With technology torpedoing its way through our daily lives, the day when artificial intelligence and robots replace teachers in school is just on the horizon. And when that happens, teaching would then be reduced to a mere transfer of knowledge.
However, teaching revolves around going the extra mile to care and ensure that our future generations are well-equipped with the relevant skills to build a brighter future.
Two MOE scholars, Anna Cai Shihui and Ho Tze Liang Shaun, have answered the call to play an integral role in nurturing our nation’s young minds. They spend some time to share with us about what drew them to the education sector, and the experiences they have had during their career.
What drew you to pursue teaching as a profession?
Anna Cai Shihui: I decided that I wanted to be a teacher when I was in secondary school. I am fortunate to have been taught by very inspiring and knowledgeable teachers throughout my student years. They were influential figures during my growing up years who taught me many lessons, both in and out of the classroom.
With the advice from my civics tutor in JC (who was a Teaching Award recipient herself), I decided to apply for a teaching scholarship, as it would subsequently lead me to a career in teaching, without having to worry about the finances for studying, and giving me opportunities in a career I wanted at the same time.
Ho Tze Liang Shaun: Having been surrounded by music since young, I had initially aspired to become a musician. I did not consider teaching as a career option until I was given an opportunity to work as a relief teacher at North View Secondary School (NVSS), where interestingly, I taught Mathematics, English, Chemistry and even Chinese for a week.
I thoroughly enjoyed the experience and also came to realise that the subject is but a tool to impact student lives. The school leaders from NVSS then encouraged me to apply for a teaching scholarship and here I am today!
Anna Cai Shihui
Education Merit Scholar
Curriculum Policy Officer
Tell us about your roles and responsibilities at work.
Anna: The Curriculum Policy Office at MOE oversees curriculum-related policies that cut across all subjects. We conduct curriculum research as part of policy reviews and formulation. Policy work can be very engaging because you think and plan for an ideal, aspirational situation. Once policies have been implemented, we visit schools to get feedback and try to offer as much support as we can.
In our engagement with schools, we also study the realities that affect policies. Seeing a policy from its planned stages to its enacted state is very interesting because so many factors interact with each other. The feedback and implementation processes we witness in schools challenge us to continually strive to review and refine policies or programmes that work best for students.
Shaun: As the Applied Learning Programme (ALP) and Music Coordinator, I oversee the implementation of the ALP programme and music curriculum across the levels. This includes organising activities such as lunch-time concerts, workshops with professional musicians and excursions for students to attend external performances.
As one of the teachers in charge of the school’s symphonic band, I also conduct music theory lessons for new band members in order to deepen their understanding of music. Besides music, I teach a class of mathematics as well. This keeps my sense of logic and rationality balanced with my creative side.
What are some of the challenges you face at work?
Anna: One of my challenges has been trying to understand the different perspectives about teaching and learning, and develop a broader mind-set that considers these perspectives. To overcome this, I try to read as much as I can and engage meaningfully with officers at HQ and teachers in schools. Gaining insight from theory and hearing from schools helps my office to consider various perspectives when formulating policies.
Shaun: On some days, work can be so demanding that my colleagues comment that they do not see me at my desk. As a music teacher, I spend many afternoons after school rehearsing with students. While these practices are time-consuming, to be able to witness their process of improvement and refined final performances brings me great joy and pride in my students.
In order not to suffer from burnout, I have learnt to manage my time well and to prioritise tasks according to its importance.
Ho Tze Liang, Shaun
MOE Teaching Scholar
Yishun Secondary School
What qualities make for a great teacher?
Anna: One of my bosses taught me that “nothing is beneath you; nothing is beyond you.” I find this statement very apt for the work that we do in education. I have fought with the photocopier because I desperately needed worksheets for a class, and I have slept on the office floor during a school camp. In these unglamorous moments, it helps to remember the students whom we ultimately care for.
Possessing a deep interest in a curriculum subject whether in the sciences or humanities would also be helpful. The love and mastery of a particular subject can, and will enthuse your professional craft. Your knowledge and passion will also help your lessons come alive.
Shaun: While I agree that teachers need to have a passion for teaching and sharing their love of their subject, it is also not merely dishing out content and assessing students for their understanding.
As fellow human beings ourselves, we need to be able to lend listening ears to our students and give them sound advice. This is especially so if they lack the life skills or values in order to navigate the ever-increasing volatile world that we live in. I feel that teachers should show authentic care and concern to students and strongly believe that a difference can be made in each student.