Corrine Zhu, a teacher at Anderson Junior College, has gained so much from her teachers and experiences as a student that she wants to contribute in the same way. She said, “Becoming a teacher gives me an opportunity to help students who are not so confident about themselves. It is my hope that they will learn that their greatest accomplishment will be in applying their knowledge and skills to serve others and make the world better.”
In the nearly nine years that she has been in the profession, Ms Zhu is thankful for the opportunity not only to celebrate successes with her students but also to cry with them. “It has always been humbling to be able to counsel students because I find it a privilege that they are willing to share with me. Each interaction is really memorable.”
For Ms Zhu, a key in building good rapport with her students is putting herself in their shoes. “It is about having empathy. Self-reflection about how I might react if I were in their shoes helps me. One quote that is a personal favourite summarises this idea well: “We are all wounded healers, seeking to teach that which we need to learn” (Don M Frick, in “Robert K. Greenleaf: A Life of Servant Leadership)”.
She said, “When students know there are significant adults in their lives who care about them as individuals and place their well-being first, they are naturally more motivated to excel and be the best that they can. Appreciating the individuality and potential of our students also means we are open to different definitions of success. This again serves to inspire students to achieve.”
Mdm Maznah Bte Yusak, a teacher at Chongzheng Primary School since 1984, was among 50 education officers honoured by MOE in 2011. In a tribute to teachers, she was among those saluted for “making a difference to their students for 30 years and more” and for their “passion and dedication” in leading, caring and inspiring young people everyday.
In the profession for 37 years, Mdm Maznah said good teachers had impacted her life when she was in Trafalgar Primary School in Tanjong Pagar. “In 1964, Singapore went through the turbulent years of racial riots. Sometimes, the siren sounded while we were having lessons and all pupils had to go home. I lived in Geylang and there were times when my mother could not fetch me home as she had three younger children to care. My Primary One teacher, Mrs Chong, would stay with me till my father could come to fetch me home.
Once, she even brought me to her home as both my parents could not fetch me. I see myself as a beneficiary of a teacher’s act of care and kindness that goes beyond her call of duty and in the true spirit of ‘regardless of race, language or religion’. It was a lesson about the far-reaching impact of what a teacher can do for their young charges.”
Through the years, Mdm Maznah has thoroughly enjoyed her work despite all the trials and tribulations. She said, “Teaching is a calling. Every child I meet is a life that is entrusted to me and I see it is a personal obligation and responsibility. It definitely makes you richer in terms of the quality of life’s experiences and impacts you to be a better person.”
Mr Ng Hong Peng, who teaches General Paper, Literature in English at Anderson Junior College, recalls having amazing teachers who went beyond their duties in the classrooms. “My teachers taught me a lot about life and inspired me to want to teach too,” says the soft-spoken teacher who joined his alma mater six years ago.
“Increasingly, students face diverse problems that can affect their well-being and learning. Some students also come from more complex family backgrounds. To be a better teacher and mentor, I try to learn as much as I can to better help students in their development. A good start would be to see each student as a unique individual with amazing potential.”
One of his students Azrina Imran Tan (Class PDG21/12) wrote, “Mr Ng is an extremely caring teacher. As students, we see that he works even harder than we do. His teaching extends beyond the classroom as he becomes a counsellor and respected friend to my peers and me.”
CTA 2014 winner Ms Ong Fang Hui Stephanie has been teaching at Teck Whye Secondary School for four years. An initial challenge she faced was earning the respect of her students. “I struggled to gain the students’ respect since I was not much older than my graduating students. I also had self-belief issues. When I started believing in my abilities, my students started respecting me and appreciating the things I tried to do for them. Commanding their respect can still be challenging at times. But when I chide my students, I make it a point to explain to them my reasons for doing so.”
Two respective quotes from Blessed Mother Teresa and Saint Therese of Lisieux fuel Ms Ong’s philosophy
towards work and life: “We can do small things with great love”, and “Without love, deeds even the most brilliant,
count as nothing”.
Ms Ong shared, “I try to show this same love to every student I meet by knowing them, understanding what troubles them, and prevents them from doing well in school. I do these small acts of showing love by paying attention to the small things like their facial expressions and body language. Such things spur me to approach my students and find out more. To me, teaching is about being authentically human. More than just executing a perfect lesson plan, it involves being available for my students, being transparent, being real, and being myself. One of my students wrote in a Teachers’ Day card that my simple act of asking how he was every time I saw him made him feel valued as a person and showed him that I cared.”
Nick Tan, a student from Secondary 4B, 2014 wrote: “Ms Ong makes lessons easy to understand. She is very caring. Whenever a student seems troubled, she never fails to offer her help. She also assures us that she is available whenever we need her.”
Mdm Rahayu Shukor, a veteran teacher of 25 years, first started teaching lower primary pupils before moving on to teach other levels. She currently teaches Primary Six Foundation English and Primary Five Standard English at Junyuan Primary School.
Her love for children spurred Mdm Rahayu to join the teaching service. “When I see my pupils grow right before my eyes -- from the bright-eyed lower primary pupils to confident young adults, it gives me a great sense of joy and accomplishment to have played a part in their development.”
For Mdm Rahayu, it is important for a teacher to make a difference in the pupils’ life. “It doesn’t matter how small the difference is. It can go a long way,” she shares. “When we care, we must be able to see beyond the surface of the problem the pupils face; what causes the problem and why the pupils react in such a manner. A caring teacher is able to guide the pupils without being judgmental and is not bias in his/her approaches.”
For many of her students, Mdm Rahayu is more than just a teacher. She is also a mentor and someone they can turn to when they have difficulties in school or even at home. One of her students, Rose Aryanie (P6 Resilience, 2013) echoes the sentiments of her peers when she wrote, “You have always been there whenever we need you.”
Patient, unassuming, friendly and down-to-earth are some words that easily come to mind when describing Mr Chua. As a teacher for Information Communication Technology at the Assumption Pathway School and a firm believer of a holistic education, Mr Chua is well known as a dedicated teacher who goes all out to provide care for students who may not even be in his class.
Mr Chua seeks to engage and transform the students beyond the classroom. He has found that photography is an ideal way to spark interest and create a sense of wonder in students. It is also through this hobby that he tries to share some valuable lessons in life with his students.
One of his students, Zhang Ze Han, says: “Mr Chua cares and understands us very well. He would never yell at us even if we made mistakes. Once, during the Asian Museum Youth Photo Race, we made a big mistake but he told us to embrace it, learn from it and to try our best the next time.”
This dedicated teacher has made numerous home visits to students in distress, even till late at night, rain or shine. He has also led home visits and showed the ropes to new teachers.
One appreciative student, Mohd Daniyal says: “Mr Chua cares a lot about our future. He is also concerned about our lives outside school. If we were absent from school, he would make a home-visit, even when he was recovering from a bad fall, to find out why we did not turn up. This is the first time I have come across such a nice teacher. My family is very proud of him as he has turned me around with his constant encouragement.”