By Kimberley Yeo (13S05B) and Rachel Tan (13S06D)
Watch out, everyone – you may be issued a white slip for forgetting your exam register number!
As RI’s no-nonsense discipline master, Mr Tan Boon Poh is known for the poker face expression that accompanies his interactions with students, from doling out lame jokes and white slips to reciting the infamous THINK. But if “Hurry up, come in!” or “Eh, where’s your badge?” is all you remember of him, you might have to tweak that opinion soon. In today’s Teacher Feature, we find out more about our stoic DM’s mysterious life as RI’s head rule enforcer and his marathon pursuits.
All his working life, Mr Tan has faithfully lectured batches after batches of Physics students in RI. Yet. why teaching in the first place? “As part of my mechanical engineering degree, I was on an industrial attachment for 6 months. I found it quite boring to do a 9 to 5 job, so I decided to do something more interesting and less regimental,” Mr Tan explained. But regiment eventually caught up – since 2008, he has been our second official Discipline Master.
Press: How exactly is a DM appointed and how did you feel when you first heard of your appointment? Any reservations?
Mr Tan: How ah? I don’t know leh. RJC only has only had two DMs, which are Mr Leong Yew Wah (Deputy Principal, Special Projects) and me. I was quite surprised when Mr Winston Hodge first asked me and I was wondering, “Why me?” Of course I had some reservations as I had totally no idea of what to do as a discipline master. The DM’s job is not just dealing with students. Part of it is also about working with teachers – how to get them to support the rules, how to enforce them and so on.
Fun fact: Mr Tan’s rule-enforcing days actually date back to primary school, where he was a prefect!
What is the best and worst thing about being DM?
Well, they are somewhat the same thing. When nothing happens and there are no cases to handle, I have more time for myself and I can be assured that the students are self-regulating. However, the worst thing would be when a lot of serious offences happen back to back and I will be busy with investigations, counselling the students and meeting parents.
What are some of the most absurd excuses you have heard from students?
Hmm, most absurd excuses… There was one during Take 5 just recently where two girls and one boy were trying to climb over the fence into the Port of Lost Wonder (the water play area for children with the pirate ship). So I stopped them and when I asked them why they were climbing over the fence – the boy had already climbed over, they responded saying they were going to the toilet, but there was no toilet in sight.
Also, I once came across this boy who was sitting in the canteen in slippers and he said it was because he was going for swimming training. And so I asked him why wasn’t he in his swimming trunks too.
What is the most annoying thing students do which you wish you could issue a warning slip for?
Students who write the wrong number on their OMR (Optical Mark Reader) answer sheet during exams. Because the marking is done automatically by computer, once someone shades the wrong number, I have to take out the piece and re-shade his number correctly for him. Actually, it is even worse when he shades in his classmate’s instead. This results in the machine computing his marks as his classmate’s. What is the worst is when his goes in before his classmates and the machine jams as there is a repetition of the same number. Then I’ll have to go and readjust and it takes a lot of time.
Also, students who don’t remember their register number and sit at the wrong tables in the examination hall. The whole class ends up sitting in the wrong place and they all have to shift, which can disrupt the concentration of the rest in the hall.
If you’ve caught Mr Tan running around the track, you might be immediately drawn to his attention-catching barefoot shoes. Interestingly enough, his interest in running was founded on more practical concerns rather than love for the activity itself. As he puts it, “The running was because I was preparing for my 2.4km run a few years ago. Since I take a bath after I run, I thought ‘Why not run further?’ And as I ran farther and farther I found it more enjoyable”.
As for the barefoot shoes, he discovered them in a book on running entitled “Born to Run”. And for the Physics behind it? Let’s just say that it’s somewhere along the lines of reaction forces, centre of gravity and acceleration.
So the barefoot shoes help you run farther?
It is not so much that the barefoot shoes help me in running farther. I find that it helps me have a more natural style of running and reduce the impact on my knee. You try to land on the ground first with the middle of your foot or your forefoot below your center of gravity (CG). To me, it’s a new style of running. Most people who wear barefoot shoes run in this style, because it’s very painful to strike the ground first with your heel as barefoot shoes do not offer any cushioning. So the more technical part is that you try to take shorter strides to prevent overextending your leg. You make up for the shorter strides by taking more frequent steps.
Have you gone for any marathons?
I’ve run two marathons and more than ten half marathons. Which is why I say you need to set a target. Because if you just run, you’ll just get bored. So usually I will sign up for a race, like my upcoming one is the RUN350. Once I paid to sign up, must go right? Then go already, should come in with some good timing, right. So every race, I’ll set a target, like 2 h 15 min for a half marathon. Then I’ll follow a training programme – run how many times a week, what type of run to run and timing for each run.
2 h 15 min. For a half marathon.
Any ultimate goal?
No I’m not the competitive type, so as long as I enjoy running that’s fine.
It’s not just about issuing white slips and applying Physics concepts to running – Mr Tan also shared with us how being DM has prepared him for the nobler task of parenthood.
So do you have any other hobbies?
Hmm not really, I think it’s just running, and taking care of my kids. I don’t have much time for anything else.
May we ask if you discipline your children in the same way as you do in school?
It depends. When I talk to most of the students in RI, they do understand and change their behaviour. But for kids, they can be too young to understand what you are talking about, so that’s where a cane comes in useful.
Do you think being DM has prepared you for disciplining your children?
Yes, sad to say, from the cases I handle I’ve learnt what not to do when bringing up children.
So to end off, any advice for someone who would like to start exercising regularly?
Begin with the end in mind. You need to set up a target, what you want to do. Then come up with a plan and have the discipline to stick to the plan.
We would like to convey our sincerest thanks to Mr Tan for so graciously agreeing to this candid interview and hope that none of you will forget your register numbers this upcoming CTs!
Photos courtesy of Mr Tan and Tsai Minyi."Teacher Feature: Mr Tan Boon Poh",