“I would rather be irreverent than irrelevant”

In conjunction with Teacher’s Day, Raffles Press has collaborated with the 34th Student Council’s Teacher’s Day Committee to bring you a series of articles featuring several teachers and non-teaching staff in Raffles Institution. In this instalment, we feature Mr Caleb Liu, a Knowledge Skills tutor and the teacher-in-charge of Raffles Press.

caleb liu

The first thing we noticed about Mr. Caleb Liu was the prodigious speed through which he cycled through books – every week without fail, he’d have clutched in his arms a new volume. The blistering rate at which he devours books about practically everything, from history to queer fiction to the physics of musical chords, is but one of the many traits that characterize his brilliance. He is a consummate intellectual — sophisticated, slightly eccentric, fielding an eclectic array of interests and a genial open-mindedness. Many students know of Mr. Liu as the GP tutor who tirelessly posts the bulk of the articles featured on the indisputably useful ‘GP Stuff’ Facebook group — how many of us have used them as a springboard to generate examples for our dreaded essays and to deliberate on pertinent social issues? Fewer, though, know of his deep-seated penchant for competitive quizzing (that is, taking part in trivia challenges), through which he can actively tap on his vast mental storehouse of esoteric and obscure facts — and walk away with some prize money, to boot. Once, he even clinched a $125,000 prize on the local edition of Who Wants to be a Millionaire. In this feature, we delve into Mr. Liu’s opinions on teaching, and detail aspects of his personal life and preferences that are sure to pique your interest.

What do students not understand about teachers?

That teachers are human beings with their own worries, stresses and fears as well. As much as it is important for teachers to try and understand you, it is equally important for you to try and understand us.

Why did you choose to be a teacher?

I kind of stumbled on teaching. I was previously working in the civil service and I hated all the administration and paper work. Having worked as a relief teacher for a couple of months after I finished my University degree and enjoyed interacting with students, I thought I would give teaching a go.

What convinced me was to try it was also the encouragement I received from my former Chinese teacher who told me that she thought I had a real rapport with students after observing me during my relief teaching stint. If there was one person that inspired me to be a teacher, it was her — which is ironic, because I am terrible at Chinese and actually failed Chinese at the A/O level three times. Despite the fact that I was so hopeless at Chinese, she never gave up on me and gave me extra help and remedial classes. To me, she is a model teacher and the ultimate example to live up to.

What was your childhood ambition?

I never had any fixed childhood ambition. I was obsessed with dinosaurs at one point, so I did fancy being a palaeontologist at a very young age but I soon grew out of that! Perhaps if I were not a teacher, I would be a journalist, with a publication such as the Economist. If I had a dream, it would be to run a lovely little bookshop café.

What is your life motto?

“I would rather be irreverent than irrelevant.” (Oscar Wilde). I don’t believe in taking the well-beaten path. One should try and live life with real enthusiasm and passion.

What is the craziest thing you’ve done in school?

As a student in the past? Well, given that I was from ACS (I), let’s just say being mischievous was second nature to many of us. RI students are rather tame and unimaginative in comparison. Obviously I wasn’t directly responsible for any of the pranks and acts of mischief that happened during my time in school!

What is your favourite pastime?

I enjoy taking part in quizzes and doing trivia nights. Beyond that I enjoy reading, going to theatre performances and concerts, and watching sport games (especially football, rugby and tennis).

What movies do you enjoy watching?

I have a tremendously long list of movies I love, but the Lord of the Rings trilogy must count as an absolute favourite. It is the ultimate escapist fantasy.

What is your preferred canteen food?

I tend to eat either mixed rice and nasi padang mainly out of convenience. I like the Malay food as I have a weakness for spicy (and unhealthy!) food.

What would you consider to be your favourite book?

Given I have a personal library of over 2,000 books, it is hard to choose a favourite. Among the ones I have really loved are The Remains of the Day by Kazuo Ishiguro, and Disgrace by J.M Coetzee (despite it being rather bleak and depressing). I also highly rate Hilary Mantel’s marvellous retelling of Tudor history from the eyes of Thomas Cromwell with Wolf Hall and Bring Up the Bodies, both of which won the Booker Prize. I can’t wait for the third and final volume.

What are your pet peeves?

As a teacher, being faced with a completely unresponsive class. More generally, I cannot stand intolerance and narrow-mindedness. I believe strongly that everyone should be allowed to live the life they want to lead as far as possible. Thus, prejudice of any kind and discrimination against others tends to upset me greatly.

What is your favourite thing about Raffles?

As clichéd as it sounds, memories of both current and former students. What keeps me in teaching is the joy I get from interacting with students. One recent memory was my Civics class surprising me with a very thoughtful birthday gift and an impromptu celebration (complete with a cake) in the canteen. It’s moments like these which I will always treasure. A school is ultimately made up of the people in it and the memories they create. The physical infrastructure, however beautiful, is merely a shell.

Do you have any special mentions for any of the colleagues who have made teaching in RI a more enjoyable experience?

I would like to give a special shout out to Mrs. Nicola Perry who happens to sit next to me in the staff room. I have enjoyed our random conversations about books, literature, and life, as well as the very good-natured banter we have shared. It certainly helps to liven up the day! Plus, if I wasn’t around, who would be there to solve her computer problems? (Isn’t that so Mrs. Perry?)

What is your claim to fame?

I suppose in terms of moments of fleeting celebrity, it would be appearing on a number of local televised game shows.

 

2 thoughts on ““I would rather be irreverent than irrelevant””

  1. Too true Caleb…though there is always Miss Foo to attend to my IT issues! But then, you bought me my favourite mug, and I certainly enjoy our banter! Our ‘corner’ wouldn’t be the same without you!

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