Teachers’ Day 2021: Before I Was A Teacher

By Chern Huan Yee (22S06A), Clara Chai Xinni (22A01D) and Lara Tan Rui-Qi (22A01B)

In this Teachers’ Day Special, we feature three teachers with exciting past job experiences and explore their journey towards ‘teacher-dom’.

NAME: MR PATRICK WONG

DEPARTMENT: KNOWLEDGE SKILLS (GP)

Students of this eclectic GP teacher might know him for his multilingual morning greetings, enthusiastic love for nature and constant references to classic literature. (He’s also our Press teacher-in-charge!)

With his immense breadth of knowledge and meticulous organisational skills, it should hardly be a surprise that this enigmatic specimen from the Knowledge Skills Department has lived many lives before joining Raffles Institution. 

As we met after a GP lesson in HP block for a chat, Mr Patrick Wong caught me up on just one of his two past jobs; working in marketing communications in SPH for 7 and a half years. 

Mr Wong found his calling in the form of an advertisement in the Classified section of the Straits Times, “looking for someone who could write well”. With his wife’s encouragement, Mr Wong sent in a job application full of his trademark witticisms and ended up working in (you guessed it) the Classified section, which at the time was trying to expand its horizons. Mr Wong quips that it was such exposure to different facets of life that gave him his knowledge about the world and all its complexities. 

Apart from round-the-clock writing and tediously sorting through pictures to put in advertisements (long before the existence of stock images), Mr Wong also picked up useful life skills such as event organisation, time management and even DJ-ing. 

His time at work also allowed him to form precious memories with his coworkers, with whom he still keeps in contact till today. He fondly remembers the great chemistry he had with his boss, who interviewed him sporting a Mickey Mouse tie and even appeared on the same music album as him. 

Mr Wong’s career in SPH saw his steady rise through the ranks until he was promoted to senior manager. However, he felt that the new position did not suit him as he missed his on-the-ground role, owing to his love for hands-on learning. Compounded by technological advancements with the arrival of the internet and the pressing need to adapt, as well as support his young family, the stress soon took a toll on his health. The “daily kick” from meeting his urgent deadlines soon became draining, and egged on by his wife, Mr Wong decided to leave SPH. 

While he acknowledged that he left on a rather bittersweet note, Mr Wong did not regret leaving his job. As he wisely pointed out, “Things can end bad; it doesn’t mean they’re all bad”. He took away numerous valuable lessons, such as leadership skills from his boss, who always “cared about us [them] first and protected us [them] from the bosses above”. 

He also stressed that he wished his younger self knew he was much more than just a worker: for example, a friend, a husband and father, and a “thinker”. 

To RI students: Slow down more, enjoy the process and cut yourself some slack.

Overall, Mr Wong’s time at SPH has arguably made him the quirky yet wise and principled teacher he is. For the 90-something Y5s he teaches, he’s a sparkling gem full of witticisms, but also a caring mentor who will always lend his good ear to hear students out. 


NAME: MR ARIFFIN FARID

DEPARTMENT: KNOWLEDGE SKILLS (GP)

Mr Ariffin Farid, better known to his students as Mr Fin, describes himself as a ‘complicated’ person. A former Rafflesian, he led an academic life similar to ours – spending most of his time as a student in libraries or in front of a computer – but his restlessness and compulsion to do something different led him down an unorthodox path in his youth. 

When Mr Fin was eighteen, he signed with a gym, picking up boxing as a hobby slash part-time job. His parents weren’t on board with this decision, and they attended only 3 of his 22 fights. Initially, he did Olympic boxing, but as he had no interest in representing Singapore, he eventually transitioned to semi-pro boxing. After he entered university, he continued to juggle training and coaching with his studies. 

Mr Fin’s days usually started at 5am with a long run before attending school until around 4pm. Afterwards, he would hit the gym till 10pm, working on sparring, skipping and weight training. “It was a very devoted lifestyle,” said Mr Fin. “I was a trained fighter, so the only payment I received was for fighting for the gym or taking over classes when needed.” He would also work with the Singapore Boys Home on occasion, helping them find purpose in sports. 

He recalled with amusement how he got knocked out in his first fight – he was overconfident and underestimated his opponent, resulting in him blacking out within the first minute and waking up in the hospital hours later. 

I feel that boxing sometimes gets a bad rep for being a violent, visceral sport, but its intensity and simplicity taught me a lot.

Boxing allowed Mr Fin to realise the threshold of his endurance and found him a new well of self-confidence. However, he eventually chose to give it up, citing the dangers of the sport and his wife’s persuasion as the key reasons. Afterwards, he dabbled in playing in a band and was a regular soldier until he was injured. Eventually, he decided to pursue teaching, and as they say, the rest is history.

“It was difficult to let boxing go, but teaching had a similar intensity that I enjoyed. I could apply the same discipline and endurance from my training into tackling relentless marking regimes. So, why delay?”


NAME: MR LARRY LEE

DEPARTMENT: KNOWLEDGE SKILLS (GP)

For a period of three years starting in 2007, before coming to teach at RI, Mr Larry Lee was a full time secondary school counsellor. But his journey actually began seven years prior to that, after a GP tutorial at Anderson JC — when he noticed a student’s distress and was there to ask about how she felt, allowing her to tell her story of family physical abuse. 

“What struck me was the power of listening intently,” he told me, “and I subsequently decided this was a really cool enterprise where you enabled someone just by listening to their story.”

The questions allowed her to open up, eventually letting her and her mother to come out of an abusive relationship; not long after that, Mr Lee decided to “go the whole hog” and train to become a full time school counsellor. 

Upon being asked what a regular day as a counsellor was like, Mr Lee responded: “Er, what regular day?” 

He and his team of social workers would work with students in at-risk situations whose parents could not handle; their profiles included addictive behaviours, moral endangerment, and learning disabilities. 

In addition to formal counselling sessions with students, he also wrote up day programs for at-risk youth and conducted group civics lessons. Quarterly, he’d coordinate findings with Juvenile Courts probation officers and present assessments to the judge on a child’s readiness to return to school after they’d spent time in sheltered facilities such as the Boy’s/Girl’s home.

The team placed special importance on looking at family systems as an prominent aspect of case conceptualization (or in layman terms, understanding of the clients’ problems) in order to properly help an at-risk student. This was made pertinent in light of a tragic case of a boy who seemed to be fully rehabilitated but still ran away from his facility. Mr Lee explained, “My work with him revealed how broken families impacted children in a way that may be irreversible.” 

Despite having to stop being a counsellor due to a ministerial decision, Mr Lee revealed that his experiences there have indeed helped him in teaching, especially with regards to engaging and understanding students better.

[Counselling] allowed me special access to understanding the mental model of a child; I am always conscious I should talk less and listen more.

He cited the practice of Unconditional Positive Regard; providing acceptance and support regardless of what a client says. Mr Lee concluded, “I find it immensely rewarding and privileged to hear [students] tell their stories to me and to have me as a confidante.”


It’s clear that past experiences – even those not necessarily related to education – have shaped our teachers to be who they are today. Wishing all our teachers a very happy Teachers’ Day!

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