by Abigail Lim (13S03N) and Fong Hoy Yik (13S03N)
2012 is Mr. Jarrod Lee’s fifth year as a teacher here at Raffles Institution, but as an old boy, Mr. Lee has been part of the Rafflesian family for over ten years. He was an Arts student (subject combination: History, Economics, Literature and Mathematics), from the class of 99A01C. Knowledge and Inquiry students may know him as an animated and humorous teacher in class, while those from Raffles Jazz may see him as a friendly and easygoing teacher-in-charge.
However, apart from having a love for philosophy and questioning, we find out that he is a man of many unique interests with a refreshing outlook on life.
After being a teacher here for five years, one would be inclined to think that Mr. Lee would have many interesting observations and experiences of and with the students here. Yet, apart from “some girls in the batch of 2007 who kept giggling” and “a student who would stand up in the middle of the class just to stay awake”, Mr. Lee insists that RI students are just like regular teenagers. On the other hand, when probed about the possible impressions his students may have of him, Mr. Lee found much to say.
“My students think that I am charismatic, and some even describe me as ‘hip and cool’,” he chuckled. However, he admitted that most of his students would still prefer to describe him as rather unconventional due to his wacky demeanour in class.
And, just as how his students have described him, Mr. Lee spoke of personal ambitions that paint him as the regular guy-next-door. A hobbyist singer, dancer and writer, he has directed and acted in at least three musicals during his time in Melbourne. “Musicals are just one of my ‘things’.”
“Oh, and I also play computer games—well, I used to,” He added, before proceeding to breathlessly ramble off a list of titles, most of which he “never found the time to complete”. They included Skyrim, MBA, Mass Effect 2 & 3 and TopSpin 3.
When asked about the students he taught over the years, Mr. Lee could only speak fondly about them. “Sometimes we have class reunions for those who come back from overseas, and sometimes it’s just one-on-one. It depends on whether the students are willing and able to pursue a deeper friendship.” He recalls his most recent class gathering with the batch of 2008, where the group of them decided to go for hot pot after Chinese New Year, and “just talked”.
“Sometimes we’ll talk about life and all these kinds of things, and some of them will ask me about what they should do with their life. They’ll ask me for help with their assignments—it’s not common but it happens. Those who do Philosophy or Law will ask me for help, and even for those doing medicine, should they come across a chapter on Ethics.”
Yet, it seems the hurdles he faced back in his days still remain—for better or for worse—enduring and immutable aspects of the Rafflesian’s journey as a student. “It was just the sheer volume of stuff that you had to study for,” Mr. Lee admitted, when asked his toughest challenge preparing for the A-Levels. “History was my hardest subject—it wasn’t that bad, to be honest, but when we did International History, it was just the stuff we had to read.”
Nevertheless, it all panned out for Mr. Lee, who now hopes to share his experiences with his students in a subject that promotes intellectual inquiry and discussion. “I teach Knowledge and Inquiry with great depth—I like to encourage discussions and go into it as deeply as possible. Well, not in the way the subject is administered in the exams, but about a lot more of the fascinating, transcendental stuff.”
Coming from a General Paper background, Mr. Lee could now tell the story from both perspectives. “General Paper for an Arts student was basically an afterthought—our teachers didn’t have to help us with our language because we could all write, and in terms of our global knowledge, we already had it.”
He is quick to add, however, that times have indeed changed. “But General Paper these days are very different. We are a lot more systematic and structured. We are challenging students a lot more as well – I hope. I don’t know whether students feel the same way, but I think from experience, we focus more on skills now.”
Who should offer Knowledge and Inquiry then? “Ultimately, it boils down to passion. You must be willing to work hard for it. It’s not an easy subject. If—for whatever reason—you just think you might like it, but you’re not too sure, you can still do other things like join the Philosophy Circle.”
To close the interview, we invited Mr. Lee to answer a couple of quick-fire questions which he was more than happy to oblige. Without further ado…
Studying alone or in groups?
With other people, if they are quiet.
Craziest thing you have ever done?
Hang gliding but that’s not quite crazy enough. The truth is, I’ve never been that crazy. (His students may like to disagree!)
Quiet follower or bold risk-taker?
In the middle—I’m quiet but I don’t like to follow. I’d rather create things. Actually, that’s a weird dichotomy. I like to lead, but I don’t necessarily have to take risks.
Favourite kind of music?
Musicals. For example, Les Miserables, Phantom of the Opera, Wicked and Mary Poppins.
Most memorable thing you have ever heard?
‘Stop making our hatred of ourselves someone else’s job and just stop hating ourselves.’ — Community