It is a vocation, not a profession
As I walked into the premises of the Methodist Boys Secondary School KL (MBSSKL), I could not help but feel a little intimidated. I was about to meet the school principal and all thoughts of how school principals were portrayed during my schooling days came seeping in.
As I entered the office, I passed by a man who was speaking to two people. He had a normal, down-to-earth demeanour and appeared friendlty. Imagine my surprise when I was intorduced to this same man a while later – Wong Chee Kheon, the principal of MBSSKL. I had expected to see a stern-looking person.
Wong is a Penangite who graduated in Science and Education from Universiti Teknologi Malaysia. Upon graduation, he worked as a mathematics teacher for six years before taking up an offer as a school inspector with the Education Ministry. This federal inspectorate position took up another 10 years of his career.
This was also when he received a scholarship to do his postgraduate studies in Universiti Malaya. In 1998, he went on to be a part of the Smart School Project team. In 2003, his stint as a principal began when he was selected principal of SMK Bandar Baru Sri Petaling in Kuala Lumpur. He was there for two years before being posted to MBSSKL.
The vocation starts
“My day starts at 7.05am. I will be at the main entrance of the school where I greet the students and teachers. It is not always about welcoming though as I also correct the students on their attire. For example, shirt that is not tucked in, no school badge or name tag, etc. I may also correct them on their manners as we believe students should respond when they are being greeted.
I believe that a leader should set an example to the whole organisation thus being at the main entrance before the school bell rings, helps me make contact with my teachers and students. It also makes an impact on teachers who come late,” says Wong.
To see how his work day life is, click on the video below:
After the bell rings at 7.20am, assembly takes place. Assembly is held every day but the main one is on Monday which is in this order: Singing of the national anthem, the state anthem, the school song in Bahasa Malaysia, the Rukunegara pledge, announcements by a duty prefect, book review by a librarian, giving away of prizes for competitions won, speech by the headmaster and finally the school song in English.
His speech usually relates to matters that can inspire the students. On other days, announcements are made by the duty prefect. Teachers and the headmaster may also make announcements if necessary.
After the assembly, the students start dispersing to their classes. This time is used by Wong to give a short briefing to his teachers. He gives the general briefing and assigns four of his vice principals to handle briefings on their areas.
“After that I start on the first of my series of rounds. I strongly believe in ‘management by walking about’. It is all about making your presence felt at the ground level. It helps you know what is happening in the school. My rounds cover every nook and corner of the school. I will also usually sit at the back of one of the classes during my rounds and do some simple paperwork which requires just my signature whilst monitoring the teachers and students.”
The challenge faced by this principal is trying to instil balanced and wholesome education to his students. Many parents and students think that education is all about studying and passing the exams. Wong, however, thinks otherwise.
“For me, I want to produce a student who is academically good, emotionally stable, morally strong and has good character to face the globalised world. I want them to understand the whole concept of wholesome education. No point getting all As when you do not have good values and character”.
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At mid-morning, Wong is back at his office where he meets with visitors who are usually the alumni, parents, community leaders and at times other stakeholders like the district, state education department and ministry officials. There is a constant flow of visitors to the school on a daily basis. Sometimes, his job requires him to attend meetings out of school.
At recess time, Wong heads to the canteen for an inspection. He makes sure the students comply with good behaviour like clearing the remnants of their food from their tables and putting the utensils used into the right bins. He also makes sure that the stall holders adhere to the rules and regulations set by the school.
Once recess is over, this dedicated principal is back at his desk where he continues with his paperwork. There are many documents that need his review and approval. During this time, he also meets up with vendors, contractors as well as teachers. His door is always open to all teachers and students.
Wearing many hats
He talks to them and even counsels them at times. As part of his job scope, he also teaches. He teaches five periods of Mathematics in a week plus another hour of remedial programme for weak students. It is time for his second round at the school premises. Right after that he goes for lunch at 12.30pm.
After lunch, he continues with his final round of inspection towards the end of school hours. He will reprimand students from classes which are dirty before getting them to clean the classrooms. Wong goes to the staff room and chats with the teachers to find out about their well-being and listens to any issues raised.
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School is over at 2pm. He tackles more of his paperwork and attends meetings with teachers and his vice-principals. He then walks around the school to observe the co-curricular activities that are taking place. Once his work is settled and if there are no visitors, Wong bids the school farewell for the day. Normally this is way after 5pm.
“Most of the time, I head home way after 5pm but if there are any parent teacher association or alumni meetings scheduled, I stay on till they are finished, which sometimes can be well after 8pm,” explains the principal. Wong firmly believes that a principal has to manage multi-tasking effectively and execute profound leadership qualities in order to ensure a systematic and well-run school.
“To those who aspire to be a principal, do not take this as solely a career development but as a role of fulfilling the nation’s aspiration in bringing quality education to our children. Do it with passion,” concludes this principal.