Bon Voyage, Mrs Pak!
To her students, Mrs Esther Pak is a caring teacher to whom they turn when they need a listening ear and words of comfort and encouragement.
To her colleagues, Mrs Pak is a steadfast source of support and a kind, wise friend.
To our alma mater, Mrs Pak, who retired from 32 years of service to SSGC in August, is a dedicated leader who demonstrates strength, grace and humility and remains unruffled in the face of rising challenges.
Mrs Pak joined SSGC in 1988 as a teacher of English and Home Economics. In the years that followed, she also taught Religious Education and Economic & Public Affairs (EPA), in addition to being the school’s Careers Mistress for seven years.
In 2013, Mrs Pak became Vice-Principal of SSGC and was tasked with pastoral care and student development. During her tenure, she implemented various life and value education programmes on important topics such as Christian education, careers and life planning, and student guidance and discipline. She also introduced form-specific activities to help students better adapt to life at SSGC.
But her responsibilities did not end there. Mrs Pak was further in charge of staff development, home-school collaboration, alumnae and parent communication as well as being a community liaison, all the while as she oversaw the production of several school publications and carried out her teaching duties faithfully!
On behalf of SSGCAA, we would like to thank Mrs Pak for her dedication and contribution to the school, and we wish her a very happy and fulfilling retirement. We will miss you, Mrs Pak! May God bless you and keep you and your loved ones always.
AA: AA Newsletter Team
EP: Mrs Pak
AA: Pastoral care and student development was a big part of your role as Vice-Principal. What did that entail?
EP: When we think of academically weaker students, our first reaction might be to ask them to repeat a year so that they can have more time to consolidate their knowledge. Similarly, when a student misbehaves in one way or another, the usual response would be to punish her. Pastoral care looks at things from a different perspective. We take a student’s background into account and explore different ways to help her. Punishment per se isn’t a good solution.
Before making any major decision, I would talk to my colleagues who teach this particular student to find out what she is like in different classes and would try to provide as much support to her as possible. I would also talk to her parents. I usually stayed past seven in the evening and so I could call the parents after they left work. I would try to find out what the student is like at home. Sometimes a student may need to be referred to a social worker.
There are different teams under pastoral care and student development, including the Life Education Team, the Guidance Team (mainly concerned with students’ emotional needs), the Discipline Team, the SEN (Special Educational Needs) Team, the Careers Team and the OLE (Other Learning Experiences) Team. They work together to support our students and I would be the coordination person to facilitate communication among the different teams.
While each team is aware of a specific need of a student, sometimes team A may not be aware that team B is working with the same student. The student may think she is in big trouble if teachers from different teams approach her at the same time. As the coordination person, I would meet with the leaders of the teams and, together, we would come up with the best ways to support the student and help her grow.
AA: In what ways are students these days different from previous generations? How has the school evolved its way of teaching and supporting students?
EP: During the 1990s, the gap in terms of learning capacity and behaviour among students wasn’t as big. Back then, chalk and talk was the main teaching approach.
Under the HKCEE and A-levels, Form Six students were able to enjoy the so-called ‘honeymoon’ year during which they busied themselves with school activities. Having survived the HKCEE, they were academically prepared to sit for the A-Levels and capable of catching up in Form Seven. But this isn’t the case with our Form Five students who have to sit for the DSE in Form Six (and instead of 4 to 5 A-level subjects DSE students have to sit for at least six).
We help our Form Five students manage their time better by, for example, limiting the number of activities they can take part in. Student leaders are to focus on running just one team or Students’ Association committee. But the girls are still very busy.
There has been a larger focus on stress management in recent years. Our teachers are very aware of their students’ emotions. Staff development programmes have included training in helping young people look after their mental wellbeing. Our teachers are able to assess their students’ emotional needs and offer initial support, while the Guidance Team is ready to take over where necessary. There is a lot more to look out for compared with when I first became a teacher. Teachers these days require training and continuous development in many more realms.
AA: What were some of the challenges you encountered at SSGC?
EP: There were quite a few challenges in the past few years. COVID-19 is one. Before that, the incidents happening in our society were another. How should we help our students deal with these issues and manage their emotions? How could we handle comments from other people wisely? God has been gracious to us by taking us step by step along the way.
A while ago, Ms Chau encouraged us to sign up for courses on communication and conflict resolution. I did and as a result learned how to listen to people who disagree with you, whether that person is a student, colleague, parent or someone not related to the school. I am not an eloquent person. I cannot argue very well. But I am good at listening to people and helping them channel their emotions. Most things aren’t black or white. Your views may not be entirely right, but they are not entirely wrong either.
The closure of our school, as a result of the pandemic earlier this year, posed another challenge for us. How should we manage the emotions of our students who had to face a completely different learning environment, while also helping our teachers adapt to the changes? There is always something new to learn every day. I am glad to see our girls and teachers adapting to the new mode of teaching and learning so well. They are very resilient.
AA: What would you consider as your biggest achievement at SSGC?
EP: I do not dare to say I have achieved anything on my own effort. All achievements have been the result of excellent teamwork, and I am grateful for the teams I have worked with, including the Cabinet.
I am especially proud of our students who demonstrate a strong sense of belonging to and trust in the school. I think this is a remarkable achievement culminating from years of hard work by the school through different channels. These include weekly assemblies with messages related to positive values such as respect and happiness, talks given by Ms Chau and activities organised around the annual themes.
When students express disagreement over something and put forward certain demands, they naturally believe in what they are doing. So when they are willing to make adjustment or compromise, there must be a good reason for them to do so. They do not want the school’s reputation to suffer. Our students are willing to make compromises because they trust that what the school says is for their good and for the good of SSGC. Our students show a lot of understanding when we explain our point of view to them.
Trust cannot be cultivated in a day or two. While relationships are being tested in times of conflicts, it is during these times that the strength of the bonding between our students and the school is revealed.
AA: You worked closely with SSGCAA. What was your experience like?
EP: It may sound a bit of a cliche but the school is so fortunate to have AA at our back. I really appreciate what AA has done for the school. For example, the mentorship programme enhances students’ understanding of a variety of future study and career possibilities and the development of a healthier outlook of life. Very few secondary schools have their own mentoring programme. When we are invited to join mentorship schemes organised by other organisations, I proudly turn down their offers! I am amazed at how dedicated our alumnae are in contributing their time and talent for the benefit of our school and students.
Sometime ago, during one of the assemblies, the theme of which was thanksgiving, I listed out the number of scholarships and bursaries donated by our alumnae. The number was very impressive! This is a great example showing how older generations plant the seeds for the younger ones to reap the benefit.
I always encourage our students to learn from their ‘see tse’ and join AA. Our alumnae have set a very good role model showing our students what it means by paying forward. In the past two years, we have started inviting recently-graduated Form Six students to come back to serve as volunteers, helping their ‘see mui’ through afterschool tutoring or or signing up to be helpers at school events.
AA: What were some of your most memorable moments at SSGC?
EP: I can still remember my first encounter with students from the Class of 1994 who were in Form Four then. It was an English class. I said I would be asking them questions in class and asked if I should call their names or if they would put up their hands themselves. They chose the latter.
Back then it was not common for students to be so proactive and responsive. SSGC girls are usually a bit cautious in class. I always want to encourage students to speak up and not be afraid of making mistakes.
Another incident that left an imprint on my mind happened several years ago. One day I showed a Form Two class a video about Nick Vujicic who was born without arms or legs. In the video, Nick talked about the need to speak responsibly and respectfully. He reminded us that what we say can help or hurt others. I gave my students a moment to think of anything they wanted to say or any action they wanted to take. Then, a student left her seat, walked over to the desk of another student and apologised for what she said a few years ago.
I was just an English teacher; I am very glad to be able to make an impact on my students’ lives. The experience was so tangible and rewarding. I am still in touch with the student who said sorry to her friend.
Life education is necessary in all stages of our lives. I spent my formative years attending church service and fellowships regularly. I am used to sharing my thoughts readily and spontaneously. In fact, as a teacher, I tell my students about the mistakes I made when I was young.
Once, I showed my students the school report cards from my younger days. I also showed them my HKCEE certificate. I never did well in Mathematics, and I only got a C for English. But I turned out fine! I want to encourage my students and let them know that when they are willing to learn and grow, nothing is impossible.
I also enjoyed reading my students’ weekly diaries. Teachers were not as busy back then, and I often wrote very long comments in the diaries. Some alumnae have told me they used to look forward to getting their diaries back and reading my comments, which were sometimes even longer than what they had written! I hope that in the future more of our teachers will have the time and space to do things like this.
AA: What will you miss most?
EP: I will certainly miss my students and colleagues. I will miss working with my colleagues. We love the school, we have the best interest of our students in our heart, and we work toward the same direction and same goals. Thanks to our excellent teamwork – not just within the Cabinet but also among all teachers – we have been able to move forward amid so many challenges in the past few years.
AA: Is there anything you would like to say to your past and present students?
EP: In Faith Go Forward. And never give up hope. Do read Hebrews 11 of the Bible to gain a better understanding of what all these mean.