"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”.

Former student 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 school?

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 Year.

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 teaching?

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 that.

Mrs. Lee: The Caring Mentor

"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 Motivator

Mrs. Lee taught me literature. Not many of us read literature well without a guide; you need the soul of the writer - to see beyond words. But to teach it, you need this and more: an emotional resonance with
your students; an ability to give sustenance to unsteady ideas still forming, and to nurture incoherent phrases into poetry and prose.

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. I once took part in an "elocution" contest and Mrs. Lee was one of the judges. I spoke rather a bit of nonsense - of seeing beauty in upturned cups or
some such whimsy. Surprisingly, I won a prize - and then the whimsy wasn't so silly after all, and I didn't feel that I was all alone in 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

Mrs. Lee with David Lim at the
1998 ACS OBA Founder's Day Dinner.

Mrs Lee Opening of the
Centenary Food and Fun Fair 1986 at ACS.

The Class 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
Chinese 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

Mrs Lee with Su Li sightseeing in London.

Echo: 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 of hand.

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 easy!

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 everything.

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?

Mrs. Lee: 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 them.

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 before self.


Echo: What do you think makes ACS (and ACSians) different from other schools?

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 endeavour.

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 roses” …..


Echo: Thank you, Mrs. Lee. We wish you a well-deserved and happy retirement!

Back to contents