S'porean Navy scholar twins who failed multiple subjects in secondary school return to thank teacher before she retires

"I thought I make you emo, end up you make me emo," the Bendemeer Secondary alumnus wrote.

Zhangxin Zheng | Lee Wei Lin | June 02, 2022, 11:20 AM

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They say a teacher can change their students' lives, and these Singaporeans are living proof of that.

45-year-old Chew Chun-Chau shared on Facebook about how his former form teacher at Bendemeer Secondary School, Tan Meng Juat, guided him and his twin brother, Chew Chun-Liang, to turn their lives around.

A teacher who believed in them

Chun-Chau recalled how he was considered a "weak student" as he and his brother were ranked 179th and 178th respectively out of their cohort of 181.

Speaking to Mothership, Chun-Chau added that he could only get into Bendemeer Secondary School to join his brother after an appeal, as he did not get into any of the six schools of his choice after primary school.

Secondary three was a particularly tough period for Chun-Chau as he remembered feeling "really lousy and useless with zero confidence".

Besides not doing well academically, the twins' mother was diagnosed with cancer back then. This worsened the family's financial condition too.

At the time, Chun-Chau felt that he was "on the brink of quitting school".

Fortunately, the brothers met Tan who was their form teacher.

She believed in them and guided them through their O-Levels. Both brothers were then admitted to Ngee Ann Polytechnic's School of Engineering.

Chun-Chau described that as the turning point in their lives.

Memorable moments

While the Chew brothers often got reprimanded or punished by Tan for their mischief in the past, what really made a difference was how Tan had not complained about the twins to their parents during Meet-the-Parents sessions.

Chun-Chau told Mothership:

"I thought it would be another complaint session to my parents but I was completely caught by surprise. Ms Tan was singing praises of both of us! She told my parents that we were good boys, with very good values. She said she saw potential in us and we would make it if we focus on some of our weak areas!

I was surprised that for the first time in my life, a teacher sang praises of me and gave me hope. This was just one of the many occasions that I started to begin to believe in myself and started to feel that I could really do it!"

Chun-Liang also recalled how Tan was a nurturing and patient teacher:

"She had never raised her voice at us before. She adopted a nurturing approach to the class, something that was not often seen in the past, as compared to today. She was always encouraging and instead of being angry with us, she displayed disappointment. This was very powerful in tugging (at) our hearts.

She always told the class we were not bad students but just mischievous, and it would not be difficult to turn us around. She always saw potential in us."

The big surprise

After graduating from secondary school, the twins made the effort to visit their teachers until they enlisted for National Service.

After losing contact for a period of time, the twins reconnected with their teachers at the school's 40th anniversary.

The twins learnt about Tan's retirement from another teacher at Bendemeer Secondary School, Chun-Chau revealed.

The end of Tan's 30 plus years of service as a science teacher was on May 27, and Chun-Chau joked about how they decided to gift her with test tubes as a reminder of how she once made the brothers "wash hundreds of test tubes in the lab" when they misbehaved.

During the surprise visit, they also gifted her with a bouquet of 30 roses, with each stalk representing one year since their graduation.

'Weak' students turned Navy scholars

When Tan brought them to the science lab to pack her stuff that day, the brothers were surprised to find out that she kept a newspaper clipping and poster of them receiving overseas scholarships from the Republic of Singapore Navy (RSN).

Chun-Chau added in his post:

"She kept and placed under the glass table top of her lab desk and said she has been using them to encourage and inspire her students. I thought I make you emo, end up you make me emo. (sic) Thank you Ms Tan."

Photo courtesy of Chew Chun-Chau.

Photo courtesy of Chew Chun-Chau.

According to the Ngee Ann Alumni April 2002 newsletter, the Chews graduated with diplomas in Electronic & Computer Engineering in 1996 and went on to study at the Imperial College in the UK after they were awarded overseas scholarships with the RSN.

On their secondary school days, Chun-Chau was quoted as saying in the newsletter: "Despite being hardworking, we still didn’t do well in secondary school and failing four to five subjects was common."

Minister for Defence Ng Eng Hen has also previously featured the Chews on his Facebook page.

The twins have since left the Navy to pursue new endeavours.

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Top photos via Chew Chun-Chau & Ng Eng Hen's respective Facebook pages.