Portrait / The Making Of A Caring Teacher

The Caring Teacher Awards (CTA) is the highest accolade for teachers who go the extra mile to show care and concern for the holistic development of their students. Started as a biennial event in 1996 by the National Institute of Education with support from ExxonMobil Asia Pacific and the Ministry of Education, the CTA draws thousands of nominations from students, parents, teachers and principals across schools in Singapore.

For the 13th CTA this year, three National Level Award and seven National Commendation Award winners, selected from more than 5,800 nominations in total, were recognised for their outstanding contributions to the academic, moral, social, emotional and mental welfare of their charges. The nominations came from 225 schools out of the 347 schools in Singapore. We salute all CTA 2020 winners for their critical role in ensuring that learning and student care can continue, even during a pandemic year. NIEWS tracked down the three National Level Award winners to learn more about their passion to teach and make a difference in the lives of their students.

Don’t miss our special tribute video to all CTA winners for 2020!

Dr Bernard Ricardo
Consultant, Physics and Engineering Department
NUS High School of Mathematics and Science
CTA 2020 National Level Winner (Mixed Level School)

It’s a strange feeling being a recipient of the Caring Teacher Award. It feels like I had received the most love and care from those who nominated me, and for that, I am really thankful.

I credit my PhD supervisors at the National Institute of Education, Associate Professors Lee Choon Keat and Subramaniam Ramanathan, for showing me what it’s like to be a caring teacher. They guided and encouraged me through the times I felt like giving up, nudging me to think more critically and to improve my research skills.

I was inspired to do the same for my students, and spent time outside of classroom lessons to listen and discuss their scientific ideas. I was told by my students that they felt appreciated. Many excelled in their studies, and some have gone on to win medals at international competitions.

When I was a high school student, I was once called upon by my physics teacher to take her spot in front of the class to explain a concept to my classmates. That was my first experience with teaching. I realised then how hard it is to be a teacher, and that knowledge alone is not enough. That episode inspired me to teach, and over the past 12 years, I’ve gained a much better understanding of what it takes to be a good teacher.

Being relatable as a teacher is equally important. To identify students’ struggles and to help them through appropriate interventions, a teacher needs to be able to step into their students’ shoes. A good teacher must also be prepared to personalise the teaching approach based on students’ ability and interest. No one-shoe-fits-all approach would ever work in teaching.

Additionally, an effective teacher should be influential, able to impart values that go beyond knowledge. That is why I believe in continuous learning. This includes taking time to understand the needs and challenges from both the educator’s and learner’s perspectives. Furthermore, as a science teacher, continuous learning ensures that I stay up-to-date with current developments. I believe that when a teacher grows, the students will also grow.

A caring teacher is more than just a label—it is about creating the right impact. When you are willing to continuously learn, you will discover the power to make a positive impact in the lives of other people, regardless of titles.

“Students don’t care how much their teacher knows until they know how much their teacher cares.” ~ Dr Bernard Ricardo

Mdm Norul Ashiqin Bte Rashid
Head of Department, Character and Citizenship Education
Meridian Secondary School
CTA 2020 National Level Winner (Secondary School)

I feel like I owe this honour to my late grandfather and my family. My late grandfather’s wish was to have one of his children become a teacher, but none of them did. Hence, when I applied to teach, he was so happy! During my toughest months as an intern, he had encouraged me to be patient and to believe that teaching is a meaningful job. His words must have had a profound influence, as I find myself constantly encouraging and motivating my students in similar manner. My family has also always been there to give me the support and encouragement I need.

To me, the greatest reward is when my students tell me that I was the one who helped them to grasp a particular topic or encouraged them not to give up. Whenever they text me with a question, I would try to offer an explanation even if it means having to write it down and then providing snapshots or videos to help them understand the answer. I believe in active interaction and encouraging my students to ask me questions—not just in class, but through emails, during break times and even through text messages on weekends.

The fact that they would take the initiative and effort to revise their work, formulate a question, or wait for me to finish a management meeting just to seek a consultation is just something that warms my heart. It shows me how much they value my guidance, and I would do my very best to support them in their quest to learn.

A caring teacher needs to empathise with how students feel, behave and learn. Knowing what captures their attention or what is important to them goes a long way towards building trust and a good rapport with students. Patience is another critical virtue, because it will take a lot of determination and constant motivation before they are able to sense genuine care and concern, and would agree to try their best.

As teachers, we must be sincere in whatever we do. Always look back at why we took up teaching in the first place and why we have chosen to remain in this profession. Helping students to acquire the knowledge, skills and competencies for them to be useful individuals in the future—that is a very meaningful endeavour. The fact that students can benefit from our sincerity and hard work pushes me to want to do even better for my students.

“Learn to look around you, read more and reflect, as continuous learning is the key to improving our own teaching effectiveness, as well as our students’ learning experience.” ~ Mdm Norul Ashiqin Bte Rashid

Miss Tan Li Ling
Assistant Year Head for Lower Primary (P1 and P2)
Geylang Methodist School (Primary)
CTA 2020 National Level Winner (Primary School)

Every student is special and every child has a gift waiting to be unwrapped, and all teachers are in the position to help students discover their strengths, realise their potential, and excel. Which is why it’s been humbling to receive this award, as there are many around me who have done much more. I would like to share this honour with them, and especially, with my late father who was my inspiration.

Twenty-one years of teaching in a primary school has taught me to believe in every child, so that they can believe in themselves. I remember this P1 boy who was often defiant and even violent in school. It took a whole team of individuals, with plenty of care and love, to encourage and support this boy, drawing on his interests and strengths. The behavioural transformation was amazing, and his growth and development taught me a lot as a teacher. I had another P5 student who was very shy but interested in dancing. After much coaxing, he finally agreed to perform on stage for the first time on Teacher’s Day. I showed him the video I took of his debut, which bolstered his confidence to dance. Since then, he has performed in many events locally and overseas, and dreams of becoming a dance instructor one day.

I feel that good teachers are caring, sensitive and enthusiastic towards their charges. In a caring environment, students feel respected and safe to express their feelings, as they know their ideas and opinions are valued. In turn, they would learn to respect and care for others. On sensitivity, our words and actions play a crucial part in moulding students’ lives—just like how potters mould their clay. Hence, always be quick to observe, slow to judge and willing to take time to listen and adapt our lessons and instructions, especially for those with learning disabilities. Don’t forget enthusiasm, because our passion for the subjects does rub off on students, and this can spark their curiosity and motivation to learn.

Teachers can try to improve the learning experience by fostering positive classroom culture. This creates more opportunities for students to connect with the content, their peers and the teacher. We should also welcome new teaching ideas, be it the way we ask questions, deliver content or use tools to engage our students. Having an open mind caters better to the varying needs of students in a class. Last but not least, be creative. Utilise fun concepts like ‘Teacher-in-Role’ to facilitate an English discussion. Get students to interview their classmates on their favourite canteen food and depict the results in a graph for Mathematics—this can serve as feedback for the school as well. The sky is the limit. Your next bright idea might help a student to learn and remember better!

“A kind word or simple smile means everything to a child. The way we make an impact as teachers could result in changes that last a lifetime for the student.” ~ Miss Tan Li Ling