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Ho Ai Li
Mon, Dec 17, 2007
The Straits Times
President's Scholar chose career in teaching

A CHIP OFF THE OLD BLOCK: What Ms Lucy Tay has noticed about the most inspiring teachers she has come across - including her father, the late Dr Tay Eng Soon - is that they love what they do. -- ST PHOTO: JOYCE FANG

HE WAS a wonderful teacher, a mischievous one even.

To Ms Lucy Tay, now 36, her father, the late senior minister of state for education Tay Eng Soon, was a teacher who believed in a light-hearted approach.

He would often unsettle her and her siblings when tutoring them in schoolwork.

When going over a physics question, for instance, he would start by deriving the formula using unorthodox variables.

'He was trying to teach me that all this knowledge was created or discovered and it didn't just appear in a textbook,' she said.

'It was something that was fun to dig into, not something to learn by rote.'

Dr Tay, who died in 1993, is one of the educators featured in a new book marking the Ministry of Education's (MOE) 50th anniversary.

The former Member of Parliament for River Valley and Eunos GRC left his mark on the education system through his work on the polytechnics and the Institute of Technical Education (ITE).

Dr Tay made sure that no expense was spared in educating students in the Normal (Technical) course. These students were said to be less academically inclined, but in 1984, they were the first here to get computers, which were expensive items then.

Before becoming a politician, he was an academic at the National University of Singapore.

Ms Tay's earliest memories are of her father marking papers at home, something he clearly enjoyed.

He remained a teacher to the end of his life, teaching Sunday school at the Barker Road Methodist Church.

As she discovered later, he also believed in educating people through his speeches, all of which he wrote himself.

His concern for the common man rubbed off on her, as she found herself drawn to helping neighbourhood school students.

A teaching stint at Boon Lay Secondary after her A levels proved to be an eye-opener.

'I found out that one of my students had had an abortion,' she shared. It was upsetting for her because the girl was so young.

It also helped her make her mind up about taking up teaching, something others considered a 'second-class' job.

While her peers opted for careers in law, diplomacy, the military or journalism, Ms Tay, a President's Scholar, chose to become a teacher.

She has found it rewarding.

'The feeling that you have played a part in the growing years of another human being's life is very meaningful,' she said.

She taught English and Literature at Yusof Ishak Secondary and Crescent Girls' School. She was the vice-principal of Chua Chu Kang Secondary before joining the MOE's curriculum planning & development division.

Ms Tay, who is married with three sons, is now with MOE's personnel department, where she helps recruit teachers.

What she has noticed about the most inspiring teachers she has come across, including her father, is that they love what they do.

'There's a twinkle in their eyes and there's a chuckle,' she said. 'I think work has to done that way, with enjoyment and appreciation.'

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