Dr Bernard Ricardo is one of this year’s recipients of the National Institute of Education’s Caring Teacher Award. He shares with City News what it means to care for his students at NUS High School of Mathematics and Science.
The Caring Teacher Award is a biennial award given out to teachers who have gone the extra mile to ensure their students grow up to be confident, independent learners. Started in 1996, the Caring Teacher Awards is organized by the National Institute of Education, Singapore with support from ExxonMobil Asia Pacific Pte Ltd and the Ministry of Education. The nominees are judged on five criteria: outreach to their students, transformation of their students, their dedication, their humanistic qualities and whether they inspired their fellow teachers to make a difference to their students.
Dr Bernard Ricardo was one of three Caring Teacher Award winners this year.
“My experience is a bit unique because the school focuses on mathematics and science, and the students under my care are high performing students,” he explains. “These students have more unique needs.”
Bernard has been teaching physics in the NUS High School of Mathematics and Science for the past 12 years and is now a Physics Consultant. He is also a member of City Harvest Church, and a team leader overseeing 10 cell groups in Pastor Aries Zulkarnain’s pastoral zone.
TO CARE IS TO NURTURE
Inspired by his students’ passion and curiosity towards science, Bernard decided to pull some of the top-performing students out from their usual lessons and sit down with them to discuss scientific concepts. He felt that they would benefit from such interaction.
“We are given the flexibility to do that at NUS High,” he explains. “Some of these students have gone on to excel beyond their school results; some even won medals in international competitions. For these high performing students, they don’t have any problems with their subjects and they are okay with everything else in their lives. Sometimes, they just feel that they need some hand-holding to have a breakthrough in their learning.”
Bernard never expected his students and his colleagues to deem his gesture as caring. Their appreciation of his efforts to go beyond the call of duty and nurture the passion of his students propelled them to nominate him for the Caring Teacher Award. One of those who nominated him was a student he had been mentoring for the past six years. Instead of attending physics lesson, this student would sit with Bernard to work on advanced scientific projects.
Bernard adds, “That made him feel appreciated and he excelled at many international competitions.”
Bernard not only teaches in the school, but he also lives in the hostel with some of his students. “I chose to stay here because it really gives me the opportunity to interact further with them, to find out what their needs are and to meet their needs. But during the lockdown, it was very hard because we couldn’t even interact with them.”
Even though they were living in the same hostel, Bernard couldn’t interact with his students face-to-face. But they tapped onto technology and worked online via Microsoft Teams.
One unfortunate thing that happened during the pandemic was the cancellation of an international competition that a group of students had been preparing for.
“I had been preparing with them for the past three years and they were really disappointed when it was cancelled,” says Bernard. “So instead, we spent some time talking about other scientific ideas, and they began writing a paper together for fun. It was so well done, it was eventually published in a scientific journal! I told them that this was a really high-level accomplishment for high school students.”
To Bernard, caring is “about stretching them to achieve their fullest potential.”
DOING THINGS HEARTILY AS UNTO THE LORD
Teaching was a calling that Bernard received one day when he was in high school. His teacher had invited him to explain a physics concept to his class. “I felt that it was God’s way of showing me His calling and showing me the gift He has given me,” he recalls.
Later, he met a Christian professor who spoke to him about becoming a school teacher. That sealed the deal and Bernard went on to build a career in teaching.
As a Christian, Bernard believes in doing things “heartily, as to the Lord and not to men” (Col 3:23) “Pastor Kong (Hee, senior pastor of CHC) always says, ‘People don’t care how much we know until they know how much we care’. I think that is really applicable, not only for caring system in the cell group but also in the teaching and learning process.”
Helping students excel, however, is not the only thing on Bernard’s very full plate. Besides serving in church, Bernard is also a father of two young children. Juggling everything is no easy feat but Bernard recalls the story of Jesus in the temple when He was 12.
“His parents were looking for Him and He asked them, ‘Why did you seek Me? Did you not know that I must be about My Father’s business?’ (Lk 2:49) That really spoke to me: Jesus saw what He did as His Father’s business. I believe that it doesn’t just apply to doing ministry or other spiritual activities, but in all the areas of our lives. We need to do everything well because it is our Father’s business.”