Mr. Stupka: The End of an Era

Mr Stupka collage

With teaching for more than four decades at ISKL, Mr. Stupka has seen it (and has probably taught it) all. From middle school Social Science and French to the Industrial Arts, Ceramics, Yearbook and Photography, Mr. Stupka is a jack of most trades. Now he teaches ceramics as well as a medley of other classes to do with the industrial arts. Being a favorite teacher to many past and present students and well as becoming one of the longest members of the faculty, Mr. Stupka has been with ISKL since our current campus was first opened about forty years ago.

The story of how Mr. Stupka came to Malaysia in the first place and eventually became a teacher at ISKL is a long and intriguing one. He came from the United States along with almost three hundred other teachers volunteering with the peace corps in 1967. Fresh out of university, he expected to be teaching industrial arts in a rural village in a then underdeveloped Malaysia. However, once he arrived, he says, “They decided that my qualifications were too high, so they put me in a teacher training institution that taught people to become industrial arts teachers,” there, he taught everything creative that he then taught and still teaches at ISKL. Once his two-year term with the peace corps had come to a close, the Malaysian government asked him to stay “another two years and then another year” which, he says, was then unprecedented. In 1972, after five years in Malaysia,  Mr. Stupka finished working with the peace corps (or so he thought) and went back to the US, where, for six months, he was in total culture shock after time away immersed in rich south-east Asian culture.

Lucky for Mr. Stupka, the peace corps asked him to rejoin the peace corps in Malaysia, this time employed to train new volunteers for six months out of the year, having the other half off. “Which was nice because it allowed me to travel to places around Asia like India, Bali, Cambodia, Vietnam, – well not Vietnam because there was a war – but you get the point” He chuckles. During his time off, Mr. Stupka recounts: “A friend of mine was a teacher at ISKL, and he was also one of the (ex)volunteers that I had trained. That friend had to go back to the US for a couple of weeks and had asked me to substitute his middle school social science class.” This would come be the start of the journey that is Mr. Stupka’s teaching career at ISKL that has lasted through the decades. After a while of substituting classes for friends, the school offered him a part-time job “So I never even applied for a job here” Mr. Stupka points out humorously”, that would turn into a more permanent position teaching the industrial arts and whatever else needed to be taught “back then it was like grabbing at air; if there were enough students that wanted to take a class, it would happen, if not, the class would be cancelled”.

Fast forward forty-odd years, Mr. Stupka says that his greatest accomplishment has been “When I can see a student doing something that I’ve taught, but doing it on their own from beginning to end. And you can see that their creative thought patterns are already there. When they take off on a tangent on their own to take what they’ve learned and taken it one step further.” It is obvious with this that Mr. Stupka’s students are fortunate to have a teacher who sees their learning in such a wonderful light, reflecting his passion for what has become his life’s work. What he hopes that his students take away from having him teach them has very little to do with what he teaches them formally every day, but has a lot to do with the teenagers he teaches; “Relax, don’t get all uptight, you still have your whole life ahead of you. If you get all those ‘old people’ things like stressing and freaking out because of grades it takes its toll on you” and “Tomorrow is going to come no matter what happens. Just remember that the day after tomorrow it’s all going to be gone. Enjoy everything and be safe. Know what your limits are and the limits of your environment. Rebel within yourself and as long as it doesn’t hurt somebody else.”.

One would think that teaching at the same school for so long would become a tedious and daunting activity, but, on the contrary, Mr. Stupka is here to prove that assumption wrong; and what better words to sum it all up as well as his own – “I love it [his teaching career here]. I’ve never woken up one morning and said or thought ‘Oh god I gotta go to work’. Never. Never ever.”.

He hopes that his contribution to the community – his adult ceramics classes – has built “a bridge between the parents and the school and the kids.”. As he teaches kids all day, he says that “it’s fun to make that connection with [the parents] in the evening” and that “I also invite them to come in on Saturday and sometimes it’s fun to watch my students working with their parents, so it’s almost like a family thing where parents and their kids can bond.”. What he hopes to leave behind, however, is simple; positivity. “To not have someone say they hated my class or that they’d wish they had never taken it, or something like that.”.

While Mr. Stupka is retiring from teaching high school, he hopes to continue teaching his workshops and will continue his career as an artist based right here in KL, having displayed his work in many galleries and will have even more yet to come (so keep an eye out!). What he will miss the most, he says is “The kids. And not because they’re kids, but because I feel that because of them, over the years I haven’t been allowed to get old.” he continues with a smile, “I’ve listened to their music, I’ve looked at their dress, I’ve listened to their comments, I’ve upgraded fashion skills and even the language sometimes. I use language now that I would have never used before.”.

So, if you ever find yourself leafing through any ISKL yearbook from this year backward, flip to the faculty page of most each and every book to find Mr. Stupka through the years within the pages,  intertwined as a part of ISKL’s of past and present and into its very fabric.

As parting remarks, Mr. Stupka reflects “I will miss this place, but so will everyone else” as we move on to the new campus, Mr. Stupka moves on to pursue different things. In many ways his journey has come full circle “I started six months after this place opened, its a nice end for me.”