By Faith Wei (21S03C) and Samyak Jain (21S03A)
Cover image by Clarice Tan (21A01C)
These interviews were originally featured, in shorter form, in our Teachers’ Day 2020 Special Edition. Here are the full interviews.
NAME: MR JONATHAN ANG
DEPARTMENT: KNOWLEDGE SKILLS (GP)
A new face in the staffroom of RI, Mr Ang’s ability to radiate warmth makes it easy for him to connect with students in the classroom. But don’t let Mr Ang’s bright disposition and ever-ready smile fool you—as someone with prior experience in competitive lifesaving (yes, that exists!), and whose hobbies include powerlifting, he is not one to be trifled with.
In this year’s Teachers’ Day feature, he shares his interests in everything from sociology to sports, as well as his personal experience teaching in RI thus far.
What inspired you to become a teacher?
My mother, who has been a teacher for the last 25 years. [She] always came back home from school with a smile on her face, and that made me really curious as to whether her job was really that enjoyable, and I wasn’t wrong.
The second reason is an immense passion for youth and the development of youth—something that I discovered when I was in university. I did an internship with a non-profit, TRIBE, and they actually help at-risk youth. From there, I really realised that my passion lay with education and really imparting knowledge, and that’s something I’m also really passionate about. I see teaching as a marrying of both my passions for discovery of knowledge and engaging with the young people.
“I see teaching as a marrying of both my passions for discovery of knowledge and engaging with the young people.”Mr Ang
Why did you choose to teach GP as opposed to any other subject?
[Immediately] Because GP is the best subject! [laughs]
I think there’s a lot more room for me to be creative, and I really enjoy talking about things that are current. So [it’s] the flexibility that General Paper gives to me and the opportunity to talk about real-world issues. Not to say that Biology or Physics is not real-world, but talking about anything under the sun is something that I really enjoy, and I think that GP really gives me the perfect platform to do that.
What’s something unexpected about being a teacher that you’ve learnt?
How awesome RI students can be. [laughs] I think I wouldn’t say it’s unexpected, I don’t really think that I didn’t expect a lot of things because my mum did explain to me the challenges of being a teacher. But I think one unexpected thing is really how much I really enjoyed engaging with all of you. I thought it’d be tiring. I mean, I consider myself to be an ambivert, and I thought I’d be super tired after a day’s work, but every time I go into class, I feel as though I’m in my element, and that really keeps me going. In that sense, that’s also one of the reasons why I became a teacher, yeah.
What do you like to do outside of teaching?
I like to engage in sports. I used to be quite sporty when I was younger—I played softball, hockey; swimming. I tried my hand at life-saving before—like, competitive life-saving. [jokingly] I guess I realised that I couldn’t really perform in, like, red shorts and a yellow shirt, but that’s besides the point. [laughs]
In my free time nowadays I do powerlifting, because I recognise the value of functional training. At the same time I also like to—this might come across really geeky, but—from time to time I like to read academic journals, because I’m quite passionate about sociology; I just like to keep abreast of what’s happening in the academic sphere. At the same time, I’m trying to pick up digital art, like I’m starting off with Canva and stuff and then going into various techniques, because I think it’s an area I want to explore. Yeah, so that’s what I usually do. Apart from that I think I’m quite boring. [laughs]
If you hadn’t become a teacher, what would you want to be and why?
I probably would have been a social worker. [I] would probably work in a correctional facility or become a professor. My professors back in university actually recommended me for a course overseas, but I chose not to take it up because I thought it’d be too boring… Apart from that, when I was young, I wanted to be a football player, but very quickly, I realised that it wasn’t very practical, and I didn’t have the skills, yeah. [laughs]
How has your teaching experience in RI been like so far?
I think it’s been varied. I think as a teacher, there really are good days and bad days, but thankfully, it’s been mostly good.
I really enjoy relating to my students—they like to challenge me intellectually but I think that’s a good thing because firstly, it shows that they’re thinking and that they’re paying attention, and secondly, I feel like it also motivates me to better myself. So, let’s say for example, they ask a difficult question that I’m not able to answer, that gives me added motivation to deepen my understanding and knowledge. That’s a huge part of why teaching is so exciting for me—you never stop learning, you never stop growing, and I think that’s something that really motivates me, yeah.
Do you have any movie or book recommendations?
Actually, I’d recommend this book called The House of the Scorpion by Nancy Farmer. It was written in 2002 and it was about cloning, yeah, like, the ethics behind cloning, and whether the life of a clone is worth less than a human being who’s born naturally. So, I read that when I was 10 and I found that to be really really cool, because it really extended my understanding of ethics and how the world is ordered in that sense. Yeah, so I’d recommend that book.
If you could tell one thing to your students, what would you say to them?
Okay, okay, [clears throat] teacher talk now. [laughs] One thing I’d tell my students is to never stop believing in yourself, in what you can achieve. And the reason why is because your teacher sees so much potential, um so much, ability, and we just really hope that you’ll never stop wanting to learn and wanting to grow, not just academically, but as a person. And we’re really just so excited to see the people that you’ll be when you leave our hands, um, and we just hope that you’ll come to visit us often as well.
NAME: DR JACKSON KOH
Dr Koh, the most important question: Why did you decide to become a teacher?
I think I’ve been asked this question many times before. I mean right from the start when you do your training as a teacher, they ask you why you want to be a teacher. I find teaching meaningful: being able to impact students’ lives and to guide them. Not only academically but also holistically in terms of character and values.
So did you always know you would end up becoming a teacher?
Not really. In JC when I did my overseas [university] application, I went for something like chemical engineering. But after that I think I decided it was too much physics [laughs], then I decided to go into chemistry itself.
You’ve taught at a secondary school before, so what is the biggest change from teaching O-levels to A-levels?
Similar [to how] you all are transiting from secondary school to junior college, for me the transition [took place] from classroom-based teaching to the lecture-tutorial style, so it’s very different.
For classroom-based teaching, you are the one who is going to teach every single thing, and then after that you go through the practices with them. So the way the lesson is formatted is a bit different. But in JC, [it’s] the lecture-tutorial style, so the focus on what is being taught during the tutorial is very much different. Thinking more deeply about the questions and the answers [as well as] other things I ask you all to think about will help improve your understanding.
What was the biggest challenge transitioning from teaching secondary to JC, or the biggest adjustment you had to make?
[Pauses and thinks deeply] The biggest challenge for me now [would] still be familiarity with the syllabus. Other teachers who have been teaching JC for many years would have gone through the cycle a few times and would know the syllabus, question types and common mistakes better [than me].
You seem to be very technologically advanced, because you’re always using your Surface Pro and stuff. Was it a challenge teaching during HBL then?
I mean using the Surface Pro doesn’t make me technologically advanced because that is very superficial. Almost all teachers now have a tablet or at least a laptop that can be transformed into a tablet that they can just fold, so there isn’t much difference. Maybe for me, I use the wireless display adaptor so that I can point more naturally to the screen and direct your attention easily during the discussion. That’s the only main difference; I don’t consider myself more technologically advanced. The use of [Microsoft] OneNote was also picked up from my colleagues; they shared with me how to use OneNote in the classroom, so I’ve learnt quite a lot from them.
As for HBL, it’s a challenge for everyone because our concern isn’t that much about technology or setting up of a Teams meeting [but] more about the pedagogy behind it: how do we ensure that learning is still effectively taking place when you all are not in front of us, when we can’t see your body language. You know sometimes students will frown [or] they will stare at something, but we’re handicapped in that manner during HBL. But the HBL season allowed us to explore things that we don’t usually have the chance to.
MOE has been talking about HBL but more as a once- or twice-a-year kind of thing, so we don’t usually place an emphasis on that. But because of the COVID situation, we had to transit to full HBL, which really opened up a lot of opportunities for us to try out and experiment [with] new things.
Shifting from teaching to you as a person, I heard you play badminton and volleyball. Have you been able to engage in these activities despite your busy schedule as a JC teacher?
I’ll play with my colleagues or friends when the opportunity [arises], but [because of COVID] it’s been challenging. I played volleyball as a student for six years but I [didn’t] play it that much after I graduated from JC. I mean, volleyball isn’t that popular a sport and it’s kind of hard to find 12 people. The venues are also limited.
I do play other sports. I was a goalkeeper in JC, in addition to being a volleyball player. So I do play soccer sometimes when friends organise it [and] basketball too recreationally.
What are your other passions that you do outside of teaching Chemistry?
I cook, following recipes, that kind of thing, to satisfy my stomach as well as my wife’s stomach. I can’t really do the cooking where you create your own recipes. I also play around with photography a bit—DSLR, shutter speed, exposure, ISO, things like that, and then I have an interest in personal finance in terms of credit cards, some sort of investment, so I do keep myself updated.
What kind of photography do you do—is it landscape photography?
Strictly speaking, it’s more like tourism photography—you know. I take more photos when I’m overseas when I have the opportunity. I’ve tried taking the Milky Way shots in Indonesia. There is a well-known place [in Indonesia] to enjoy the starry skies.
So, which places have you visited as a tourist?
China, Korea…I’ve been to Korea a few times [because] my wife likes it a lot. I’ve been there—let me count—I’ve lost count but almost four to five times in the past six years. Although I’ve not been to Japan, [I] probably would have gone if not for the COVID situation.
[I did more travelling] when I was an exchange student: I went to Sweden for exchange. Stockholm. I went to Norway, I went to places around it—Riga, UK, France, Switzerland, Germany. As a student, you know, you just carry your backpack and just go around for one month.
In all these countries, did you notice the differences in the way they are taught as compared to Singapore?
The main difference I noticed was in the difference in the mode of assessment. Actually, I had my first chemistry oral exam (try saying “Buckminsterfullerene”) in Stockholm. [It] was an equivalent of a Year 4 organic chemistry module and the class size was only 10 to 14 students. So the professor just asked us to schedule a time and then he [would] verbally pose you a question [about] some reaction mechanism or catalysis and then you [would have to] describe the thing and draw out the catalytic cycle for the examiner. So that was quite an eye opener.
Other than that, the exams that I took there were five to six hours long, but only because they give you more than enough time to complete the paper so you can really do [it] until you reach the maximum of whatever you can do, and then you can just give up and submit. You [would] see people bringing in lunch and sandwiches, apples, canned drinks and stuff like that.
Another professor there said that [there was] no need for us to sit for the final exam if you [didn’t] need a grade that is more than a pass. You just need[ed] to submit your assignment, and if your assignment [was] decent, [he would] just pass you like with the minimum grade. As an exchange student, our grades were not carried back, so it’s either pass or fail. We just needed a pass and [we were] more than happy to take that option.
Wish we had that for promos.
[laughs] But quality wise, you won’t be able to tell, so that’s the downside.
For anyone who is aspiring to become a teacher, would you have any advice for them?
“I would say that being a teacher is very different from what a student [might] perceive it to be. You only see the front but don’t see a lot of the back-end stuff that the teacher has to do.”Dr Koh
The best way to know whether you are suited to be a teacher is to really try it. MOE offers opportunities such as relief teaching or contract teaching. You can teach for half a year to have a taste of what teaching is like.