Sowing the Seeds of the Future
There are few jobs that can give you the satisfaction of making a lasting impact on others. But as two teachers share, this is exactly what they are able to do at work every day – watching their students grow into all they can be before their very eyes.
By Farhan Shah
With more than a decade of teaching experiences between the both of them, it may be safe to say that the two teachers in our story today have seen it all. Yet, the duo’s passion for teaching still stands strong after all these years. After all, there are few careers other than teaching which offers you the opportunity to make a positive difference in the lives of young people.
The Awakening of a Dream
Meet 33-year-old Chia Hong Wee, the man who knew he wanted to become a teacher the moment he graduated from polytechnic. “I was inspired by my secondary school Chinese Language teacher; she was able to engage me in the learning of Mandarin, introducing me to many interesting idioms that I could use in my composition writing. Through her faith and guidance, I was able to excel in Chinese for my GCE ‘O’ level examination,” the Nanyang Polytechnic alumnus shares.
The avid sportsman decided that he too wanted to follow in the footsteps of his Chinese Language teacher but instead of educating children in the linguistic arts, Hong Wee wanted to inspire more children to embrace sports and exercise as part of a healthy lifestyle.
In fulfilment of his dream, Hong Wee enrolled in the Bachelor of Science (Education) (BSc) programme at the National Institute of Education (NIE) which is a four-year teaching degree course sponsored by the Ministry of Education, and chose to specialise in Physical Education and Sport Sciences (Primary)
“During my time in NIE, I had to learn how to play and teach various sports. Although I must say that it was tiring to study and be so active in different types of sports, it was definitely the most memorable days of my student life,” Hong Wee recalls.
Upon graduation from NIE, Hong Wee was posted to Gan Eng Seng Primary School, where he is teaching up till today.
Delving into the World of Information Technology
While Hong Wee enjoys teaching PE, he is also a fervent advocate of IT. “To survive in this wired world, all of us require Information Communication Technology (ICT) skills. MOE is equipping the students of today the skills needed to take on the challenges of tomorrow, and I want to be part of the process,” says Hong Wee. Hong Wee’s principal recognised his strengths in this area and gave him multiple opportunities to handle ICT and Knowledge Management-related matters in the school.
Hong Wee’s belief in IT is evident in the way he integrates IT into education be it at the classroom or the school level. Hong Wee incorporates IT into his own PE lessons and also avidly collaborates with the other Heads of Department and Subject Heads to include IT in their lesson plans
“At the school level, I believe that we can better harvest data and information that will guide us to make decisions and recommendations for improvements. For example, my school now projects the pupils’ Primary School Leaving Examination (PSLE) test scores so that the students can have a better understanding and sense of their performance,” says Hong Wee.
It is no surprise than that, Hong Wee rose to become the Subject Head for ICT and Knowledge Management within a year of his posting, a fitting reward.
Hong Wee is just one of the many examples of young educators who have risen up the ranks, as a result of their tenacity, hard work and the support provided by the Ministry.
“Teachers are provided with much support for on-the-job training to equip them with the skills needed. Career advancement opportunities are always available for officers who are diligent and perform well in their work. On top of that, MOE offers undergraduate scholarships and professional development schemes which, in-service teachers who are diploma holders can apply for and upgrade themselves academically,” Hong Wee shares.
Indeed, fellow teacher and compatriot 30-year-old Audrey Han also attests to the invaluable support and encouragement provided by the teaching fraternity. The current Level Head for English in Xinmin Primary School recalls the first time she entered the school as a fresh, wide-eyed teacher. “When I first joined, I was posted to the English department and had a very supportive reporting officer who was the Head of Department for English. Whenever I had ideas for improvement, he readily accepted my proposals and even guided me as I implemented these ideas,” says Audrey.
This can-do spirit is prevalent throughout the school. When Audrey and another colleague struck upon the idea of setting up a corner in the school for the students to play games at during recess, the principal welcomed the initiative and provided the resources and advice they needed to carry out their plan. With such a supportive environment, it is no wonder then that Audrey still looks forward to work every morning even though she has been with the school for six years.
A Fortunate Turn of Events
Indeed, life might have turned out quite differently for Audrey had she decided to stick to her chosen field of study. The Nanyang Polytechnic alumna was all set for a career in IT after graduating with a diploma in Engineering Informatics, followed by a degree in Computer Science. However, a contract teaching stint with Serangoon Gardens South Primary School and teaching in weekly Sunday School classes made her realise that she genuinely enjoyed interacting with children and being able to make a difference in their lives.
“One of my most memorable teaching experiences was my stint at Serangoon Gardens South Primary School. Most of the pupils I taught came from less privileged backgrounds and had difficult childhoods. It was a test of my patience as the students were not exactly the best-behaved children. However, I took it as a challenge and did not give up on them but spent extra time with them giving them remedial lessons,” Audrey recalls.
“Almost all of them made a marked improvement during their mid-year examinations and it was rewarding to see them gain confidence and coming to the realisation that they are not destined for failure. Several years later, I met one of the pupils I taught and it was heartening to know that she still remembered me.”
This experience made Audrey realise how meaningful a teaching career was. That was the turning point for Audrey to apply for teaching and she was soon enrolled in NIE for the Postgraduate Diploma in Education (Primary) course.
It was during the course that Audrey picked up essential knowledge and skills, for teaching, and learnt different strategies for teaching pupils of different abilities, interests and backgrounds effectively and creatively.
Bountiful Intangible Rewards
Despite teaching for over six years, Audrey still finds joy in helping a child grow and develop to the best of his or her abilities. To her, the best part about teaching is seeing a child’s pride and sense of fulfilment when they learn a new skill and achieves their goals.
During her second year in Xinmin Primary School, Audrey taught an extremely bright pupil who always topped the class. “I did not think that I had added much value to this pupil, as she was already such a high achiever but her mother wrote a letter to thank me for teaching her child and explained in the letter how her child had learnt a lot from me. From then on, I never belittle the work I do and give my very best regardless of the child I teach,” Audrey reminisces.
However, Audrey admits that teachers need to keep up with the times or risk being left behind. “The children I teach now are different from the children of my generation. They are more technologically savvy and know how to use digital technology. I have to keep up with the pupils to ensure that the strategies I use in the classroom are relevant to them. To overcome this challenge, I often read journals and books to upgrade myself, and attend workshops and sharing sessions by other teachers,” says Audrey.
This adaptability is one of the qualities that Audrey advocates all aspiring educators to have. Another is undoubtedly passion. Hong Wee also emphasises the importance of having a positive mind-set. Just like any other career, teaching has its peaks and troughs, and focusing largely on the challenges you encounter along the way might quickly extinguish your passion.
For the both of them, teaching has brought bountiful intangible rewards. Together with a supportive working environment, which has in part helped them rise through the ranks to be where they are today, the duo believes that a teaching career is so much more than just about imparting knowledge, but a deep commitment to realise the promise that lie within each student.
Hong Wee sums it up best, “Teaching is a rewarding career whereby every day presents new opportunities and challenges, and when you believe you can make a difference, you inspire others to make a difference in the lives of others too.”