By Jerome Tay (20S06Q), Rachael Koh (20S07C), and Kelly Leong (20S07C)
These interviews were first featured, in shorter form, in our special Teachers’ Day 2019 Print Edition. Here are the full interviews.
NAME: MR KOH SAY YONG
DEPARTMENT: PHYSICAL EDUCATION (PE)
If Mr Koh wasn’t a teacher, he would probably be cooking up a storm in the kitchen and composing his own songs.
Many think of PE teachers as tall, athletic and muscular. Possessing physical abilities in a multitude of sports, Mr Koh is all that and more. He graduated from the Science faculty of Biology in NUS, and has always had his eyes set on teaching physical education. As tenacious as a volleyball spike, he pursued his post-grad in PE and began teaching in Raffles Institution in 1993.
Aside from being a PE teacher, Mr Koh enjoys cooking on the side. Now that’s all fine, but what’s even better is that this small interest of his eventually manifested in the most surprising way. In a move of calculated risk and following passions, Mr Koh and his colleague, another PE teacher from RI, started their very own restaurant, along Duke Road in Bukit Timah.
“Before we took over, it was originally a light shop. Renovating and revamping the place was hard work,” he tells us as he reminisces how the journey was like for him in 1996 with a glazed-over look in his eyes. The restaurant was lovingly named “Nomads”, in honour of the PE-teachers-turned-chefs who were constantly travelling to new destinations themselves.
“We served mainly Western cuisine,” Mr Koh recalls, “like pasta, pizza, steak and beer.” He added, matter-of-factly, that they tossed their own pizza. At this point, the authors were in awe of Mr Koh’s professionalism and had an unexplainable craving for a good ol’ Pepperoni ‘za.
So how did Mr Koh’s few years of teaching help in his career of running a restaurant? While Mr Koh and his co-worker manned the kitchens, whipping up plates of delightful food, guests were served largely by some of Mr Koh’s ex-students—JC graduates, or cheap labour, waiting for their university application results. All in all, it sounded like a very homely place for a meal.
Unfortunately, the restaurant was sold to a customer just two years later. Mr Koh returned back to teaching PE with greater gusto. The story doesn’t end here though, because Mr Koh is multi-layered: aside from his interest in cooking, he also dabbles in music.
Having been musically inclined since his youth, Mr Koh has performed for audiences in school and for the public. For a salary of $50, he did a one-man gig at Lau Pa Sat for an hour, singing and playing his guitar. In recent years, he has performed in school, and is self-taught in the ukulele.
“It’s not intrusive, but soft if you play it well,” he says, as we urge him to play us a piece. He does so with little to no hesitation, and we are soon enraptured by the melodic and soulful tune that he chose. It’s a quaint song dedicated to his two daughters, whom he enjoys spending time with, and features a series of string-plucking and chord-strumming.
What this means is that Mr Koh is not only an athlete, but also an accomplished chef and musician. With such diverse skills, we wonder why Mr Koh did not continue his restaurant career, or branch off to become a local artiste. The answer is simple: he just enjoys what he does here, in our humble school.
“The enthusiasm comes from the students,” he grins, before adding that “I do, I do love my job.”
(Find Mr Koh’s song by scanning the QR code below!)
NAME: MR GAVIN SWEE
DEPARTMENT: ARTS (HISTORY)
Don’t be surprised if Mr Swee becomes your History professor one day!
A name commonly heard around school is Mr Gavin Swee’s, who has a reputation for being both a great history tutor and a funny, charismatic person. Mr Swee had actually started teaching immediately after graduating from university, with RI being the second school he has taught at.
He has always been passionate about history, so much so that he had entertained thoughts of majoring in Law after being accepted into said faculty, but ended up majoring in History and East Asian Studies during his undergraduate days. He enjoys telling the stories and experiences of people, with particular interests in telling the stories of Chinese living all around the world. One might even call him RI’s very own bard!
During his free pockets of time in university, Mr Swee took on a whole host of responsibilities: from being a member of the residential life committee that looks after well, residential life on campus, to working in dining and catering, Mr Swee had certainly amassed a variety of life experiences prior to joining the teaching force.
Of course, some of his proudest moments come from his time teaching. He recalls guiding a boy in a previous school who was academically unmotivated. With Mr Swee’s encouragement, nagging and helping him taste small successes, the boy managed to get into the polytechnic foundation programme, and is currently in his second year. He tells us, rather solemnly, that “it [was] a huge achievement for someone who doesn’t come endowed with what many Rafflesians do.”
Of course, he also enjoys his current position as a tutor for the Humanities Programme (HP). He tells us that watching students grow is something only teaching can provide him.
Externally, Mr Swee has ties with the UOB Citi Chinese Orchestra. In fact, he does corporate social management for the group, which involves updating their facebook page, media publicity, and conducting interviews with radio stations. For one of the orchestra’s concerts, Mr Swee managed to obtain extensive publicity, and got hordes of large news agencies covering the event, and even went on-air on Symphony 92.4 and 95.8FM for interviews. Do consider hiring Mr Swee in the future if you require a shoutout of this magnitude!
As a hobby, Mr Swee enjoys a swim in the pool, where he is “alone with his thoughts”, leaving time and room for introspection in the tranquility of the water. He often emerges with “a to-do list, or new lesson plans” and is re-energised for work; he also adds on, quite accurately, that he prefers swimming to other exercises as he doesn’t like the sensation of sweat.
When asked where he sees himself in ten years, Mr Swee pauses. He seems deep in thought, almost as deep as the pool where the interview was held. Eventually, he confesses that he is not sure. What he knows is that it is likely to be in the school system, doing more to guide newer colleagues. The future is uncertain, and Mr Swee might find himself the opportunity to further his studies and teach at the undergraduate level in a decade, as he currently desires. There, in a university, he has greater freedom to decide how to teach, what to teach, and how much to teach, which is restricted here in RI.
While he does not enjoy every aspect of teaching, to him, this job is deeply meaningful and satisfying. “Of course, RI students are great to teach too.”
NAME: MS VICTORIA GALVEZ
DEPARTMENT: KNOWLEDGE SKILLS
If you want to know all about wet markets, Ms Galvez is the one to talk to.
In Singapore’s STEM-dominated job market, students and adults alike are familiar with aspirations of becoming doctors or engineers. Others, like entrepreneurs and lawyers, are fairly common too. What is uncommon, however, is Ms Galvez’s dream job—to be an anthropologist.
Ms Galvez has a long and accomplished academic background in this field. From her Bachelor’s degree (which she completed with a minor in Gender Studies) to her Master’s Degree for her major, Sociology, to her interest in anthropology, Ms Galvez is someone who truly enjoys knowledge and academia.
You might be wondering, ‘How did such an accomplished academic end up here?’ (Read: Intellectual) Well, Ms Galvez has actually been in the teaching scene for almost a decade, and refers to teaching as her ‘second love’. She started as a teaching assistant as a part of her Master’s scholarship, where she taught tutorials, before moving on to a two year stint at The Learning Lab, teaching anything from PSLE level English to JC level GP, and eventually settling for a job with MOE. Yup, she might have been your tuition teacher once!
Of course, teaching is not the only job Ms Galvez has had. The highlight of her career, in our humble opinion, is her work in Bedok Wet Market.
That’s right. The Wet Market. Ms Galvez’s dedication to academia, combined with her interest in these disappearing spaces in Singapore, has led her to base her masters thesis on Singapore’s disappearing wet markets.
She spent three years working at fish stalls in that very wet market just to understand its dynamics. The first few months were rough, as she recalls getting scolded by both customers and stall owners in a variety of ways. Learning the ropes of selling fish was not easy, but she quickly adapted and can now name and sell fish fluently in Hokkien. She also had to wake up in the early hours of the morning (3am!) if she wanted to speak to the hawkers as they prepare for their day, as the crowing of the rooster brings customers, leaving no time for idle chatter. She even tells stories of stall rivalry (good ol’ monopolistic competition), and how she had to work around not giving away trade secrets.
Even after her three years there, Ms Galvez returns every Chinese New Year to the wet market to help sell fish. In her words, “A good researcher should ideally never just be sucking data from the research community and never contributing back.” Something we can all take inspiration from indeed.
Volunteerism seems to be an important aspect in her life. Ms Galvez can be found distributing food to the working class living in one room rental flats, and has a history of being a missionary in Cambodia before her career in MOE.
On the side, Ms Galvez also pursues music, enjoys theatre, and travels to places that are replete with untold stories—she recently travelled to Germany to participate in a tour guided by refugees to hear the voices of a marginalised group. She also mentions plans of ‘anime tourism’ during her next trip to Japan.
Indeed, teaching may never hold as great a torch to Ms Galvez’s old flame: being an anthropologist. It is as many have said: you never forget your first love. The study of people and their behaviour is very much still a part of her life; it manifests in the way she speaks and interacts and thinks about GP issues. Yet, her love for the community brought Ms Galvez into the teaching scene. Through translating the things that she has learnt from her experiences to the classroom, she hopes to give students bite-sized knowledge that can, in turn, be translated into values and social action.