Teaching came as an unplanned move in my life journey. It had never occurred to me that I would be a teacher one day. But I am glad this diversion happened as it has brought me onto a path of self-discovery and self-actualisation. I gave private tuition as a means of supplementing my income after I left my first career in the SAF. I did so while I was trying to strike it out in the financial services industry. I started off with tutoring a handful of primary and secondary school students.
Have you ever felt a wee bit of satisfaction and accomplishment after helping someone? I certainly do every time my students have that radiant glow on their faces, like they have been enlightened after I help them understand concepts that they previously did not comprehend. That made me see the meaning in teaching — igniting young minds.
I decided to make the switch into teaching and thus started off as a contract teacher in my alma mater. There, I taught my form class English, Mathematics and Science. The enthusiastic looks on my students’ faces at the start of every school day energised and spurred me on. To satisfy their insatiable thirst for knowledge, I would come up with my own teaching materials — interactive presentations, learning manipulatives, relevant video clips — to supplement the course books and activity books which were part of their curriculum. I also learnt that the malleable young minds of children have no boundaries and are always accepting of new information and knowledge that teachers are willing to impart to them. Their minds only become constrained and restrained when adults do not allow children to explore possibilities which would otherwise become impossibilities. As such, children should not be put down directly but encouraged to learn through exploration, mistakes and sharing.
My interaction with the young minds coupled with my education at NIE also made me realise that different children learn through different means. Some can learn just by being instructed, while many learn through understanding the relevancy of what they are taught. Some can only internalise knowledge through kinaesthetic means. This has led me to modify my teaching methods beyond the typical instructional chalk-and-talk way, but also through collaborative learning strategies (peer-to-peer) and practical experiments. Learning then becomes authentic and relevant.
Specialising in the primary school English syllabus, I have utilised a decade’s worth of teaching knowledge and experience into my pedagogy. I facilitate the learning of language with a strong emphasis on the basic fundamentals of grammar and vocabulary. I believe grammar is the law of the language which governs the use of it. Vocabulary is the weaponry that allows us to comprehend the world and express ourselves effectively. Subsequently, through authentic experiences and practical reinforcements during my lessons, like reading the news on current affairs, speeches, plays and drama, my students appreciate the importance and relevancy of using standard English in their everyday lives.
With a better grasp of the language, students can then do better in the different components of the English paper in examinations that the rigorous Singapore education system demands. A student with the needed linguistic capability can write better, understand passages better, answer questions better and eventually score better. Although drilling in the different examinable components may bring about short-term improvements, I believe language is an art that has to be developed gradually and conscientiously. Therefore, my challenge in education is to balance the expectations parents have while instilling a love of the English language in the children. It is because only when the latter is present, will students become active learners and users of standard English. And when that happens, I believe I have accomplished what I set out to do for my students — your improvement is my achievement.