Eight years ago, Madam Maznah Yusak received a call from a Primary 6 pupil telling her he wanted to commit suicide after a fight with his brother.
"I panicked," the 56-year-old admitted. "In order to buy time, I stayed with him on the phone and made him direct me to his home."
She took him to her home, along with some schoolmates, and managed to calm him down.
"I think he was scared and confused, and he had anger management issues."
The teacher of more than 37 years said that incident has stayed with her and spurred her to take greater care of her students.
"Knowing their backgrounds, I will spend time listening to them and sometimes I invite them to my house for special occasions such as Hari Raya," said the mathematics head of department and school discipline mistress at Chongzheng Primary School.
For her dedication, she was given the Caring Teacher Award, one of four handed out this year.
Teachers, principals, parents and students submitted more than 1,100 nominations for teachers from 248 schools.
The other winners of the biennial awards, co-organised by the National Institute of Education and ExxonMobil Asia Pacific, were Ms Juanita Toh from Si Ling Secondary, Ms Stephanie Ong from Teck Whye Secondary and Ms Corinne Zhu from Anderson Junior College.
Said Ms Zhu, 33: "I'm humbled when students share their experiences with me, because they need not do that."
"As a student, I had very good teachers who saw beyond the academics and helped me, a shy kid, discover myself," added the geography teacher of eight years.
A book paying tribute to the 35 winners since the award started in 1996 was launched by Senior Parliamentary Secretary for Education and Manpower Hawazi Daipi.
The four winners and their schools received plaques and $3,000 and $1,500 each respectively.
Eight other teachers who received commendations were awarded a plaque and a cash prize of $300 each.
This article was published on April 11 in The Straits Times.
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