By Dominic Chua
Mrs Lim Jee Nee, an English Language and Literature teacher who has been with the school since its Grange Road days, shares with us her recollection of pranks which RI teachers played on their hapless students from the early to mid-1990s.
SHANTI’S NEW ELEMENT
Mrs Shanti Sundram was a Chemistry teacher, and one of the first few teachers to teach the first batches of the Gifted Education Programme’s (GEP) secondary programme when it started. She had an MSc, and very few teachers had a Masters in those days.
So she went and told her class, one April Fools’ Day, that a new element had been found and discovered. The reaction of half of the class was one of incredulity—they asked her questions like ‘How is this possible?’ and ‘What’s going to happen to the Periodic Table?’ The other half of the class never asked any questions and just copied whatever she was telling them.
At lesson’s end Shanti (Mrs Sundram) flashed a transparency with the words ‘Happy April Fools’ Day!’—but there was a bigger point to her prank: those who questioned had thought critically while those who didn’t had a long way more to go.
IN SEARCH OF THE ID10T FORM
Those of us teachers who were in the school from 1992–1993 never forgot this joke—we thought it was brilliant. And you know what it’s like—we were sitting in the staff room, and the 1st of April was just around the corner. I told everyone about what Mrs Shanti Sundram did for April Fools’, and then Mrs Nora de Silva, always creative and quick-witted, hit on the idea of the ‘ID10T form’. And in those days, before the advent of mass computing, there really were a lot of forms in the office. If you changed address, you filled in a form, you changed citizenship, you filled in a form. There were forms named Form G, Form S and so on, which the office would have, sitting in all these pigeonholes in the General Office. It was in the vocabulary of the students—these forms with alpha-numeric names.
The first time we played this joke was on the Sec 1 GEP boys in 1991—we sent the students to the office to get the ID10T form. And the next year when we did it again, we played with all the Sec 1s, including the Express boys. But the first year was doubly hilarious, because when we played this joke, we forgot to inform the Office! And you remember Mrs Pauline Lim, the admin officer and unofficial queen of the front office? The whole office went into a frenzy looking for ID10T forms!!
The teachers had sent the monitors to the office to pick up the forms, and the monitors were duly scolded and returned to their classes empty-handed. Then we sent the assistant monitors. All this while, we (the teachers) were completely oblivious of the commotion going on in the General Office, with Mrs Pauline Lim scolding a seemingly endless stream of boys! We really got it from her at the end of that day.
THE LOST BOYS
So after that, April Fools’ Day became something of a tradition during which RI teachers would prank their students, with the only criteria being that it had to be an intelligent joke. In 1992, Ms Jeanne Marie Ho and I—both English Literature teachers—came up with a prank around the Secondary 2 boys’ literature text, William Golding’s Lord of the Flies in class.
The story we spun was that William Golding, a teacher (he really was a teacher) had brought a group of boys out to an island (we invented one). In our version of history, William Golding was inexplicably separated from his class for a full day, and this incident formed the inspiration for the writing of Lord of the Flies. And so we told our classes to do research—to find out what actually happened to Golding’s students during that one day.
We planned it so well, you know. We found an academic journal in the library, typed out a page in a font that more or less resembled that used in the journal, inserted the page inside the book—it contained a fictitious story, and at the end of it, a wish for a Happy April Fools’.
And the boys were so good—when they realised that it was a joke, they replied in kind, in the most creative ways. Their reports (because we had asked for the research to be submitted) came in the form of shape poems (one boy wrote a shape poem in the shape of a circle) and limericks, others used mathematical equations (if this then that, and there was something about shear forces!), and yet another boy came up with a pretty inventive story about the island sitting on some continental plate and how plate movement produced an earthquake (that led to Golding being separated from his students). The boys applied what they’d been learning about in other disciplines, and that was fantastic and really rewarding for us as teachers.
NATIONAL DAY FLASHCARD CONTINGENT
We also played a joke on the whole Secondary 3 level. We got the fiercest teacher we could find, Mr Moses Wong, because we knew the students were least likely to suspect a prank from him. We got him to write a memo to the Secondary 3 students using the school letterhead. The note went something like this:
‘Dear Boys, due to unforeseen circumstances, all RI Sec 3 students have been asked to take part in the National Day Parade Flashcard Contingent. The following boys are exempted:
1) All students who wear spectacles
2) All students who are left-handed
3) Students from Malaysia
The following are the rehearsal dates (they were all Sundays!).’
We also planned answers to questions that the students would probably raise, and how to break it to the boys that it was an April Fools’ joke. One more memorable one involved the teachers creating flashcards of letters to take into class that would form the words ‘April’s Fool’—the boys were told to form a word using the letters as part of a ‘rehearsal’ for the first practice! The word was, of course, ‘April Fool’.
As we predicted, the boys asked about the strange exemptions. We gave them the silliest answers we could think of, but they took us so seriously!
‘Why are students who wear spectacles exempted, ma’am?’
‘Oh, you know, because flashcard contingents cannot have spectacles reflecting the sunlight, otherwise it’ll dazzle the spectators on the opposite end of the stadium.’
‘Why not left-handed guys, ma’am?’
‘Oh, because you need the right hand to flip the flashcards.’
There was one question we didn’t anticipate—we didn’t have very many foreign students in the school at that time, and they were mainly Malaysians. We forgot that we had Indonesian students too! So one Indonesian boy (in Mrs Alba’s class I believe) stood up—‘I am Indonesian, why am I not exempted?’
‘Because we buy water fr om Malaysia,’ was her poker-faced reply.
All this happened between 1991 and 1993. I went off to MOE HQ after that, and wasn’t sure if the teachers kept up the April Fools’ tradition, but we lived for April Fools’ Day! Every time it came around we’d all be buzzing in the staff lounge, ‘Oh, what’s the next joke to play on the boys?’
Those were really the days. I met one of my ex-students recently, and as we were catching up he said, ‘Wah you teachers ah, I’ll never forget that National Day Flashcard joke.’
There was really a bigger point to all our pranks—we wanted to show the boys how to play pranks with more class. In the school’s Grange Road days, one of the more common types of April Fools’ jokes involved getting teachers wet or dirty. For example, some boys went so far as rigging up a pail, filled with water, and another filled with flour, to a door—and then when female teachers went into class they would get soaked. It was really terrible.
We wanted to teach our students what good jokes looked like, and that if you want to play a good joke, it takes planning and effort. We also wanted to show our students not to take themselves too seriously, how to see the humour in life and how to laugh at themselves.