Teachers’ Day 2020: Bet You Didn’t Know (Ms Magno)

By Snehal Sachde (21S07C) and Ng Yong Xiang (21S07C)

This was originally featured, in a shorter form, in our Teachers’ Day 2020 Special Edition. Here is the full story.

“A modern twist of the traditional barong tagalog.”

NAME: MS NICOLE MAGNO
DEPARTMENT: KNOWLEDGE SKILLS (GP)

Ms Nicole Magno is known for many things, but if you could only remember one thing from meeting her, it would be her sense of style. 

In her own words, she describes her wardrobe as an amalgamation of “fantabulous” and “rebellious”. It is obvious at first sight to see the effort she puts into her attire, and she describes the sense of satisfaction putting together an elaborate outfit gives her. This first impression of her is the first look into viewing her as someone who is just not what you might stereotypically think of as a GP teacher. Her expressive style, coupled with her unique experiences and outlook on life, often makes her the highlight of the day for her students, be it in the US, China, or in Singapore. 

Being brought up as a Filipino child in the US certainly gave Ms Magno a distinctive set of experiences which have influenced her ambitions and thought processes to this day. She grew up listening to her grandmother’s stories about Filipino mythology, but tried to be “colour-blind” about her race as a factor in her identity.  However, this didn’t stop her from feeling “isolated” in the US, being one of only six Asian students in her school. 

Ms Magno’s experiences with casual racism against her own community, as well as reading about the experiences of other minorities and marginalised communities in the US, gave her a new perspective. She learnt to use race as a lens to observe and analyse the disadvantages she and the people around her faced.

The lack of representation of her community in popular culture and media bothered her as a child; she recounts almost crying of happiness when she sees the Filipino community and culture being represented positively and “in such a cool way” in the media. 

Drawing from her roots

This lack of representation led to Ms Magno starting her own webcomic during the Circuit Breaker period. She combines her Filipino heritage using characters from Filipino mythology, her love for the arts with the comic genre, as well as her desire for increased representation of Filipino culture in an artistic venture definitely worth spending time reading and experiencing.  

Ms Magno’s journey of writing the comic started less than four months ago. She had very little professional training and practice with art, having been trained to teach English Literature in university. Over the Circuit Breaker period, she taught herself digital art between tutorials and marking (which, honestly, is much more than what any of us have been doing). She recalls playing and experimenting with the medium as well as with the comic format before finally publishing the first episode of her comic, Tikbalang Tales

The comic circles around a teacher, a tattooist and a Tikbalang, a creature from Filipino mythology, quite literally walking into a bar. It covers themes such as mental health and the importance of healthy relationships. She hopes to continue creating these comics, publish a total of five episodes by the end of the year, and continue making more webcomics in the future. 

The adventure of teaching

Speaking about her other “full-time job”, Ms Magno had initially pursued teaching as her grandparents (whom she affectionately called her “lolo” and “lola”) used to be teachers. After seeing their ex-students who had become nurses and engineers coming to their funerals when they passed, and the great lasting impact they had left on the children under their wing, she was inspired to follow in their footsteps.

“I was one of those kids who knew exactly what they wanted to do at a really young age [of eight].”

Ms Magno

Despite her expertise in teaching English Literature, Ms Magno had been deployed in the Knowledge Skills department, where she has since stayed throughout her tenure in RI, to teach General Paper (GP). “The skills to teach GP and Lit[erature] are almost the same,” she shared with us.

Having taught GP for the past six years or so, she finds herself enjoying GP more than Literature now—GP allows her to read more widely outside the world of fiction, gaining deeper insight into various social issues such as those surrounding race and gender through frequent, rigorous classroom discussions with her students.

However, unlike the differences in skills between teaching GP and English Literature, the differences between teaching in China and Singapore compared to in the US were definitely much more striking. She found it much harder to initiate classroom discussions in Singapore. Unlike our peers in the US who would “go to town” and voice their opinions during classroom discussions, we students in Singapore tend to be a little more reserved. Thus, she often feels the need to encourage and affirm local students so as to get them to share their perspectives with the rest of the class. Nonetheless, she wishes that there was also some form of social pressure to motivate students in the US to do their best like in Singapore.

She had first travelled abroad to teach in China and Singapore out of curiosity, hoping to explore and learn more about the cultures and systems of other countries outside the US. Life in China and Singapore was certainly different from life in the US.

Despite no longer feeling isolated due to her race, she also felt a lot more uncomfortable striking up a conversation with a random stranger as she would have back in New York. Nonetheless, Singapore provided her with a sense of security and safety she never really felt in the US, something which she feels that Singaporeans often take for granted.

“It’s really safe here,” she mentioned as she talked about how she felt that she could go out at 10p.m. and actually feel safe—something that seemed impossible back in New York.

Having lived and worked in Singapore for a little more than half a decade now, Ms Magno feels that she has put down roots in Singapore, finding friends that have become family over the years. “I’ve stayed in Singapore for six years, it must be for a reason, right?” she added.

As much as she would like to explore and live in other countries such as Japan and Finland and further expand her horizons, she enjoys teaching here in RI and hopes to stay for the near future. And, Ms Magno, so do we.

You can read Ms Magno’s webcomic Tikbalang Tales here.

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