at ACS Pre-U
and we have two grown-up sons, both ACSians – making them third
generation ACSians, their paternal grandfather was an ACS old boy as
well. We have two grandchildren (a boy and a girl).
Echo: What made you pick
teaching as your lifetime career?
Mrs. Lee: I was inspired by the dedication of my secondary school
teachers, many of whom were missionaries from England. They served the
school with dedication and commitment and were splendid role models.
Till today, old girls from the school have dug in their pockets to fly
in several teachers whenever there is a significant anniversary of St
Hilda’s Day. Indeed I became a teacher by choice, not by accident.
Echo: It must give you great satisfaction to have taught so many
students, some of whom are now prominent leaders, professionals and
entrepreneurs. Did any of them give you problems when they were in
Mrs. Lee: I must have taught close to 7,500 students by now. They
included old boys who have now become prominent as well as sons of
prominent people in Singapore. However, there is a misconception I
must now clear – I have also taught students from academically weak
classes. It was a practice then to give our teachers a spread of
classes so if I was assigned the top class, I also had the weakest
class in the level. Today, some of the students from these so-called
tail-end classes have become very successful in their careers as well.
I remember one student who was in my class of 4N (i.e. the 14th class
in the cohort of 1986 when classes were streamed according to academic
performance, the ‘A’ class being the best) who is today a surgeon.
They had no opportunity or no reason to give me any trouble. They knew
what they were in school for and were very clear about my role as
mentor to them.
Echo: What would be some highlights of your teaching career?
Mrs. Lee: Three events stand out in my mind: one was in 1985 when I
was asked to organize the Fun-O-Rama, the ACS brand of a school
fun-fair, which was to be one of the mammoth events to commemorate the
centennial celebrations of the founding of ACS. I was told of this
only in October 1985 and the event was to be in February 1986. We were
expected to raise $200,000, which was indeed a tall order as it was
quite a sum at that time, and people then were not feeling so generous
because of the Asian Economic Crisis. I remember driving over to ACJC
to seek the help of the experts. Mr. Chee Keng Lim, then Principal of
the college, promptly summoned for all the files compiled from
previous Fun-O-Rama’s to be handed over to me. Such was our bond,
there was so much co-operation among the various units of ACS, that
made the words of our school anthem ring out so true:
“Our hearts, our
hopes, our aims are one, /No discord e’er will sever, /We’ll stand
together for the cause/Of ACS forever”.
I chose Mr. Ng Eng Chin, now
Principal of ACS (Barker Road) to assist me in the organizing
committee. The fortnight before the event it rained every day. Eng
Chin and I got the students to pray for good weather after we had
briefed each level. On the day itself, there was glorious sunshine! In
fact it was so warm that we were even selling tap water for $2/- a
glass! In total we had 80 food stalls and 50 games stalls. We netted
$227,000, which was way beyond our wildest dreams!
Another significant event in my career in ACS was when, in the GCE ‘O’
Level Examination in 1988, every student in my class of 43 students
which I taught in Secondary 3 of 1987 and Secondary 4 of 1988, scored
A1s in English Literature, a subject which many of us know is not easy
to score an A1 in. That gave me a great feeling.
Finally, I must mention the loyalty of my cohort of 4A, 1976, (plus 1
from 4D and 1 from 4E) students who honoured me by dedicating a
classroom in the Barker Road campus in my name. For the past 30 years,
students from the same 4A class AND ONE FROM 4F have been visiting me every Chinese
New Year, first only the old boys, then as the years went by they
brought their girl friends who became their wives and now most of them
bring the entire family usually on the 2nd Sunday of every Chinese New
Echo: How would you describe a typical ACS student?
Mrs. Lee: He is confident (but sometimes misunderstood as being
conceited), wants his opinion considered, witty, charming, and
entrepreneurial, and takes pride in what he does. He has a sense of
time and place - knows when to be serious and when to play; when to
express himself and when to listen.
Echo: Were there moments in your life when you felt like giving up
Mrs. Lee: No, I loved what I had been doing. Each new cohort of
students was a new challenge to me. If I had my life to start all over
again, I would still choose to teach. To be able to, as the cliché
goes, “make a difference” in the lives of young people in your charge
is truly magical and I thank the Lord that He has given me this
ability to motivate students and to make them want to learn and even
to adopt a positive attitude towards learning. I have had a sister of
an old boy tell me that she does not understand how but I made her
brother love to read so much so that after his ‘O’ Level year he has
not stopped wanting to read and now (then) he has Literature books in
his cupboards, under his bed and anywhere else. It was good to hear
Mrs. Lee: The
"I remember on one occasion, Tong Min Kang (classmate and desk
partner) and I tasted Mrs. Lee’s wrath and lashing, which we well
deserved. Tong had passed some naughty remarks during her literature
class which tickled me so much that I burst out laughing. What
followed was a ten minute lashing and we were then ordered to
present ourselves at her home in the weekend for punishment. Oh,
what mind games she played for we were writhing in agony over what
ominous prospects laid ahead for us. Then to our relief, the
compassionate, kind and masterful teacher let us off at the end of
the school week after counseling us.
Mrs. Lee, you were the compelling reason for Secondary 3 Arts boys
in the 70s to get good grades to earn a place in Secondary 4. Thank
you for being such a loving, caring and comforting person.”
Mr. V. Esvaran
ACS Sec 4A Class of 74
Mrs Lee Gek Kim with Dr Ang Peng
Tiam, President of the ACS OBA, at the 10th Anniversary
celebration of the ACS (Independent) Boarding School.
Mrs. Lee: The
Mrs. Lee taught me literature. Not many of us read literature
without a guide; you need the soul of the writer - to see beyond
But to teach it, you need this and more: an emotional resonance
your students; an ability to give sustenance to unsteady ideas
forming, and to nurture incoherent phrases into poetry and
Mrs. Lee was one of those rare persons who saw it, nurtured it,
and gave it life. She did so with little pretence - but with
much radiance. Her
smile was worth working for, but never to be taken advantage of.
took part in an "elocution" contest and Mrs. Lee was one of the
I spoke rather a bit of nonsense - of seeing beauty in upturned
some such whimsy. Surprisingly, I won a prize - and then the
wasn't so silly after all, and I didn't feel that I was all
seeing beauty in upturned cups.
Such was her influence, her gift, and her many legacies.
Thank you, Mrs. Lee - I do not wish retirement for you - just
moving on to touch lives in different ways.
Mr David Lim
ACS Class of ‘70
Lee with David Lim at the
1998 ACS OBA Founder's Day Dinner.
Mrs Lee Opening of the
Food and Fun Fair 1986 at ACS.
of 76 at the classroom in ACS (Barker
Road) dedicated to Mrs Lee Gek Kim.
Some of the old boys of the
Class of 1976 and members of their families celebrating
New Year 2006 at Mrs Lee’s home.
Mrs. Lee: The Friend
"Mrs. Lee was a gifted teacher with the ability to connect and
communicate with her students. She taught well – very well
indeed! Besides her skill in imparting knowledge, she was well
respected by her students. Many of her students kept in touch
with her even after they left school and she received many
invitations to class reunions; and many a wedding invitation as
well! On a personal note, it meant a lot to share such a joyous
and important occasion in one's life with someone who had played
a part in molding my character in my formative years.
I continued to keep in touch with Mrs. Lee by mail when I went
overseas for further studies after my 'A' Levels. We even
planned and took a trip to tour Europe and England together
while I was still in university. I will cherish those memories
of sharing a common faith as we visited the cathedrals of Europe
and had opportunity to pray together on many occasions. This
faith we have shared has been a very special and significant
aspect of our friendship - the 'cement' if you will - these are
the 'ties that bind'.
Mrs. Lee Gek Kim is indeed a woman with a strong belief and
absolute faith in her Lord and Master, Saviour and Friend. I
know this relationship with her Lord has seen her through the
many challenges she had faced as a teacher and in each instance
HE has brought her through 'shining as gold'!
Mrs. Lee, you have been more than just a teacher and mentor to
the thousands of students you taught, but a friend as well.
Thank you for giving your best years to ACS!"
Mrs. Lo Su Li (Chen)
ACS Pre-U II Class of '76
Lee with Su Li sightseeing in London.
In your opinion, what are the attributes of a good teacher?
Mrs. Lee: A student of mine,
Choy Khai Meng, who later became a Rhodes
Scholar, once wrote in the opening lines of an English Language essay
I set the class: “It is easy to be a teacher, but it is difficult to
be a good teacher”. What words of wisdom!
One of the most important points all teachers must remember is to
prepare his lessons. Nothing can be more insufferable than for a class
of students to sit in a lesson knowing that the teacher is not
prepared and in ACS that is a sure way for a teacher to lose the
respect of the class.
I liken a good teacher to someone who can fly a kite well. He must
know when to let go of the string - to allow the students room to
grow, allow them to share their views, accept constructive noise in
the classroom - but he must know when to pull the string, to rein in
before they get carried away (like the kite by the wind) and get out
A good teacher must have a passion for what he is doing. Passion is
the dynamo that drives one to excellence in any field of human
endeavour. When a teacher has passion for the subject, he will enthuse
his students, and make them love the subject. The rest is then quite
He should be a friend but not a pal to his students; to understand
their family circumstances which may make it difficult for them to
excel in their studies. A good teacher is also one who cares – who is
sensitive to the needs of his students beyond the textbook and good
results. Once a student knows you care for him he will be faithful to
you. If necessary, he should have a dialogue with parents/guardians of
students with problems.
With academically good students, a good teacher is one who challenges
them to excel, lets them tell him things, instead of telling them
Finally, but by no means least important, - a good teacher must have a
sense of humour. He must know when to laugh with his students, laugh
at himself; let go of the kite-string I mentioned earlier. That way
his students see him as a human being and he breaks the barrier
between the students and himself.
Echo: Were there people
during your school days and later in your teaching career that made an
impact on you and influenced your life?
In ACS, the teacher that had a great impact on me was
Mr. Earnest Lau. It is not difficult to understand how the
thousands of students admire the man. He has charisma and his dynamism
is magnetic. He challenged his students, bringing out the very best in
Another role model I had was Mr.
Lee Hah Ing, who was the Principal when I joined the school as a
student and later as a teacher. He was a Principal whom many teachers
were fond of – benevolent and inspiring in his paternal manner. As
teachers we felt it a singular honour to serve under his leadership.
The pragmatic ones in ACS were
Mr. Chee Keng Lim, the Principal who succeeded Mr. Lee Hah Ing,
and Mr. Lim Choon Mong, his Senior Assistant. I remember them
pounding the streets of the CBD in the years prior to the setting up
of ACJC, knocking on the office doors of old boys and then stopping
for a chat and a cheque. It was their perseverance, charm, sweat and
toil that helped raise funds to build ACJC.
In ACS, these 4 men
stand tall in my mind as leaders of the school. They placed school
Echo: What do you think makes ACS (and ACSians) different from other
Mrs. Lee: A strong and committed Alumni, which takes pride in being
associated with the school. The strength of our alumni has been, and
perhaps still is, the envy of many schools in Singapore. The
camaraderie, the networking among ACSians in Singapore and even beyond
our shores is simply amazing. We are different also because we stretch
our students to excel. Long before the school ranking came into being
in the 1990s, ACS had been striving for excellence in all fields of
What makes ACSians different? It is partly the never-say-die attitude,
wanting to make a mark in their lives, to break new ground – being
unconventional in the way we do things, jealously guarding the name of
the school, being prepared to make sacrifices for the school. ACSians
know how to work hard and play hard. ACSians also care for people who
have less than they do. Basically, the strong Christian values have
guided our thoughts and actions.
Echo: What do you plan to do when you retire?
Mrs. Lee: Spend time with my grandchildren, volunteer my time for my
church, catch up with the reading I never found the time for, compile
reflections of my experiences as a teacher and “take time to smell the
Echo: Thank you, Mrs. Lee. We wish you a well-deserved and happy
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