Teachers’ Day 2019: If I Wasn’t a Teacher (Part 1)

By Ruchira Ramaswamy (20S03A) and Clara Shen (20A01A)

These interviews were first featured, in shorter form, in our special Teachers’ Day 2019 Print Edition. Here are the full interviews.

Ms Jesslynn Goh (1)

NAME: MS JESSLYNN GOH
DEPARTMENT: ARTS (HISTORY) 

If Ms Goh wasn’t a teacher… forget about it, she would still want to be one.

Tell us about your dream job!

Believe it or not, teaching is actually my dream job, something that I aspired to since a very young age. As I got older, I had some doubts, but with encouragement from friends and family… here I am!

How long have you been teaching?

Eight months! I started in January [this year].

What about teaching makes it your dream job?

Many different factors. One is having the privilege to be inspired by many good teachers out there—primary school, secondary school and even in JC. I recognise how significantly a teacher can make a difference in individual lives. That was something I hoped I could do for the next generation of young people, if I could have the chance.

Tell us about some of the doubts and challenges you’ve faced in your teaching journey.

There were friends who said it was going to be a very stressful job, very demanding physically, mentally, emotionally. And you don’t get that work-life balance, that’s what I hear a lot. Some people also said you only can travel during school holidays, and that’s the peak season of travelling, the prices go up. For example, you cannot travel in April to see the sakuras in Japan. And those things made me think a lot harder about whether I wanted to go into teaching, whether these sacrifices I’m going to make will be worth it. As I thought long and hard about it, I realised these are small sacrifices to make, and the opportunity that I get to interact with young students like you is not something that everybody gets. So I would like to seize the opportunity while I can, when I’m still young and have the energy. And I hope that this energy can sustain me through the years. It’s something that I see myself doing long-term. 

Do you find that what those people told you was true? 

Travelling—yes, but I’m not very affected by that [as] we still get our own breaks. Stress—yes, but I’ve learned after speaking to friends who are in different industries—some of them are in finance, some of them are in social work, some doing government policies—I realised that you can’t run away from stress.

Stress can come in different forms. The stresses that we face are different, and I can decide how I want to respond to it. Some stress that I face would be how to make tutorials more engaging and meaningful instead of doing the routine things, right? Because it would be very easy to repeat every week, do the same thing, so it wouldn’t be meaningful. I wouldn’t call that stress. I consider it a meaningful challenge, a meaningful endeavour for both myself and students.

 Take us through a day in your life as a teacher.

My day begins at 6 o’clock. I reach school around 7.10 am. But school starts at 7.40 am right? So you must be wondering what I’m doing. During these 30 mins, I like to consolidate my thoughts, just what am I going to do today.  Just have a rough overview: so today I’m meeting these 3 classes, so what will I be doing in each class—just to prepare myself. If it’s a chill day, I’ll just settle down and get into the zone. If I’m not tutoring or lecturing, sometimes I will sit in [on] my colleagues’ lessons to observe how they do certain things, are there some good practices that I can incorporate in my own classes. And then once lessons end, I have CCA: dragonboating. Sometimes I join them in the water but most of the time I’m down for land training when they’re at the gym. Officially, sometimes I [attend] some courses. If not I’ll just go back and relax, watch some TV. Or I’ll stay back in school and think about what I’m going to do tomorrow. Like I’m going to meet 3A later, so that’s my last lesson of the day. But I won’t go back [home] straight away. I will think: What am I going to do next week, while things are still fresh in my mind. Plan out roughly what’s going to happen next.

Has there been a moment where you’ve thought this was the wrong decision for you?

Not yet. But I feel that as a new teacher there are many ways in which I can still improve and learn. So I’m taking this chance to learn from many experienced and very good teachers in RI.

What advice do you have for students to follow in your tracks or follow their own passions?

 Don’t be afraid to go against the grain. Find out what you’re passionate about and go and pursue it even though not many people have gone there before. Don’t be afraid to try new things. And I feel that that’s something very important because many of us get pressured by what society deems as “good” or “better”. So don’t put so much emphasis on that. Find out what you’re really passionate about and run with it.

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NAME: MRS WONG SEOK HUI
DEPARTMENT: SCIENCE (BIOLOGY) 

Mrs Wong doesn’t have a dream job, but she knows what the ingredients are.

What is your dream job?

I don’t really have a dream job. I just didn’t start out having something in my mind that I really wanted to do. I did go through different choices. When I was in school, I did triple science. I wanted to be a doctor [so] I applied for it. I got accepted into an overseas medical college but my parents didn’t want me to go so… life sucks, we look for new things to do. I did Biology, and along the way had a taste of different things. I did undergraduate research before the honours. I did the honours project… I thought—research is fun, but life-long? Maybe not.

So I went and I did something completely different from the sciences and [academia]. I actually was with Suntec for a while, where I organised exhibitions. A colourful part of my life, it actually was very very good exposure. But there were things about being in an industry like that that I didn’t really like.

Could you elaborate on what research you undertook?

I did biochemistry, that was when I was in Year 3, I think? So I spent about 2 years doing research and writing up a paper at the end.

 Why did you end up choosing teaching as your profession?

As you’ve seen, I’ve gone around and done different things. I like interaction with people, that was what actually made research seem like it was not something I’d want to do, life-long. I still like being in the [academic line]. No matter how you see it, there’s politics everywhere. I think the environment in school is still a little bit more… what’s the word for that… cleaner?

Yeah. And of course, the objective is something that I can identify with as you can put some meaning to the work that you’re doing.

How long have you been teaching?

10 years.

What does the average day in your life as a teacher look like?

 Depends on the timetable. If I don’t have a first class, first thing I’ll do is get my perk-me-up, which is tea from the canteen [laughs]. Then get back to the staff room and look at lessons for the day… some lesson prep. We also have department meetings, which happen on a weekly basis. We go to class, we have lunch or brunch—whatever you call it – depending on whenever our break is and the timetable. There’s marking, there’s vetting of materials, preparing of materials for lessons like worksheets and stuff, reviewing the lecture slides if you’re lecturing. 

What are some of the most rewarding things about being a teacher?

I think it’s just seeing how the students have grown. Two years is very short, but it is also a time where you do see quite a lot of changes in students. Not that they have to be model students, not that they started out with problems—you know, seeing a good change lah…it makes it feel like it’s worth it. Of course that comes with building connections with the students.

Has there been a moment where you thought that ‘this job is not for me’?

[There have] been moments where the job has been overwhelming. A teacher has to wear many hats. The moment I started having my own family, it did get quite heavy…so there were thoughts of that…

What allowed you to overcome that challenge?

It’s a stage of my life that I think I needed to go through, and many people will need to go through. We just have to manage our commitments. It doesn’t mean that if I change the job, it’s not going to happen. With any job there will be challenges that you have to deal with.

What advice do you have for students who are following their passions, or for those who have a similar dilemma about what to pursue in the future?

I always say: go and find out what you’re getting yourself into. Because it’s very easy to have a false idea of what you would like to do. At the academic level, you may like a particular subject, you may like to study something. And you tell yourself that as a result of this, you would like to do this job. But what does this job really entail? It may not be the same as what you imagined. Find out, I think that’s the best.

You’d mentioned that you didn’t really have a dream job. But are you now able to come up with a definition of what that might be?

Something that you can put meaning to, something you don’t mind investing energy in… and something that you can see yourself doing long-term.  

Mrs Lydia Tan

NAME: MRS LYDIA TAN
DEPARTMENT: KNOWLEDGE SKILLS

If Mrs Tan wasn’t a teacher, she would be a social worker.  

What is your dream job? 

When I was young, my parents [wanted me] to be a doctor. But my actual dream job is to become a social worker.

What makes it your dream job? 

Being able to extend help, to share with others that there is still hope no matter how dire the situation is. Most of the time, they are locked into their own circumstances and they think there is no hope left. But that isn’t the case. 

Why did you choose teaching as your profession? 

Despite always wanting to become a social worker, I chose to join teaching because I could become a social worker in disguise under the name of a teacher. Actually, when I went for my first interview with MOE to become a teacher, I asked to teach at a Normal Tech school because [I believe] it is the same calling and passion as doing social work.

What does the average day in your life as a teacher look like? 

It will always start with a hearty breakfast. Then it will be “showtime” for every lesson. I believe that Project Work is a craft, which I share with students in a way that the craft becomes easier to grasp. Other than lessons, there are consultations. Again, it is about honing the craft—teaching and guiding them especially in areas [that] they are not getting. There is a lot of planning of lessons and consultations involved. 

What are some of the most rewarding things about being a teacher? 

The most rewarding is not [about] seeing them get an A but it is to see that some students have really picked up skills that I know will benefit them for life. Students will come back and tell me how the skills they have learnt from PW stayed with them no matter what they end up majoring in. 

Has there been a moment where you’ve thought “I want to quit?”

Perhaps when it gets very draining. But this moment normally comes and goes very quickly. I still think teaching is a very meaningful job.

Tell us about one of the passions in your life. 

I enjoy serving the community. For the past few years, I have been volunteering and helping out with parenting classes for young parents. When helping others in their journey, I believe it reflects on me as a parent as well as how I parent the students that I see.

What advice do you have for students in following their dreams? 

Don’t lose hope. As cliched as it sounds, really do keep going even if you may not be able to realise your dream at this point of time. Whatever circumstances you go through, take it as a learning experience to make you stronger and better so that you are ready to embrace and fulfil your dream when the time comes. 

Would you say being a teacher is your dream job? 

I still have a little hope that I can become a social worker in the future. Maybe when I retire [laughs]. But I really do enjoy interacting with students because it makes me feel young. It allows me to get to know the lives of students better and help them in their thinking with regard to PW. Maybe along the way, I can inspire some hope in students as well. I fuse social work and teaching together, so perhaps I am living my dream job right now. 

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