Honour Your Profession by Ho Peng

By Ho Peng,
Director-General of Education
Honour Your Profession by Ho Peng

Dear Young Officer,

Much of the way I live my life bears the imprint of my mother’s teachings. She was promised school if she worked hard growing sugar cane and sweet potatoes during the Japanese occupation. She worked hard, but school never materialised. Fortunately, there was the itinerant teacher of Chinese classics, who gave Mum a strong grounding in Chinese history and classics. When I told her my decision to become a teacher, she was overjoyed.

I clearly remember what she said to me: “jing ye le ye” (敬业乐业). Honour your profession, and find joy in it. Give it your very best. This has been a guiding principle in my life. As teacher, it was hard work juggling the myriad of tasks in teaching and knowing the students. It was especially in extra-curricular activities that one got to know the character and temperament of students. Those moments were invaluable in guiding their growth as young adults. Going the extra mile often meant burnt weekends and school holidays. Perhaps it was my stubborn nature that made me dig in my heels, refusing to give up even when the going was tough.

As a principal in the 1990s, I saw the world through the eyes of my students, many from struggling homes, and sadly, non-intact families. discipline was poor when i took over the school. It took me six months to evolve a clear set of school rules.

As principal, it was a true test of leadership: balancing the needs of students and teachers, deciding on what to do in the short run, as well as the future direction of the school. It required clear thinking, stamina, drive and perseverance. To listen was important. This had a ripple effect, with more and more teachers and parents stepping up when they saw discernible improvements in the school that had resulted from feedback. There were countless suggestions on ways to build school pride and improve learning, programmes and facilities.

Honour your profession, and find joy in it. Give it your very best. This has been a guiding principle in my life.

After extensive consultation with stakeholders, we wrote to the Ministry of Education, requesting to move the school out of the vicinity of the railway station to quieter surroundings. The approval was a powerful rallying call that gave the school a new verve. I could see the school turning round, as discipline improved and a strong sense of community emerged. The school was later selected as one of 22 “Demo Schools” when the first ICT Masterplan was launched, with the inspection team summing it all up – that we had a “caring school”.

From this success, what are the lessons distilled?

  • Listen intently and walk the ground, to know issues and concerns, to know who could be tapped on, and be alerted to pitfalls. This helps in clarifying your thinking. When in a dilemma, I often ask myself what would benefit the most people in the longer run. It also pays to consult key stakeholders and seek advice from those with the relevant experience.
  • People are important. Respect them. Be fair and impartial. Rally people and build strong teams so that improvements would be sustainable. Be patient too – the best results are obtained when there is a confluence of the right people coming together at the right time.
  • Finally, go the extra mile. To be a leader, you have to work harder than anyone else. This means you need to be physically fit and emotionally ready to run the course well. Have a regular exercise regime, and take time out to re-charge. Most importantly, connect with family and friends. They provide you the emotional support to keep on going.

I have no regrets – this has been a life worth living, a good life, because I make a difference to the many young lives that pass through my hands.

    Sep 13, 2012
    Ho Peng
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