Like Mother Like Daughter: A family tradition to teach and inspire

Teacher Gen is one of our longest-serving teachers. Many would know her as our Head of Science and regard her as an impressive teacher. But here’s a seldom known fact about Teacher Gen: she comes from a family steeped in pride and pedigree – for teaching that is!

Teacher Gen is one of our longest-serv­ing teach­ers. Many would know her as our Head of Sci­ence and regard her as an impres­sive teacher. But here’s a sel­dom known fact about Teacher Gen: she comes from a fam­i­ly steeped in pride and pedi­gree – for teach­ing that is! Her moth­er, in par­tic­u­lar, is a senior Eng­lish teacher at a rep­utable pri­ma­ry school in the East.

From a ten­der age, Teacher Gen was exposed to the world of a teacher, and the impact that had on her endured to this day. She is now proud­ly car­ry­ing on her fam­i­ly tra­di­tion. Like her moth­er, she hopes to devote her career to teach, inspire and trans­form the minds of our young ones. In this inter­view arti­cle, we put Teacher Gen in the spot­light. We ask her about the influ­ence her fam­i­ly has had on her per­son­al work eth­ic and teach­ing phi­los­o­phy. We also get her to share her vision for pri­ma­ry school sci­ence pro­grammes at Think Teach. And as always, we will cap off the inter­view by get­ting to know Teacher Gen on a more per­son­al lev­el.

Q: You just came back from a long and well-deserved holiday in France. How was it? Do you feel recharged to ready to take on a new academic year?

I feel recharged to take on 2023! Trav­el­ling around Europe has always been on my buck­et list. It real­ly makes me feel as if I’m liv­ing in the Mid­dle Ages. I’m a crea­ture of habit – I must start my day with a good break­fast. I wouldn’t call it break­fast if it didn’t come with a cup of cof­fee. In France, I would start my day ear­ly and search for a clas­sic Parisian café where I can find a seat out­side the café and enjoy the view. I must admit that trav­el­ling gives me the oppor­tu­ni­ty to learn more about myself and it also gives me that space to brain­storm ideas to improve the Sci­ence cur­ricu­lum. Work­ing on the Sci­ence cur­ricu­lum nat­u­ral­ly moti­vates me, it’s just some­thing I find joy doing.

Q: Sounds like you had a good trip but not sure about a good break. It almost sounds like you were having withdrawal symptoms from not teaching for 2 weeks! Where did this love and passion of teaching come from?

This is so hard to pin­point. Yes, I come from a fam­i­ly of teach­ers. My uncles are lec­tur­ers them­selves. Grow­ing up, I lived with my grand­par­ents and my uncles shared the same roof too. As a young kid, I always remem­ber myself sit­ting next to one of my uncles and just watch him mark his student’s work­sheets. Apart from my moth­er, they were my teach­ers too! When I need help in my home­work, I will knock on their doors, and they will patient­ly teach me. Not sure if you used to have an imag­i­nary friend grow­ing up, but I soon found myself pre­tend­ing to be a teacher and I would teach this “friend” my school­work. I would say my love and pas­sion start­ed there but I nev­er real­ized it until much lat­er.

Q: That sure is interesting. I remember your first job after graduation was actually a short stint in Sales. I suppose you did want to give yourself a chance to experience something different. But how did your family take to that? And during your first job, was teaching always in the back of your mind?

My fam­i­ly has always sup­port­ed me in my deci­sions, even from the time I received my PSLE results when I felt I did not meet my own expec­ta­tions. I remem­ber break­ing down in front of my father and with­out look­ing at my grades, he gave me a hug and believed that I had giv­en my best. My moth­er and grand­par­ents have always encour­aged me to be a teacher, but my stub­born self will not lis­ten. I am a huge believ­er of try­ing new things – Don’t try, you will nev­er know, espe­cial­ly in seek­ing your career or hob­bies. I job hopped basi­cal­ly, only to find myself con­tent­ed in the edu­ca­tion sec­tor. I have nev­er regret­ted try­ing dif­fer­ent jobs as each job has taught me some­thing that I can con­fi­dent­ly apply in the edu­ca­tion sec­tor. Every­thing hap­pens for a rea­son.

Q: I suppose it’s true when they say you can delay but can’t escape destiny! Would you say being a teacher was what you were destined to do?

Yes, I do feel that I can be a teacher for a long time. At Think Teach, I was giv­en the oppor­tu­ni­ty to take own­er­ship of the Sci­ence Team. That includes cre­at­ing the cur­ricu­lum, to teach­ing, to man­ag­ing a team of col­leagues. Over­all, I enjoy the dai­ly inter­ac­tions I have with my fel­low team­mates, and I am so grate­ful for them! I am proud to be a teacher because I get the chance to not just empow­er my stu­dents, but I get to inno­vate, be cre­ative and be an influ­ence to them. I tru­ly feel so blessed and sup­port­ed in this work­place.

Q: Obviously, Think Teach has an education philosophy of teaching and thinking smart. But what about yours? What is your personal teaching philosophy? You don’t have to say it’s the same as the academy!

My per­son­al teach­ing phi­los­o­phy is to devel­op a learn­ing envi­ron­ment in which stu­dents can learn togeth­er, learn from one anoth­er, and com­mu­ni­cate with one anoth­er. I believe in a holis­tic approach when it comes to devel­op­ing a child. At this age, I strong­ly feel that it is impor­tant that as teach­ers, we pay atten­tion to our stu­dents’ social, emo­tion­al, and cog­ni­tive devel­op­ment. I aim to cre­ate a safe space so that stu­dents can feel com­fort­able and hap­py and be able to focus on learn­ing, devel­op self-con­fi­dence and inde­pen­dence.

Q: So how do you see your philosophy or a Think Teach philosophy being manifested in the Science programmes you are in charge of leading and designing?

My phi­los­o­phy is man­i­fest­ed most­ly in the Sci­ence cur­ricu­lum, the way it’s struc­tured and designed. We have activ­i­ties and exper­i­ments to engage all our stu­dents. Think Teach Sci­ence is known for our sig­na­ture writ­ing tech­niques to tack­le open-end­ed ques­tions.

By equip­ping stu­dents with these tech­niques, they can inde­pen­dent­ly iden­ti­fy what to look out for in the ques­tions before craft­ing their answers. In one of our pro­grammes, we task our stu­dents to cre­ate their own open-end­ed ques­tions and answers. This allows them to think crit­i­cal­ly and plan before­hand. They will be giv­en time to dis­cuss with their peers and present their work.

Mov­ing for­ward, to fur­ther gain our upper pri­ma­ry stu­dents’ inter­ests and involve­ment, we will be kick­start­ing each top­ic with an arti­cle that talks about events/issues/actions cur­rent­ly hap­pen­ing around the world in rel­e­vance to the top­ic and the exam­i­na­tion ques­tions. They will be giv­en the chance to dis­cuss and present their thoughts.

Q: You accomplished a lot this year. You initiated the introduction of Think Teach’s Primary 1 and 2 programmes. You also spearheaded a revamp of the academy’s Primary 3 and 4 programmes. What is the reason for this? And how do you envision the changes will benefit students and parents even more in 2023?

We are a PSLE pow­er­house, so I see a huge impor­tance in active­ly engag­ing stu­dents at a young age, unlock their poten­tial and help­ing them excel expo­nen­tial­ly. There is always a con­stant need for changes to be made in our pro­grammes to fur­ther enhance stu­dents’ learn­ing. It is impor­tant to be up to date with the syl­labus and the mind­set of par­ents. At the Pri­ma­ry 1 and 2 lev­el, our stu­dents will be tak­en on an adven­ture where their 5 sens­es will come to life, and they will be able to dis­cov­er their skills and tal­ents. This jour­ney will be mag­i­cal! At the Pri­ma­ry 3 and 4 lev­el, our stu­dents will still be engaged with hands-on activ­i­ties, inter­ac­tive games etc. and we will begin to equip them with the right tech­niques and con­cepts that will gear them up for Pri­ma­ry 5, which is way more chal­leng­ing. Their learn­ing will be fun and effec­tive! All these prepa­ra­tions will ready our stu­dent for the PSLE and both par­ents and stu­dents will not have to pan­ic at the very last minute. Our stu­dents’ con­fi­dence will grow year-on-year and the prepa­ra­tion for the PSLE will be less stress­ful.

Q: So if I understand correctly, you believe the 6 years of primary school are rightfully split into 3 stages. The focus of Primary 1 and 2 should be on helping students to acquire the love for learning. Primary 3 and 4 should be on helping students build the right foundation and prepare them for the steep transition into Primary 5. And the final 2 years should of course be unabashedly exam-focussed – PSLE preparation. Why do you see it this way? Do you think this would resonate more with Singapore parents who are largely about grades?

At the low­er lev­els, chil­dren ben­e­fit great­ly from play-based learn­ing. This approach makes learn­ing fun and sup­ports the way they are wired to learn. The savvy mod­ern par­ent has caught on to this and are advo­cates of this approach. Hence, an inno­v­a­tive and cre­ative aca­d­e­m­ic approach has almost become a pre-req­ui­site in a par­ents’ quest for a suit­able enrich­ment cen­tre for their child. I believe that par­ents are not sole­ly con­cerned about grades, but also with the impor­tance of instill­ing an inter­est to learn.

Q: I asked Fiona this when I interviewed her and I’m going to do the same with you. Where do you see yourself and/or Think Teach in 5–10 years’ time?

Per­son­al­ly, I hope to be a good men­tor to oth­ers, not just at work but in all aspects of my life. Of course, I must still be fit and look young! I too hope to be an influ­ence in edu­ca­tion by part­ner­ing with exter­nal com­pa­nies and cre­at­ing a plat­form to improve stu­dents’ learn­ing expe­ri­ence.

Q: Finally, I would like to find out more about your hobbies and life outside of teaching. If you could do something for a living where you do not have to worry about how high or low the job pays, what would that be? Oh yes, please do not say teaching.

I’ve always enjoyed being in a com­mu­ni­ty where peo­ple come togeth­er to keep fit. Cur­rent­ly, I am very into HIIT work­out and boul­der­ing. My to-do list in the next few years is to vis­it the climb­ing gyms around the world and hope­ful­ly rock climb out­doors like in Yosemite Nation­al Park, USA. Believe it or not, I want to be a fit­ness train­er and inspire oth­ers to have a healthy lifestyle and help them achieve their phys­i­cal goals.

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