Tuesday 2 October 2012

My Teaching Career and Official Retirement

My first teaching job was at Kay Wah Primary School. I started on 13th January, 1958 teaching English. It's the same school I had attended as a kid, completing my education in Chinese with English as a second language.

I had sat for my Senior Cambridge Certificate exams in 1957 and obtained a Grade One certificate. So I returned to teach English at the same school. English was then a compulsory 2nd language at this government-aided school. Its first language was Chinese. It remained so throughout the 50s and early 60s.

In 1959, I started my teacher training proper at the Teacher's Training College on a part-time basis. If I taught in the morning, I then went for my training in the afternoon, and vice versa. The training was 3-4 hours a day, three days a week.

After struggling for three years, I obtained my Certificate in Education and began teaching as a qualified teacher in 1962.

I left Kay Wah on 31st December that same year and began my career with Boys Town English School on 1st January 1963. BTES was the old name for the current Assumption English School. The school's name was changed after it took in girls at the secondary level in 1973. The primary level was still an all-boys primary school.

1973 was the same year I stopped teaching at the primary level and moved on up to the secondary. I had majored in Art during my teacher training and it so happened that the newly co-ed secondary school needed an Art teacher. So I was pushed up to teach Art there. At the same, I was asked to design the new Assumption English School badge and flag after a competition amongst the students failed to find a suitable solution. Thankfully, both designs were officially accepted and signed off by then director and founder of Boys Town, Brother Vincent.

After I started teaching at Boys Town, I grew attached to the school. Much of it had to do with the kind of work and commitments I had. For example, I was made Scout Leader of the school's Scout and Cadet Scout (primary level) Troops. I held this responsibility from 1963 till 1996.

I was also an active member of the Boys' Town Old Boys' Association, now known as Boys' Town Alumni. We were very active during the late 60s and early 70s when we used to organise Talentime for Schools in order to raise funds for the Alumni's scholarship fund.

I was roped in to serve on the Alumni's EXCO in 1965 and am still in it!

To me, my time with Boys Town was/is not just a job or career, it's everything in my life.

So in 1996, when time came for me to retire, there was great sadness. It was compounded by the fact that the old school had been rebuilt and newly opened. It now boasted of two state-of-the-art Art Rooms - something I had longed for over 20 years. I had all along taught Art in that meantime without a proper Art room.

I felt disappointed that I had to leave just as new facilities were available. But then I remembered something that was said during the retirement seminar I had attended. I could continue as an Associate Teacher if I so desired! So I approached the school's principal then - Mrs Susan Thomas - about it. She advised me to write in to MOE, which I did. My application was successful and so I started work again on 9th January 1996 - a day after my official retirement on the 8th.

Towards the end of 1996, Mrs Thomas asked me to sign up for another year. This went on year after year until 2005 when I was asked to take over Sec 1 Art so as to hand over the upper secondary (graduating) classes to new teachers in case I left.

My schedule became quite full. I had eight Sec 1 classes with 2 periods a week. It was quite the change. You see, for the last ten years, I had been dealing with Sec 3 and Sec 4 students preparing them for 'O' or "N' level Art exams. I became quite lost when I suddenly had to teach Sec 1.

The problem was communication.

The students either didn't get what I was telling them or they just couldn't be bothered with what I said. A few rowdy girls and boys and there would be havoc in class. Many of them were very restless or active.

A few would forget to bring their Art materials too. Some just wouldn't listen. A few found the spacious Art Room a nice place to run about. When I approached the misbehaving pupil, he/she would run away, round the room, expecting me to catch them. I was not young anymore to play 'catching' with them!

The experience with the Sec 1 classes in 2005 was both stressful and unpleasant. I decided then to step down as Associate Teacher with full load and duty. Instead I would take up the new post of Flexi Adjunct Teacher where one could sign up to teach a limited number of hours over a period of time. Mine was in the 27 hrs per week category, usually for 10 weeks a Term.

Suddenly my workload became much lighter. Sure, my pay was affected: It was reduced, I don't get paid during the school holidays, and there would be no year-end bonus. I was also not entitled to any promotion. But it was so much stress-free!

All I had to do was assist the teacher proper (usually a young one) and guide her along. Or to co-teach the upper secondary classes or Normal Technical ones. I no longer took the lead but played second fiddle instead. It was indeed much more relaxing. I just did my best to support and help out the main teacher however I could.

I am still a Flexi Adjunct Teacher in the school and hope to be there as long as I am able and needed!

[Editor Note: Mr Ang has finally announced his retirement from teaching on 1st Jan 2013, almost 17 years after his official retirement on 8th Jan 1996. He had returned as an adjunct teacher then. Thank you, Mr Ang, for what is almost a lifetime of service to your students and to Assumption English and Boys Town. They are definitely poorer without your presence and contributions!]

Pioneer Scout Boat Shed and Launch Area:

My First Grandchildren

After marriage, Julie and Jeow (my son-in-law) applied for an executive flat in Choa Chu Kang. While waiting for their new flat, they stayed at Jeow's old place in Jurong West Neighbourhood 4. Julie then transferred herself from her workplace at DBS in Ang Mo Kio to the branch in Jurong, just a short distance away from her temporary home.

Soon after, good news arrived. Julie had conceived! Before we knew it, the little boy arrived safely on 1st of August, 1993 at Mt Elizabeth Hospital. My first grandson! We named him Augustine after his birth month.

A year or so later, Julie and Jeow were successful in getting their executive flat in Choa Chu Kang North 5. They moved in after renovations were done. In 1995, Julie became pregnant again, this time with a girl. We named her Marissa.

As Julie and Jeow were both working, they had to hire a maid (Ravina, a Filipino) to look after the children and home. As the maid was young - around 20+ - we had to drop by Julie's home as often as we could to supervise. In the morning, with me in school teaching, my wife would take a train from AMK to Yew Tee and from there take bus 302 to get there. I would join her after school to look after those two darling little kids.

By 4-5 pm, we would leave as Julie and Jeow would be home soon.

Ravina the maid left after two years. Her replacement was a Nepalese mother of one. She was very obedient and loyal in character but lacked initiative and ability. She had to be instructed all the time. I remember Julie having to write out an action list for her to follow - what to do, what to cook, etc. This maid returned to her home country after 2 or 3 years, which was typical. Next came another Filipino maid. But unlike the first, she was problematic. She had family problems back home, was often moody and unstable. She was later recalled by the agent.

The next maid, our present one, is Leny, also from the Philippines. She has been working as a maid for many years and thus experienced. She's the best so far. She's self-motivated and need not be told what to do. She also keeps the house very clean and neat. She came when my grandkids were of pre-school age. Now, Augustine is in Sec 5 and Marissa is in Sec 3!

Julie and Jeow upgraded to a private condominium in Choa Chu Kang (Palm Gardens) in 2001. My wife and I followed suit a year later and moved from Ang Mo Kio to Hillview Avenue. We had been living in AMK for 22 years!

From my new home, I could drive to Julie's in about 15 minutes; to my school, in about 10. At school, I continued to be re-employed as an Associate Teacher after my official retirement in 1996.

The Romance of My Daughters

Around the late 80s or early 90s, my daughters Julie and Susan started their romances.

Julie paired up with Mr Jeow, an IT engineer. He turned out to be my past pupil, someone I had taught in Sec 2.

Julie and Jeow started dating and soon made plans to wed. Susan had quite a few admirers but her relationships with them did not end well.

One serious chap tried very hard to win her heart, even enlisting my help, but to no avail. He was flatly turned down. Susan's second suitor was the son of a businessman who would ask his company staff to deliver presents to our house. They dated for a year or two ('91-'92) and told us they wanted to get married. My wife and I did not object but we thought we should let Julie proceed first as she was the elder and already planning her wedding.

However, Susan's relationship with this young man stopped suddenly. Till this day, we do not know the reason(s) and she did not tell us. Unlike Julie, Susan could not communicate well with me and my wife at the time. But she did help out at Julie's wedding, which was held at the Ritz Carlton hotel. It was a small affair of about 20 tables. I did not invite my relatives nor friends; it was mostly theirs. After the wedding, the couple flew to the U.S. for their honeymoon.

Susan didn't take her break-up too badly but she did sort of blame us for not letting her get married when she'd asked. I found it a blessing for if a relationship could be broken off so easily, it meant it was not built on solid foundation in the first place. Susan's life soon went back to normal.

Daily, Routine Life

During school days, life was quite hectic.

Each morning, I would prepare breakfast for the family as well as myself for school. By 6.30 am, we were all ready to leave.

My daughters would take the nearby feeder service 217 to Serangoon Gardens Center to transfer to service 156 or 136 that would then take them to their school at Hillside Drive off Upper Serangoon Road. Before I get to my own school, I would drive to Toa Payoh first to pick up Mr Chiam and Mr Wee who were my colleagues teaching Chinese Language.

School would be over by 1 pm.

It was not the habit for teachers to stay back in school then. They would bring their work home, especially student's work, to mark. Usually I would be home by 2 pm. My private tuition sessions would then start at 3 pm and last till 5 pm. Another session ran from 7 pm to 9 pm.

It was like this for a few years.

My private tuition load was then slowly reduced after I joined CDAC as a tutor around 1989-90.

As my teacher's pay increased, I further reduced my extra income. By 2000 I had stopped all my private tuition classes.

As I had no more loan commitments to finance, money was not a problem. Besides, my wife and I seldom traveled. My daughters did most of that, almost annually, but out of their own pocket. Both of them were already working by the early 90s.

Julie started working after her 'A' levels as she did not qualify for a place at university. She became more stable in her career after she joined DBS in 1984. She is still there at the time of writing.

Susan, on the other hand, started work after she graduated from Singapore Poly in 1985. She started working as a temp staff in several different organisations before settling down at Simex, the forerunner of SGX today.

Our Ang Mo Kio Home

Our new home was in one of the three 25-storey point blocks at the eastern border of AMK. It was about 200m from Serangoon Gardens. The Central Expressway was not yet built and a short footpath led to a feeder service bus stop where we could catch a bus to Serangoon Gardens Centre. From there, we could transfer to other bus services to Upper Serangoon Road where my two daughter's school was. (St Joseph Convent is now in Sengkang.)

This so-called 5-room had three bedrooms and an L-shaped hall that was both the living room and dining area. The latter had glass doors that led to a spacious 8 x 8 feet balcony. The kitchen was slightly narrower than the one in our previous three-room flat in Toa Payoh.

The master bedroom was quite spacious and came with an attached bath. The other toilet in the flat was attached to the kitchen.

My wife and I of course, had use of the master-bedroom. My daughters they took the second bedroom in the middle between the living room and third bedroom.

The third bedroom was used for studies and tuition. Almost all my Toa Payoh students continued their tuition with me in Ang Mo Kio.

Tuition for extra income was common and necessary as the pay for teachers was very miserable then.

A qualified teacher like me was drawing only a $1000+ after 20 years of teaching. But prospects for teachers got better in the 80s (around '81 or '82, I think). Then Director for Education Mr Goh Kim Leung announced a substantial pay increase for teachers. I remember my pay scale (between $245 and $1670) jumped to a maximum of $3,600 per month with an annual increment of $50 to $100 as you went higher.

The instant increase in pay was $1,000+ to $2,000+. I cannot remember the exact amount.

It was really good news and good fortune for the teaching profession. And there was further good news for me after this.

A non-graduate teacher like me who have distinctions in English Language, English Literature and Mathematics could get an instant increment for each subject. So in 1984, I decided to try my luck. I signed up for English and Maths at 'O' level as a private candidate. Very fortunately, I received distinctions for both subjects: an A1 for Maths, and an A2 for English Language. I immediately received an increment of $200 added to my pay.

But life is never a bed of roses. We also had our ups and downs.

My wife was getting very depressed at times - full of grumblings over very small things. I had to take her to a specialist about her case. I had thought her thyroid problem returned but the tests proved negative.

Our specialist doctor recommended her to see a pyschiatrist. But when the psychiatrist asked to see me and my daughters, my wife changed her mind. She was afraid that we would provide inaccurate information or worse, false statements. I think she could not simply take the change in lifestyle and environment. The same thing happened to her when we moved to Toa Payoh in 1967. She was someone who needed time to adjust and adapt.

My two daughters also had problems.

Susan's neck problem came back when she was in Sec 3 or Sec 4 and had to be operated on. The problem did not go away and would came back often, almost yearly. In the end, we changed the doctor to Dr Yeo Kiau Hian who did a very good job. Recurrence was less.

All these happenings reminded me of Sister Bernard's words: "What God has taken from you, He compensate you in other ways."

You get something good, you pay for something bad.

Ang Mo Kio - Our Home for The Next 20 Years

Ang Mo Kio was the third satellite town after Toa Payoh and bigger.

From north to south, its Ave 1 borders Ave 9 and Bishan Park. Ave 2 and Ave 12 ran from east to west. Much of the estate was still under development when we moved in. The town center was under construction.

However, our neighbourhood was complete and had a wet market and shophouses. The wet market itself was just 200m from our flat. A feeder bus service plied past our place and would bring us to the town center where many more services terminated along Ave 3 where the AMK Hub is today. As AMK developed, more bus services were added and a bus terminus was eventually built in the late 80s. It was connected to the MRT station by an underground passage that cut across Ave 8.

From the east side of this avenue, direct trunk services to the city, Bedok, Tampines and Marine Parade would run. There were also direct trunk services to Bukit Merah Town Centre as well as Queenstown along the western side. There was also service 169 that ran from AMK to Woodlands Interchange. But till now, there isn't a bus service that runs to Choa Chu Kang or Bukit Panjang from Ang Mo Kio. Actually, come to think of it, AMK residents have been pampered with the many bus services that connect to many parts of the Singapore island, not to mention the many feeder bus services that run within the estate.

A Great Depression

I should really thank the kind and understanding people around us who kept us going during this great depression after Annie died. For days and weeks, I had colleagues who visited us either in groups or as individuals. They counseled and gave invaluable advice to dilute our suffering; most said that Annie would be in a better place, heaven. The Christian group from Susan's kindergarten also visited us often and gave us much comfort.

The principal of Julie's school, Convent of Our Lady of Good Counsel, also specially invited me to her office to counsel me. I remember a line from her: "What God has taken from you, he will compensate you in other ways."

Every teacher of Annie's said she was such an angel and that she would surely to go to heaven. Not long after, I had a dream one night. As a matter of fact, I dreamed of Annie very often after her passing. However, this one dream was very vivid. In it Annie told me that although she had been close to Christian activities, she could not go to heaven without a mass. I quickly asked her, "So where are you now and what do you want me to do?" I then woke up. The very next day, I went to her school and told her principal about it. I also asked her to help arrange a mass for Annie. It was soon carried out and my family and I attended.

Our family doctor, Dr Tan Kien Yong helped us by prescribing tranquilizers to relieve us from depression. Intellectually, I know I had to put the past behind me and move forward, but it was easier said than done.

For the first few months, I would break down for no reason. It would happen at least once a day.

It happened in school too where I worked, and I would rush to the toilet if there was time. When I stopped at a red light, I would feel the need to get out of the car. When I queued up to buy anything, I felt like running away. It was unbearable to wait for anything. All these happened even though I was on medication. It lasted three years.

My wife was stronger in this aspect. She might scream at times to let out her emotions but she was usually more stable and consoled me when I was down. I also felt uneasy during big functions like weddings. It was very tormenting to have to sit through them. There was great relief when the functions were over. I discovered that I was withdrawing  into myself.

I was lucky to have a good bunch of tuition students who kept me busy and occupied. And at the same time, providing me with more income.

After three long years, I became more seasoned to my misfortune. Some normalcy returned and I soon began eyeing the 5-room flats that were coming up in Ang Mo Kio during the late 70s.

My wife and I applied and were soon allotted one. The price then was about $35k. And for the first time, the HDB allowed us to sell our old flat in the open market. We found a buyer who was willing to pay our asking price of $20k. The balance for the new flat was covered by funds in my CPF account, so this new place was paid for once and for all from at the very start.

Getting the flat ready for occupation was a hassle but we did finally move in on 20th November, 1980. It was a Saturday.

I remember Susan and Julie going to their new home by bus, carrying their school bags and a colored photo of their late eldest sister, Annie. My wife and I had to remain behind to supervise the movers and afterwards drive ahead of them to Ang Mo Kio.

By the time we arrived, Julie and Susan were already in the house. And thus this was how we began our new phase of life in Ang Mo Kio.