By Jennani Durai
MRS Rosiah Giri believes that every child, no matter how seemingly unlovable, has undiscovered strengths.
Which is why the Da Qiao Primary School teacher refused to give up six years ago on a Primary1 pupil other teachers found 'bossy and aggressive', and who continued to have various disciplinary problems throughout primary school.
Mrs Rosiah chose to entrust the girl with leadership responsibilities instead, and today, the girl in question, Lee Jia Tong, 11, is the vice-head prefect of the school.
The girl was one of many who nominated Mrs Rosiah for the ExxonMobil National Caring Teacher Award, which she won along with two other teachers last Wednesday.
It is teachers like Mrs Rosiah, and not tests or textbooks, who make education successful, and the best teachers are the most caring ones, said Senior Minister of State for Education Grace Fu, the guest of honour at the award ceremony.
The awards, given out biennially since 1996, were also presented to Mr Chan Kar Hong, 38, from Kent Ridge Secondary School, and Mrs June Fong, 51, from National Junior College (NJC).
Mrs Rosiah, a teacher of 14 years, is married and has three daughters, aged 11, 16 and 19. She attributes her success in giving time and love to both her pupils and her daughters to the great support she has received from her school and family.
'My mother-in-law would look after my children as they were growing up if I were not at home, and my principal has also been kind about helping to support my teaching load with adjunct teachers,' she said.
Mrs Rosiah, 45, said what kept her going were the gestures of appreciation from her pupils: 'Seeing a child make a big turnaround, or even little smiles of thanks they give me, keep me going.'
More than 2,000 nominations were received from students, teachers and principals of 161 schools for the awards. The ceremony was jointly organised by the National Institute of Education and ExxonMobil Asia Pacific.
NJC's Mrs Fong, a biology teacher, said caring for students did not mean being overly friendly with them. 'Classroom management is an important part of caring. It's not about pandering to our students' every need.
'Our decisions might make us less popular initially, but if our firmness is combined with fairness, students will come to appreciate us for it,' she said.
Mr Chan, too, has been responsible for turning around the lives of many of Kent Ridge Secondary's at-risk students, said principal Koh Chong Mong.
'Someone with a less clear sense of purpose would have given up, because the change in students doesn't come immediately,' said Mr Koh.
Mr Chan, a mathematics and physical education teacher, said he felt that teachers have a 'fundamental responsibility' to care for their students.
'Every one of us can make a difference in a child's life. Every one of us should,' he said.
This article was first published in The Straits Times.