ST20160902  l  President's Award for Teachers

Yesterday, many schools in Singapore celebrated Teachers’ Day. Six teachers were also awarded the President’s Award for Teachers from Singapore President Tony Tan Keng Yam at the Istana yesterday. To all teachers in Singapore and beyond, Happy Teachers’ Day.

While most of us would agree that honouring our teachers is important, have we asked ourselves why teachers special and why is it important to celebrate and honour our teachers?


As mentioned on Page 249 of our first book, “The Leader, The Teacher & You”, there is something very special about teaching, which makes the profession distinctly different from any other.

The most critical difference between teaching and working virtually anywhere else is this: The more the student surpasses his or her teacher, the greater the success of the teacher, whereas in the office, the higher the position a person gets to in the organisation, the more successful he or she is deemed to be — so we need not be surprised with bosses who work hard at keeping their people down.

The idea of success itself is totally different for a teacher. It is a definition that is focussed on the success of others, not the success of one’s self. We applaud everyone who has dedicated his or her life to be a teacher, for whom teaching is not a job or an occupation, but an honourable vocation and a high calling.

Teaching is an enormous privilege, a great responsibility, and an unparalleled opportunity to do good for the lives of others. We are always inspired when the teacher does not say “I teach science or mathematics or literature”, but simply says, “I teach children.” “Moulding the future of our nation” is not an empty slogan of the Ministry of Education — it truly reflects the power in the hands of the teacher to make or break lives.

If a leader (in the family, community, and/or organization) sees her/his role as not just to lead well for today but to build well for the future, her/his best contribution then is as a teacher: identifying potential, recognising effort, encouraging ideas, and pursuing excellence with a continuous drive for the organisation to be the best it can be and the people to be the best they can be. A leader’s best role is therefore to be a teacher par excellence, whose concern is first and foremost the success of his or her people.


We wrote on page 155 of our second book, “Winning with Honour”, that values, morals, and ethics are basically “caught” from family and school rather than “taught” in formal lessons and tests. Much research has shown that if parents are involved in their child’s education, the child will learn more. And while parents can delegate the role of teaching to the school, they must support what the school does—otherwise the school would be operating without legitimate authority over their children.

We learnt at a meeting with leaders from the Singapore Teachers’ Union and the Union of ITE Training Staff (UITS) that there are two particular challenges teachers in Singapore are facing in recent times:

  • Challenge Number One: Unlike parents of previous generations, parents of children today tend to take the side of their children when any disputes occur rather than first listen to the teacher’s version of events. Instead of leading their children, many parents today are being led by their children!                                       

Perhaps this is due to the guilt that working parents feel for not spending time with their children because they are busy working, or because parents today are more educated so they are less likely to defer to teachers.

Parents however have to realise that by not co-operating with teachers in school and granting them legitimate authority over their children, their children are learning to dishonour authority and elders, including their own parents! 

  • Challenge Number Two: Parents are “outsourcing” the role of parenting to domestic helpers. Teachers have commented that instead of “Meet the Parents” session, it is now more aptly described as “Meet the Maids” session!

Unlike the older generations who had outsourced their parenting to family members and/or domestic helpers who came from the same country, culture, or community, the domestic helpers of today are largely from different countries and cultures, and thus espouse diverse and often dissimilar values. In addition, due to the dynamics of the relationship, helpers are not able to discipline children the way children need to be guided. As the saying goes: “spare the rod and spoil the child”—children raised by helpers are likely to be “softer” and less self-reliant than those who had been raised by their parents. The well-known incident of the army recruit in Singapore who got his helper to carry his backpack to the army camp is an apt illustration of this problem.

It is important for parents to honour the authority of teachers over their children. By sowing seeds of dishonour in challenging teachers in front of their children, parents run the risk of reaping a harvest of dishonour upon themselves.

While it may be true that many parents today are more highly educated than the teachers, it is a narrow view to think that teachers are there just for knowledge transmission. Teachers have the task of developing the whole child, which means not just academically but also socially, emotionally, and morally. When parents challenge the authority of teachers, they undermine the ability of teachers to complement what the child has learnt or to make up for what the parents had failed to do right. Of course teachers are not perfect, but when parents interact with teachers in the presence of their children, they need to do so with due Honour and respect for the teachers.

Values, morals, and ethics are basically “caught” from family and school rather than “taught” in formal lessons and tests. Parents should thus be mindful and aware of the values that they are teaching their children who are constantly subconsciously learning through modelling.

Remember, we all reap what we sow, so let us honour our teachers not only on Teachers’ Day, but every day.

Photo: Straits Times

Websites: www.TheLeaderTheTeacher.com  l  www.WinningWithHonour.sg

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