‘Caring Teacher’ award winner abandoning dying wife

From ‘Baffled by award for teacher who went on trip while wife was dying’, 12 May 2012, ST Forum

(Mark Gregory Rozells): WEDNESDAY’S report (‘Caring teachers win awards’) about a teacher who received the Caring Teacher Award because he accompanied students to a competition abroad, even as his wife was dying of cancer, has left me baffled.

First, no school trip is planned and executed by one teacher alone. There is always a team of teachers for safety and contingency reasons. So how indispensable was that teacher to the trip?

Second, knowing his circumstances, shouldn’t the school’s principal have deployed another teacher to replace him?

Third, wasn’t the safety of the students on the trip a concern when the teacher rushed back to Singapore to see his wife before she died?

Lastly, what signal is the Ministry of Education sending to teachers and the public with this award? Abandon your families for your students?

The ‘caring teacher’ in question is Northland Secondary School’s Allan Yeong, whose wife insisted that he accompany the Boys Brigade Pipe Band because ‘he couldn’t let the children down’ (Caring teachers win awards, 9 May 2012). Whatever decision this teacher has made, he has lived with it for the last 5 years since her death. Without any knowledge of Mr Yeong’s personal affairs nor the exact circumstances leading to him leaving his dying wife, it probably isn’t fair to judge his actions based on what most of us would do, namely forget the pipe band and stay with the wife. The intention of the award is to recognise selfless passion, which Yeong has chosen to pursue in spite of what his wife’s family and friends may think of this untimely decision.

According to the nomination criteria for the ‘Caring teacher’ award,

A caring teacher is someone grounded in values; who cares, shares and shows concern for the academic, moral, social, emotional and mental welfare of his/her students

It doesn’t say anything about ‘sacrifice’, be it working overtime or forsaking your family to be a band chaperone. It also means you can be a total bastard and wife beater at home, but that doesn’t exclude you from becoming a ‘caring’ teacher. Or a cheat. In 2010, an ex ‘Caring teacher’ winner was sentenced to two weeks’ jail for tampering with his fuel gauge at Woodlands Checkpoint. In March this year, another award winner pleaded guilty to penetrating and molesting schoolboys, proof that being the perfect teacher doesn’t necessarily make one more humane than the rest of us. Of course, you can make a mockery of any award after winning one, but all the more scrutiny for a profession so extolled as exemplary citizens and role models as our teachers.

Going the ‘extra mile’ always comes at a cost, and it’s unfortunate that unlike past winners, the media has chosen to dig up the unsettling details of what Yeong’s ‘cost’ entails. God knows how many people have been neglected because their teacher mothers/fathers/sons/daughters have put their careers first. If we were to hear of a teacher working her butt off to the point of forgetting to feed her baby for just one night, we’d probably feel the same outrage. If every professional award were judged based on whether one’s moral conduct  at work applies to personal life, there would be no winners and there would be no point in dishing such things out at all.

Perhaps the writer has a point; that by rushing home to bid his wife farewell, the ‘welfare of his students’ was temporarily compromised. But then again, without knowing if Yeong did in fact take measures to ensure that the students were looked after in his absence, it’s rather premature to question on a technicality if he deserves this award or not, and argue based on the premise that a husband SHOULD look after his cancer-stricken wife instead of other people’s children. Maybe things just aren’t as straightforward as we think, it could have been a very painful but necessary decision for all we know. Furthermore, winners are chosen on the basis of nomination from members of the public including parents, maybe even from the parents of Yeong’s charges who voted out of gratitude/sympathy. So even if the guy lied and didn’t give two hoots about his wife, there’s nothing preventing him from winning Caring teacher of the year anyway, especially if even a sodomising pedophile can do it.

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