By Desmond Ng
BACK in the airforce, he was a weapons specialist tasked with loading bombs and missiles onto F16 fighter jets.
It is, to the young, one of the most exciting and 'cool' jobs out there, noted Mr Ivan Ng, a former airforce regular.
But after 10 years of dealing with demolitions, Mr Ng, 34, decided that he should create bright sparks in schools instead by teaching.
While some may argue that being a teacher is less glamorous than being a weapons specialist, Mr Ng would tell you otherwise.
He gave up one dream job to pursue another.
And he readily agrees that making a mid-career switch is never easy - especially when it means studying something totally unrelated.
For this new father, the arrival of his first child made it doubly difficult.
He said: 'It was a difficult decision. I took a paycut of about 30 per cent to venture into something quite unknown. But I wanted a change of environment, and I realised that after 10 years in the airforce, I can't do that (being a weapons specialist) for good.'
The former staff sergeant then enrolled for a two-year diploma in education programme with the National Institute of Education (NIE) in 2007.
He was paid about $2,000 a month while studying, and will be bonded with the Ministry of Education for three years.
His initial fears about not being able to juggle family commitments and studies proved unfounded. He beat about 650 students to emerge the valedictorian in a graduation ceremony on Tuesday.
He also picked up the Dr Shila Fernandez Prize for the best performance in the Diploma in Education programme ( communication skills for teachers and the English language).
Some 1,900 newly-qualified teachers received their NIE diplomas earlier this week.
Mr Ng, who is married to a leasing manager, has a one-year-old son.
His wife, Madam Yvonne Tham, 34, said she had some reservations when her husband wanted to be a teacher.
She said: 'It was tough taking the pay cut. When he was a relief teacher for the first six months, he had to plan the lessons, teach, mark assignments, and he often returned home late. The workload was tiring.
'But I saw that he has a passion for teaching and he should pursue that.'
For Mr Ng, hitting the books was the toughest part because he was never academically inclined, he said.
'I am not the studying type. I am a very technical person and I prefer a hands-on approach instead. But I had to push myself if I wanted to be teacher,' he said.
Mr Ng graduated with a diploma in mechatronics from Singapore Polytechnic in 1995.
He also completed his part-time bachelor of science degree programme with the Singapore Institute of Management (SIM) four years ago.
When he started the course at NIE, he had to constantly juggle his responsibilities as a husband, a new father and meeting deadlines for course assignments.
There were the late-night feedings for the baby, the diaper changes, lessons to attend during the day and readings to do at night.
He said: 'I was the oldest student in my tutorial classes and initially I felt out of place with my classmates, who were in their early 20s.
'I also faced distractions from family issues, my wife (yes, wives can be pleasant distractions), and most recently, the arrival of my son, Ian, a year ago.'
But he learnt to manage his time and resources to cope with the rigorous demands of school.
He admitted that teaching is not a cushy profession but said that the interaction with students from diverse backgrounds and making a difference to their lives will more than make up for his personal sacrifice.
He has since been posted to a neighbourhood primary school where he'll teach English, Mathematics and Science.
In his valedictory speech, Mr Ng said: 'While we will sometimes feel deflated and tired, the flame in us that fires our passion must never die.
'If that happens, one of my tutors quoted, 'Please leave the profession, for you are doing more harm than good'.
'A jaded teacher who doesn't care will not be able to polish the raw diamonds that are our students.'
This article was first published in The New Paper.