The dust is settling after live coverage of the 2022 National Day Parade turned parade-goer Azuan Tan into an Internet star. The English and PE teacher from Bedok View Secondary School talks to Schoolbag about the teacher whose single question shaped his view on giving back to society – and explains for the tears that fell on camera that day.
It has been two weeks since Mr Azuan Tan made headlines at the National Day Parade.
His face, with tears streaming down as he sang the national anthem, was captured on camera and in minutes, everyone wanted to know the man behind the emotion.
When Schoolbag caught up with him recently, he had already appeared on TV, radio, online media, and social media memes. Long-lost friends had called to say hi and he was glad for the opportunity to catch up with them.
The good-natured English and Physical Education teacher at Bedok View Secondary School is also the Year Head for Upper Secondary and has found the incident to be a great conversation starter with his students about being the best versions of themselves in the service of others.
Mr Azuan (third from right), pictured with some of his Secondary 5 students during an Umpiring Skills and Games Officiating Workshop. As part of their VIA this year, the students will organize and officiate the school’s Annual Inter Class Frisbee Competition for their Secondary 4 peers.
“We had just come out from the pandemic; the struggle is everyone’s story,” says Mr Tan, 41, who has been in the teaching force for more than 14 years.
“I’ve always felt patriotic on National Day more than other days but being at the parade live and soaking it all in and thinking of everyone who had been fighting so hard on the frontlines for Singapore, my emotions just got the better of me.”
To his students, he relates his thoughts on selfless contribution to Bedok View’s school crest, which features a lighthouse overlooking waves. “As young students, they climb up the stairs of the lighthouse, soaking in the many beneficial experiences of school,” he explains. “At Secondary 4 and 5, they are standing at the top of the lighthouse and looking out at the horizon. This is the time for them to not only see the next steps on their education journey, but also to be a beacon that lights the way for others.”
“My parents and teachers have always told me that no matter what I do, or how busy I am, I must help others in need.”
He learned the spirit of giving from a teacher
Mr Tan’s admiration for Singaporeans who contributed to fighting the Covid-19 pandemic is rooted in his own school experience.
As a Scout back in secondary school, he participated in Job Week, a traditional Scouting activity where they visit households and do chores, such as gardening tasks, washing cars or cleaning windows, for a token sum that goes to charity.
One year, Mr Tan and his fellow Scouts were comparing the different jobs they completed and how much funds they had raised. Listening in, their teacher-in-charge Mdm Chin Hock Yew asked them to look again at their assessment, this time based on how valuable the jobs were to the people they helped.
Immediately, Mr Tan and his buddy named the elderly couple whom they helped to shift the potted plants in their garden, who could not perform the task on their own; they realised in that instance that value was not – and should not – always be tied to money.
“With her simple question, Mdm Chin reminded me to reflect on who I’ve helped, rather than the monetary value of my actions,” he says. “My school life has taught me that it is important to give back. My teachers and parents have always told me that no matter what I do, or how busy I am, I must help others in need.”
Motivating students to give back to society
Mr Tan’s belief in giving back to society drives much of his teaching work.
He is a member of the school’s Character and Citizenship Education (CCE) committee, which guides in lessons on national education, values and contemporary issues. Included are projects and initiatives that he and his colleagues design to develop an intrinsic motivation in their students to be of service to others.
Take the school’s Values-In-Action (VIA) programme, for instance. At the start of every year, Secondary 4 and 5 students participate in “VIA Marketplace”, where they meet and listen to the needs of Voluntary Welfare Organisations (VWO) advocating for various causes in the Bedok community. Classes will then select a VWO to partner and champion the cause.
One class started a campaign to improve the welfare of migrant workers in Singapore, which was later disrupted by the Covid-19 pandemic. When Safe Management Measures were eased temporarily, the class quickly collected items to be used in care packages, contacted the VWO, and delivered the care packs to migrant workers. Some students continued to volunteer with the VWO even after the project ended.
“We view acts of service as something that cannot be imposed on,” says Mr Tan on the importance of giving students autonomy. “The act of volunteerism must be derived from how much they feel for the organisation and how much they want to give.”
“It’s not just about going to a beach to pick up litter and call it a day,” he muses. “We hope the students feel something for a specific cause that truly resonates with them.”
The school actively encourages students to contribute in other ways. In late 2020, the school rallied students to write cards and letters to healthcare workers. They replied with messages of appreciation – to the students’ delight. “Little acts can make a huge difference too,” Mr Azuan says.
Students with boards full of appreciation messages to frontline workers.
Off-duty, Mr Azuan is a regular community volunteer. When the pandemic first started, for example, he and his friends distributed masks and care packages to residents in the Pasir Ris-Punggol area
He is waiting for the chatter surrounding his National Day appearances to fade, and for the spotlight to return to the people his heart went out to: everyone who had fought to keep Singapore safe during the pandemic, from medical professionals to “the whole teaching fraternity who worked so hard these two years”.
As for him, “I just hope to be viewed as someone who does his best to be of service to society and to give back.”
From planting trees to upcycling waste – Uniformed Groups and various Co-Curricular Activities (CCA) from Bedok View Secondary School participated in a school-wide National Day VIA programme earlier this month. They are pictured here in front of a mural made up of upcycled bottle caps.
Read about two “Supermen” from Ahmad Ibrahim Primary School – a pair of Operation Managers who forged a resilient partnership that turned into a friendship during the Covid-19 pandemic in: Braving the storm together
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