Teacher Feature: Getting to Know the Year Heads

By Tan Jun Xiang (14S06C) and Law May Ning (14S03O)

“What exactly does a Year Head do?”

If there were a list of frequently asked questions about the Year Heads, that would likely top the list. As 2013 draws to a close, we thought it would be nice to find out more about the two individuals who have worked tirelessly behind the scenes to keep things running for our batch. If by now, the term Year Head is still completely foreign to you, then this interview is for you!

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Your friendly neighbourhood Year Heads

Here, Raffles Press explores the lives of Year Heads Mr. Jeremy Ng and Ms. Sharon Chan – finding out more about them as individuals and what they do beyond giving the occasional assembly speech.

PERSONAL LIVES

Could you guys give us a brief overview of your teaching career so far?

Ms Chan: Okay I’ll go first. This is my 15th year teaching. So I started off in a secondary school in Tampines, after which I went to the Ministry of Education where I was there for two years. After that, I was posted to National JC, and after 4 years there I joined  RI. This is my 7th year here .

Mr. Ng: For me, I taught for many years as well. I started teaching in about 2000 at Nanyang Junior College. I came here in around 2005 and ever since then I’ve been teaching here.

So what schools were you guys from? Were you guys from RI?

Mr. Ng: We’re not old boys and girls. I was here during the first 3 months though. When we were students we used to have two intakes. When the O-Level results were released, I left for another junior college.

Do you guys have a family? What are your family backgrounds like currently?

Mr. Ng: Okay I’m single, so I don’t have any wife or kids.

Ms. Chan: So I have 2 children, 9 and 7. They’re both in Henry Park. My husband’s an engineer.

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Ms. Chan with her family

Well yeah. It’s nice having a family because it’s nice to go back to kids who love you unconditionally.

Mr. Ng: Well it’s actually nice to be single too – because of the freedom.

Do you guys have any personal interests or hobbies outside of school? I’ve heard that, for example, Ms Chan plays the cello.

Mr. Ng: I didn’t know that.

Ms. Chan: Yeah, I used to play the cello with the Singapore Youth Orchestra – but that was in the past. I was there when I was 15, and I left when I was 19.

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Spot the Year Head-to-be!

But I don’t play anymore, and it’s so hard to pick up the cello again. As with all stringed instruments, once you lose touch it’s hard to get back because it’s such hard work. I still play the piano, but right now it’s just to coach my son and daughter.

Mr. Ng: Music-wise, I can play the guitar, but that’s about it. For me, I’m definitely a running enthusiast. I did eight marathons, two biathlons and one triathlon. I really like it. I don’t find it hard, in fact when I’m down and out, once I’m running I’ll feel better.

In terms of running, do you have any future goals for yourself?

Mr. Ng: In terms of races I think I’ve gone past my quota already – I did my fair share and I don’t participate in races anymore because I find that it’s doing more harm to my body than good. Yeah. It’s called aging.

Hmm… any goals. Maybe because being single and all with no kids to look after, being fit and being healthy is important to me. Some people will do these things to lose weight or to look good. For me, I want it to be functional. That means I do not just want to be slim, but I want to be fit even at a certain age. I want to be able to run a certain distance and not feel tired.

BEING YEAR HEADS

How exactly is a Year Head appointed?

Mr. Ng: Basically, one fine day, in October last year they approached a couple of us. If you guys are from RI or RGS you guys would know that in your schools the Year Head system has been running for a number of years. The school felt that we were ready to implement the Year Head system within the Y5-6 cohort, so here we are.

Did you guys have any reservations or apprehensions about being Year Heads?

Mr. Ng: Reservations, definitely. I think my biggest reservation was that there was no precedence for us. I usually get an idea of what to do when I see a person doing it so that I’m able to gauge “oh, I’m able to handle this” or  “no, I’m not able to handle this” and reject it. But when this was given to us we were like “oh we have not seen this before, we don’t know how it’s going to be done over here”. The number of students, profile of students, age of students are definitely going to be different from Year 1-4, so how is it going to be done? So that is the biggest reservation we had.

Because based on the knowledge we have, the basic thing that a Year Head has to do is to really get to know the students in his or her batch. And it is more manageable when it is a batch of 400 students in Year 3, let’s say. But it will be different with a batch of 1250 strong JC1 students. How are we going to know every single person?

Ms. Chan: Yeah. I think also the age of the students matter. Being a Year Head to Sec 1s and 2s, I think, might be different because they need different types of care and concern and help. But at this age of 17 and 18 I think students are more independent and they have a mind of their own so I find that they may be more critical of things around them. I feel that it may be harder to reach out to 17 or 18 year olds – because they have more of less formed their own personalities, and they’re all individuals in their own right and if you want to help them, there is no one-size-fit-all approach. And having 1250 of them, I think it’s quite challenging, you know, to reach out to so many.

Mr. Ng: I think that as students get older, the extent of their problems will also multiply. I think when they’re younger, the challenges they face may be a bit more straightforward; when they’re older it’s a bit harder.

Ms. Chan: But maybe being a Year Head to younger students means that you deal more with parents than with the students themselves. Now that would be challenging.

*both teachers laugh*

So, what are some of the roles and responsibilities that you have had as Year Heads this year?

Mr. Ng: How I see it is that in short, we are the Civics Tutors not of a class, but of a batch. Whatever a Civics Tutor has to do with a class, we will have to do at a much larger scale. So basically getting to know our students well, monitoring your academic progress, to a certain extent, know your background, where you come from, take care of you when you are sick. Something like that.

Ms. Chan: We also visit Civics classes.

Mr. Ng: Yeah, we do.

Mrs. Chan: We’re both Co-Civics tutors, we’re not the main Civics tutors of our classes.  We request to go into certain Civics classes and we will conduct Civics for these classes. The main thing is to get to know more students outside of our own classes and our Civics class.

Mr Ng: Sometimes we  conduct civics for different classes and it depends on the class. Sometimes, I talk to them about life after Raffles, about their dreams, aspirations, what they want to do… Topics like that.

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We also organise Parents-Teacher meetings.

Additionally, we also manage the civics curriculum, like the civics lessons your teachers conduct are not ad hoc. They don’t just teach what they feel like teaching, there is a planned curriculum. There is a syllabus with specific topics. We look at it and plan what Civics Tutors will be teaching for Years 5 and 6. There is also a civics committee who will take all the feedback and come up with lesson plans, craft worksheets, and source for videos, etc. What we find  daunting is, addressing the cohort during the Year Heads Assembly. I mean if you ask me to give a Chemistry lecture, that’s fine. However, you ask me to speak about other things like respect or even discipline, it’s not something that’s easy to address the students without them rolling their eyes..

Do you have any activities planned for our batch, such as batch CIP etc?

Ms Chan: Well, we thought of certain activities to bring the batch together, but it’s quite difficult, because Year 5s have PW that intensifies towards the end of the year and even if we were to have bonding activities, students may not have time to take part in these activities. And of course for the Year 6s, there is the ‘A’ levels. We’re trying to find an activity for the entire batch. I know sometimes Year 1-4 have these separate cohort activities where the entire cohort raise money for a particular charitable organisation. We can work something out, but I think the schedule here, because of the ‘A’ levels and PW, is a bit tight. Perhaps we can do something on a  smaller scale, or have one with just the S03 classes, etc. But the feasibility is something we have to consider.

Mr Ng: In general, we do not organise batch activities. We have the Students’ Council to organise certain activities pertaining to the batch, like Grad night.

As Year Heads and subject teachers, have either of you had any interesting or unique experiences so far?

Mr Ng: We do things to try to know more about the batch. We look after the well-being of the batch, so we talk to students who need counseling, or with discipline issues. Another interesting thing is that we get to know the batch through the leaders. We are going to meet the exco of the Students’ Council, to see what they plan to do with the batch, then maybe later we will talk to the CCALs and see if they have any ideas about things to do with the batch.

How about as a subject tutor? Maybe for this batch, or previous batches.

Mr Ng: I find that, being a teacher for many years, something quite interesting to me, as a teacher, is to learn that how different classes have different personalities, sometimes in the two year journey, seeing the class move from Year 5 to Year 6, there are so many stories. The part that is really interesting for me to see is how the classes grow and change. I think as educators we find joy to see students grow, and have everything fall into place.

Any final words of advice to the Year 5 batch?

Ms Chan: I think there’s a need to balance one’s commitment to your studies with all the different things you are occupied with, be it CCA or CIPs you adopt. I find that increasingly, students come with a very idealistic goal, in that they want to do everything. And while it’s a good thing for students to aspire to involve themselves in everything, I think that, especially given how the ‘A’ level curriculum is so demanding and rigorous, students need to find a balance. They can have a thriving social life and take part in many activities, but they do need to have well-placed priorities. And I’d say that now, at the moment, there are a couple of students who aren’t doing that.

Mr Ng: I would say that, even for me, JC was, and is going to be the best years of your life. So enjoy it, have a balance, no one ever says that you have to study 24 hours a day – no that’s not the JC life we want you to have. We want you to have a balance. So enjoy it, meaning when it is time for you to study, study hard. When you should play, play hard. There are students who involve themselves too much in their CCA when they should be studying.This really doesn’t make any sense! So that’s number one, balance.

Then I think, number two, is that these two years are really important for self-discovery as you guys will be making a lot of important decisions. So, to make these decisions you need to know what you’re good at, what you’re not good at, what is really important to you. For example, to some people, money is very important, for others, money is not as  important as work-life balance. So, these two years should be a journey of self-discovery that will lead to a clearer sense of purpose in your life, after JC.

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