If you are one of those who have provided younger students with tuition lessons, you would have had a taste of teaching. You would have experienced the frustrations of guiding an unmotivated child or the challenges of teaching a student plagued with learning difficulties. You might also have derived a sense of fulfilment in the simple things – in a word of appreciation or the improvement in a student's work.
These feelings are amplified if you are a full-time teacher. Teachers experience highs and lows that are unique to their vocation, challenging them to become better at what they do. We speak to two primary school teachers, Assistant Year Head Tan Jac See and Music Teacher Loraine Ong. They take us through their roles in building character among their students.
What brought you to the teaching path?
Tan Jac See: I was a part-time tutor to a number of students throughout my four years in the National University of Singapore (NUS). It was then that I developed an interest in teaching. I derived a sense of satisfaction in helping a student reach his or her goals in a particular subject, motivating me to give teaching a shot.
Loraine Ong: I wanted to follow my passion which was ultimately centered on children and music. I grew up in a family where everyone knows how to play at least one instrument well. In fact, my mother was my piano teacher. I was part of the Instrumental Ensemble and Handbells Ensemble in primary school, the choir and the school band in secondary school, the Symphonic Band in Junior College and later the Wind Symphony in NUS. I chose to become a teacher because I wanted to impart my knowledge and experiences to the next generation.
What are some challenges you face as a teacher?
Jac See: In my role, I ensure that student development programmes are carried out effectively for the various levels. I work closely with level teachers to build relationships with and understand the needs of individual students. One of the challenges I face at work is engaging parents of at-risk students and getting them to build a routine at home to help their children develop good self-management skills. Persistence is key when it comes to such matters.
Loraine: The behaviour of students can be unpredictable. This is why it is necessary to work with the form teachers of the classes I teach in order to foster a nurturing learning environment for students!
Ms Tan Jac See
Assistant Year Head, Farrer Park Primary School
What are some memorable episodes you have had as a teacher?
Jac See: One of the most memorable episodes I have had at work was when a Primary 6 girl wrote me a 'thank you' letter after she had graduated. In the letter, she told me how I had built her confidence in the English Language when she had always thought it was a subject she could never excel in. It was very heartening when she mentioned in the letter that she will always remember to strive towards her goals like how I had always told her to. I realised that I had made a positive impact on a child as a teacher, not only on her studies but also on her character. For me, the letter serves as a constant reminder of what teaching truly means.
Loraine: I once received a surprise email from an ex-student. She told me that she and a few of her Primary 6 classmates are pursuing music now in various secondary schools by joining the school band. There have also been very sweet moments in which students come up to me after class to thank me personally for the "wonderful lesson".
Ms Ong Lok Ching Loraine
Music Teacher, Anchor Green Primary School
What are some misconceptions people have about teaching?
Jac See: People think that teachers only have to ensure students do well in exams. However, teachers are also required to help students develop self-management skills, relationship management skills, decision making skills, good habits, leadership competencies, confidence, and many other qualities. It may not be easy to be a teacher, but it is definitely a fulfilling career.
Loraine: People say that teaching is a job that you can always fall back on. I would say that teaching is not for everyone. You need to have the calling to teach patiently, possess the desire to teach, know the purpose of teaching and work in teams effectively. We need to do all these at the same time while competing against our biggest enemy: time.
What qualities should all teachers have?
Jac See: Patience and perseverance are two of the most important qualities among teachers. It takes a lot of patience for a teacher to not only help students grasp certain concepts, but also to develop them into individuals of good character and sound moral values. A teacher should also never throw in the towel and give up on a student. He or she must persist and find ways to help a student reach his or her goals, whether big or small.
Loraine: I would say multi-tasking and problem-solving skills. In a class, you have a minimum of 30 children. They can be fighting for your attention all at the same time, and you need to prioritise and attend to the urgent cases first (for example, an injury). And while you are attending to that, you have to ensure that the other 29 children are still engaged in learning because curriculum time is precious!