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‘More than token thank-yous’: Rethink how Teachers’ Day is celebrated in Singapore

The world marked International Teachers’ Day on Oct 5, a month after Singapore had its own in early September.

‘More than token thank-yous’: Rethink how Teachers’ Day is celebrated in Singapore
Vincent Bong Chin Hong

The world marked International Teachers’ Day on Oct 5, a month after Singapore had its own in early September.

As a junior-college graduate who is about to finish two years of National Service, I had the opportunity to reflect on how this meaningful day could be commemorated without being bound by the plans of any school.

Being in the rank-and-file of the Army, I often bemoan the tough love shown by commanders, as opposed to teachers’ more patient instructions.

Our alma maters could not afford to have many of the alumni reunite with teachers this year because of the pandemic.

Nevertheless, many of us took to text messaging and social media to wish our teachers well.

I took the opportunity to catch up with my teachers by texting them on WhatsApp, which I rarely did when I was in school.

After spending years in school, Teachers’ Day still came across to me as an obligation rather than something to which I dedicated my heart.

Strangely, without the gifts and face-to-face celebratory activities this year, my options were limited and I imitated what my friends did by sending simple text messages via WhatsApp.

Yet this was all it took for a positive experience to flourish. I felt happier than I did celebrating my teachers’ contributions in school, because I was more connected with them and was trying to understand how they have been.

Looking back, I remember feeling uncomfortable celebrating Teachers’ Day.

Perhaps I had the mindset that Teachers’ Day was about showy gestures of appreciation.

My view is that we should always be sincere in our actions by imbuing meaning in whatever appreciation and gifting we do for our teachers.

As such, I would hate to see Teachers’ Day devolve into a mindless rite.

Let us re-examine our relationship with this special day and explore other means of appreciating our teachers.

Don’t get me wrong. I find it unnecessary to remove the celebrations that we have had for so long, because these activities can impart valuable soft skills.

When students collaborate on performances or rack their brains to make a memorable gift for teachers, they can acquire communication skills, and hone their creativity and ability to work in teams.

Instead, I advocate a more open-ended and engaging version of Teachers’ Day.

Appreciation does not always have to be about repeated thank-yous and material goods.

Here are some suggestions:

  • Give feedback to our teachers in envelopes

  • Engage our teachers in games such as Truth or Dare to know them better

  • Hold retreat sessions where students and teachers can talk about their aspirations, review one another’s performance since the start of the school year or debate issues faced by the school. Doing so can not only help everyone appreciate the role of teachers and education, but reduce the workload teachers bear in putting together progress reviews or reports

I understand that these are not necessarily easy or convenient to roll out, but we owe more to our teachers than token thank-yous.

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