Education as a Vocation

By Carean Oh

With Shu Hui, one of my students.

I might be convinced to think that education is a discredited practice rooted out from classrooms. We, teachers, are believed to continue using methods that cause little or no improvement in student progress, and instead rely on anecdotal evidence to back fashionable techniques such as “discovery learning,” where pupils are meant to uncover key ideas for themselves, or “learning styles,” which claims children can be divided into those who learn best through sight, sound or movement.

A Misunderstood Profession

There is no single best way to teach. Having taught for a number of years, I realise that teaching is a job that is acutely sensitive, quite unpredictable and highly versatile. Contrary to what you may think, traditional styles are still most effective in rewarding effort. To be effective, we have to use class time efficiently and insist on clear rules to manage pupil behaviour. There is always a delicate balance to strike: going too fast with the high-ability groups and too slow with the low. So, it is surprisingly difficult for anyone watching a teacher to judge how effectively students are learning. It’s equally hard to understand our jobs. We work copiously behind the scene, and manage the micro to the macro. It’s not about having a job; it’s a job that requires more than a full-time capacity.

Painting a Blank Canvas

What’s the best coping mechanism? It is to see education as a vocation. While my colleagues were ploughing through the day, satisfied with the security of their teaching schedules, I tried to push the boundaries of the system. Surely, teaching means a lot more than that? I didn’t just want to report for work and be another teacher who professes to ‘impart knowledge’. It was about these children. They are a blank canvas. What can I paint? How do I paint it? I needed to think of more ways to inspire these young minds so they can work on themselves in to right direction.

My Own Learning Experience

I was not a perfect student. My parents gave me free rein to decide how I should learn, what I should read to learn and who to turn to for help. With this freedom (which I could have easily taken for granted), I found my own path. I was top of standard at 12 years old (year after year) and proceeded to acquire a college degree, a post graduate degree and while struggling with my growing education business, a masters degree. Trust me, it wasn’t easy to rewrite history (and honestly, I did not want to). Being a certified accountant was something I am still proud of. And cloaking that layer with the robes of a teacher made me feel as if a part of me had been left behind with KPMG, one of the most prestigious risk assurance firms I could ever have joined. Yet, the calling was strong. For I was promoted year after year, till I managed to not only head my own department, I was rather blessed to be recognised by the Ministry of Education as one of their best teachers. I was given the chance to undertake further projects in New York, China and Singapore. 

A Quest to Make a Social Impact

Still, it was not enough. I needed more focus. And all those years, I was writing. I wrote about my experiences. Model essays. Creative writings. All these were used as materials for my lessons. Lessons were created to be more interesting, interactive and engaging. Every available resource in the school was exploited, so that my students had access to a more varied range of learning materials. For years, the graduating classes returned in batches, to visit and show their juniors how much they had benefited from the lessons. By then, I no longer measured how important it was to be fulfilling the school’s requirements as a teacher. I was fulfilling my desire to make a difference. I want my students to be successful English students and eventually, better writers.

A Leap of Faith

Set up a school to teach English was certainly a courageous leap. In Singapore, where education was a priority, competition among private schools was rife. Still, I trusted my convictions to steer me in the right direction. A writing school was born. I started with three students. Today, it has seen thousands of graduates whose lives have changed for the better, just because they have understood what it takes to be a better English student, and most importantly , what it takes to be a good writer. I have never once regretted all the sacrifices that I had made for these children. The late nights burning that midnight oil to set learning materials, the many calls to their parents to understand their progress in school and most importantly, the demands of juggling a masters degree and a highly demanding and dynamic business in teaching writing. 

No Regrets

Will I be always be happy to teach English? Will I be a constant source of motivation for these students? Yes. Yes. Yes. Writing and the art of teach English have consumed me. To be a good English teacher, I have to write well. To write well means I have to teach them to collect experiences. Everyone of us is unique. We encountered unusual experiences that form good materials for writing. This is where my experiences benefit the students greatly. I have travelled widely, received much training in fields ranging from deportment to psychology to law. I travel wrote and produce materials for publishers. I cook, wrestle, dive, yacht, fly, paint, write… and drive. Do I trust that they will have a similar journey? I do not know. To put it simply, I just hope to pave the way and be a good role model, a Renaissance teacher. If you love English, enjoy writing or reading, stay here with me. I would like to share my experience and connect with you.


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