Making Every Day Count
The joys of teaching can never be fully measured. Two Humanities teachers share with us their experiences in shaping the lives of the students who come their way. As one of our teachers puts it, “the rewards of teaching may be small and intangible but they are definitely memorable and indispensable.”
By Gerald Goh
As a teacher, every day presents a new set of possibilities and challenges. Yet, for 27-year-old History teacher, Justin Lee and 27-year old Geography teacher, Veron Kho work is more than just work. Beyond the teaching of lessons and marking of scripts , our two young teachers see their job as a means to an end of making a difference in their students’ lives.
Justin:Entering the teaching industry always appealed to me as I come from a family of teachers. Listening to their tales and experiences has had a hand in pushing me to become a teacher. However, the motivation towards entering the teaching industry came not only from my family but from the teachers, who have made a significant difference in my life. They taught me indispensable values and principles that I still believe and live by today. I want to pay it forward and make a similar difference for others.
Veron: I have always wanted to enter the teaching industry, deep down in my heart. There were many times I had wanted to be a doctor, a paramedic or a lawyer, but at the end of the day, I was just so inspired by my teachers that I decided on teaching. They made such an impact on my life and I am forever grateful for that. I asked myself how I could have the same or even greater impact on the younger generation. Alone, I cannot change the world but as a teacher, I can develop my students to have the ability to influence others to make the world a better place.
Tell us about some of the behind-the-scenes work that teachers do.
Justin: A typical day of a teacher is often perceived as endless work with mountains of marking and paperwork to do. However, life as a teacher is not only about teaching and marking. Another common misperception is that teachers tend to be individual workers since we are always the only one in front of the class. In fact, teachers constantly work in teams. Official teams include committees and CCAs. There are also unofficial teams where subject teachers work closely together to monitor, motivate and guide a student or a group of students; where teachers work with students’ parents steering misguided students back to the correct direction; where the exemplary conduct of the teacher both inside and outside of the classroom influences students to no end. Work will only be work when we see them as such but when we see them as a means to an end of making a difference in students’ lives, a typical day of a teacher can be enjoyable, one way or another.
Veron: A typical day at work as a teacher is unpredictable. Apart from entering the classrooms and delivering our lessons, teachers constantly have to create new and interesting ideas to engage our students. We also spend time talking to our students not only about their progress in school but also exchanging perspectives on life. Teachers do a wide variety of work apart from classroom teaching such as organising school events and celebrations.
How was the Post Graduate Diploma in Education (PDGE) training at the National Institute of Education (NIE) helpful in preparing you for a teaching career?
Justin: PGDE training opened my eyes to how we should never be limited to just theoretical ideas and how we should head down to the ground and dare to try new ideas with the ones whom our teaching will affect the most: the students. One thing that I have learnt about lesson planning is that a lot of unpredictable events can occur in the classroom and the plan is not always adhered to. Yet it is still one of the more important set of skills because it provides the crucial ‘road map’ to what you wish to achieve at the end of the day. PGDE training also allowed me to establish a network of teaching colleagues in the same subject, which I can rely on to share resources, experiences or even a cup of coffee. I believe this support is an intangible benefit that NIE provides for teachers.
Veron: PGDE introduced me to many different theories that underpin many teaching practices. I found the training to be essential and an eye-opener in helping me to understand more about teaching and nurturing the whole child. I personally found the modules on ‘Group Endeavours in Service Learning (GESL) and Education Psychology most helpful as I was able to look at an issue and a child from different perspectives and in doing so, I am able to better guide and advise my students.
Share with us an example where you felt you made an impact on your student(s)?
Justin: I believe the difference teachers can make in a student’s life transcends the environs of the classroom. I taught a graduating cohort last year and being rather new, the duration between my entry in their lives and their GCE ‘A’ Level examinations afforded me little time to build up a rapport and prepare them for the major examination. Still, I endeavoured to get to know them and help them. Initially, the majority of them were not interested in History. I sought to find out the reasons from each of them either individually or in small groups. Along the way, I tailored my lessons to engage them in accordance to my discoveries. I always believe that every student can be taught. It is the responsibility of the teacher to find that trigger that will push them to greater heights in learning. That belief drove me to find ways and means to teach and motivate the students. Most of them did well ultimately but the biggest difference that I saw was that the students became more confident in themselves and the belief that they could achieve what they set out to do grew stronger.
Veron: There was once when I had to select participants for a competition and one of the students whom I selected withdrew without any notice and did not account his absence to any of the team members. I had a serious talk with him and after rationalising out his actions with him, he has since been more responsible in the way he acts. I think I made a difference on this boy in terms of his holistic development which will be useful in the way he carries himself in life.
What are the qualities you think an aspiring teacher should have?
Justin: First, I believe that an aspiring teacher should have patience. Patience does not only just entail being patient with misbehaving students or students who have varying degrees of learning styles and pace. It also entails being patient about the fruits of our labour as the development and progress of students are not overnight miracles but may only come about after years of effort; giving our utmost and only to have appreciation shown to us by our students much later. Second, another quality that an aspiring teacher should cultivate is that of resilience. In teaching, there will always be countless pitfalls, challenges and obstacles that hinder us from our goals, plans and even dreams. However, we should not give up just because something is in our way. This is very important because if we, as teachers, cannot exemplify such a quality, it is likely to be difficult to help our students develop such a trait in the long term. Third, an aspiring teacher should develop a positive attitude. Students are very sensitive to the disposition of a teacher and negative energy never fails to dissipate creativity and creates a breeding ground for the fear of failure. Having an upbeat mood, taking things in one’s stride and looking past temporal setbacks to the end objective or goal would not only create a positive attitude but also a positive influence on your students and colleagues.
Veron: Passion. An aspiring teacher should have the passion to develop a child not just academically but holistically, paying attention to character education and values.
Belief. An aspiring teacher should have a firm belief that every child has the ability to grow and the right to be developed.
Life-long learning. An aspiring teacher, most importantly, must have the passion for learning so that he/she will be able to influence his/her students on the love of learning. At the same time, an aspiring teacher must believe in life-long learning so that he/she will always be prepared to face challenges with ready solutions.