Last year, one of Noor Haida Mohd Jakaria's pupils celebrated his birthday in class by giving out some goodies his parents had prepared for his friends. While the birthday song was being sung, another boy in the corner of the class whispered to Noor Haida: "It's my birthday next week."
Knowing that his family had not celebrated his birthday in years as they had little means to do so, she bought him a chocolate cake the following week.
"I remember him distributing the cake proudly to his classmates and even offering a slice to the principal," says Noor Haida, 52, a Mother Tongue teacher at Chongzheng Primary.
This was just one of her many kind acts. For her dedication, she was given the Caring Teacher Award 2016, one of four handed out this year.
"It is not so much about your words but the little actions that show them you care and give them the confidence to believe in themselves, though some of them are academically weak and come from socially-disadvantaged backgrounds," she says.
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BEYOND THE CALL OF DUTY
Teachers, principals, parents and students submitted more than 1,100 nominations for teachers from 234 schools. The other winners of the biennial awards, co-organised by the National Institute of Education and ExxonMobil Asia Pacific, are Janet Poh from Yu Neng Primary, Lee Han from Christ Church Secondary and Santha Selva Raju from Innova Junior College.
Ten other teachers received commendation awards.
"Caring teachers are prepared to go beyond the call of duty. If necessary, sacrificing their own time and energy to be true to the mission to bring out the best in their students," said Associate Professor Muhammad Faishal Ibrahim, Parliamentary Secretary for Education, who presented the awards.
For Noor Haida, such sacrifices took the form of paying multiple visits to the homes of pupils. She recalled a time when she hunted down a pupil who was absent from school for weeks at a stretch.
The family lived in a rental flat and she learnt from a neighbour that the family had been allocated another rental flat. When she finally tracked them down, she discovered that the mother could not send her son to school because of financial and other problems.
She helped the family sort out these problems and three weeks later, the pupil returned to school. Says Noor Haida: "Building trust goes beyond the classroom walls. When they make mistakes or come up with excuses, delve deeper and try to understand them."
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A version of this article first appeared in The Straits Times.