Strict but with a heart of gold: A teacher who moulds leaders

Saramah Varughese.

SUBANG JAYA: The boys and girls were as noisy as any group of unsupervised teenagers, but a hush fell over the small room the moment Saramah Varughese walked in.

All bantering and rowdiness came to a halt and the prefects and trainee prefects, aged 13 and 14, rose and bowed in a greeting to their mentor and got down to their assigned tasks.

Saramah, 50, has been taking care of the afternoon-session school prefects for more than 13 years. She is also an English teacher, but mentoring the prefects is what she really loves to do. She has trained nearly 500 of them, not counting trainees who were axed after probation.

She beamed with pride when she told FMT recently of their achievements.

“As they grew older, they matured and became better prefects. They turned out like real leaders. Some of them already had it in them, but I was able to bring that quality out.”

Saramah trains the prefects to help teachers manage the pupils and the day-to-day affairs of the school. She works hard to instil discipline in them.

“I will always speak to them if I hear complaints about them,” she said. “This is how we teach and mould them. I sit down, talk to them and try to teach them to do better. And I can see the changes. So I’m proud.”

The pride is multiplied when she sees the prefects move on to become leaders in the world outside.

She acknowledged that some might see her as a strict disciplinarian. “Maybe I was born like that,” she said. “But I just want everything to go on well. I want perfection. So maybe they see me as too strict. But when you’re close to me, you’ll know that I’m not that strict.”

We’ve all heard of vengeful students who harbour resentment against strict teachers even long after they have left school.

Saramah said she didn’t know of any student, past or present, who had any spite against her, adding that she would reprimand only those students appearing to be taking a turn for the worse.

She said her students could see her gentle and friendly side during her English lessons.

In any case, Saramah doesn’t take negativity to heart. “I might feel down for a while, but I’ll soon forget.” She said she was always willing to change if she received constructive criticism.

“I love them all, prefects and other students alike, those who’ve left me for the morning session and those who’ve left the school entirely,” she said. “I love them all very much and I hope they know I was strict for their good.”

Back in the prefects’ room, Saramah spoke to the students about their midterm examinations, due in the following week.

“I don’t want you to be holding your books and studying while on duty,” she told them. “You must have already studied. You’ve known about the exams for a long time now.” And then she wishes them the best.

On the day of the interview, Saramah was faced with a particularly difficult task. She had to decide who among the Form One students would have to turn in their badges and leave as trainees. She told them not to become morose.

“Being a prefect is not everything,” she said. “So don’t be sad and don’t be angry, either with yourself or with your friends who make it instead of you.” She pointed to two boys, and that got the whole group laughing. Saramah smiled herself.

It’s a job that she wants to carry on doing for the rest of her teaching career. “It is my mission,” she said. “And if God permits it, I will stay here for them.”