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Loving the Earth, and Teaching about It

16 Jul 2008

Ms Chua Hwee Pheng

Miss Chua is a Girl Guides captain and plays an active role in the CCA.

Ask Pasir Ris Crest Secondary School teacher Miss Chua Hwee Pheng about the love of her life, and she’ll point at her golden retriever, Rocky (also known as “Handsome”). He’s not the only animal that she sees regularly - Miss Chua is also an active volunteer with the Night Safari and ACRES (Animal Concerns Research & Education Society). “I love animals and I’m passionate about the state of the earth,” she declares.

She’s passionate about teaching too. Miss Chua is the acting subject head for Social Studies covering the Humanities department, the National Education coordinator, Learning Festival committee member, and teacher-in-charge of the Girl Guides; she also sits on two committees at Girl Guides Singapore. A committed teacher, she has been nominated for the 2008 Outstanding Youth in Education Award (OYEA).

Making the right choices

Miss Chua’s philosophy is simple: “In life, we are always called upon to make choices. Once we’ve made our decision, it’s important for us to find the time and put in the necessary effort to do the things well.” This extends from her personal to professional pursuits, including her Geography classes.

“At the start of each academic year, I remind my students that since they chose to take this subject, they have to respect it,” she explains. “Then I get the class to come up with their own rules governing expectations and behaviour, rules that will help them learn better.”

Trying to test limits, her students sometimes try to slip in a rule mandating that no homework should be issued. Her response? “I’ve agreed to ‘No homework’, simply by calling the assignments ‘Homejoy’, and we all laugh about it. The students understand why I can’t accept that rule,” she says. “I will also share my two rules: ‘Agree to disagree’ and ‘Participate actively’.”

Ms Chua Hwee Pheng

Miss Chua brought her Sec 3 Geography class to explore Bukit Timah Hill last year.

Miss Chua is a believer in the theory of multiple intelligences, so her lessons sometimes take a different direction from what her students expect but in fact cater to their different needs. “To teach Social Studies and Geography at upper secondary, I can introduce case studies that span governance, current affairs, national issues and international conflicts to make the lessons interesting, yet relevant,” she mentions.

Miss Chua also provides her students with the kind of environment that will help them to learn better. “When they say they want to be able to walk about and talk in class, they’re always surprised when I say okay. But if I putting myself in their shoes, I think these are fair requests. My students are largely tactile learners, they get restless and need something to break the monotony. I understand and respect those needs.”

An animal-lover, through and through

Despite the many responsibilities she shoulders in school, Miss Chua also keeps up with her commitments to the community. Every evening, she and Rocky take an evening walk around her neighbourhood to greet the senior citizens who love to fuss over the dog. “My evening walk is both a joy and a stress reliever. We consider ourselves the ‘citizen patrol’ of the neighbourhood.”

And twice a month, the affable young woman dons a volunteer ranger’s hat and takes her teaching to a different environment - talking to visitors at the Night Safari about the importance of conservation. Her experiences in the community can also enrich what she brings to the classroom discussions about animals, conservation and other environmental-related issues.

Having received the OYEA award is a pat on the shoulder for Ms Chua, who notes that it is an affirmation of what she has done, and a source of motivation to continue contributing to both school and community. She says. “I will continue to do my job in the best possible way” - as a teacher, volunteer, conservation advocate and much more.