Teachers Are Students Too
Friday, October 30, 2009
At Westwood Secondary School, learning is a continuous process, especially if you're the one standing in front of the whiteboard. Four teachers graduated this year with Masters degrees, and another four are currently enrolled in such programmes.
So how does it feel to become a student again?
"For once I'm not the main pivot of the class ..."
These were the responses from Mrs Thio-Sim Siaw Cheng and Mr Michael Chua respectively. Mrs Thio-Sim graduated with a Master's degree in education this year, and is currently the head of the Science department. Mr Chua is currently pursuing the same degree and is the Subject Head for the Normal (Technical) stream.
"When you spend the whole day talking to students, it is quite refreshing to talk about theories and pedagogy with like-minded adults, even after a long, tiring work day," Mrs Thio-Sim enthuses. She and Mr Chua took their courses under MOE's Professional Development Continuum Model, which provides sponsorship for full-time teachers to pursue Masters degrees on a part-time basis. Both teachers elected to pursue a Master of Education because their interests lay in curriculum design and how to conduct proper assessments.
Another teacher at Westwood Secondary School, Mr Nandakumar Mayakestan, chose an area of study that was closely related to his university education - he has an Honours degree in History - and to his teaching subjects of History and Social Studies. After one year in the teaching service, he embarked on a Master of Arts in Social Studies.
Help from colleagues
Choosing to do a higher degree while carrying out a demanding full-time job is no mean feat. "Sometimes your assignment deadlines coincide with your school's exam marking period. That can be really difficult," said Mr Kumar, who is also the school's Subject Head for special projects. So it's important to have the support of the school's leaders. For example, when there are staff meetings, teachers undertaking courses are let off earlier so that they can attend their Masters classes.
The teachers pursuing advanced degrees are also lucky to have support from their colleagues. For Mrs Thio-Sim, this came in the form of buy-in from her colleagues and their willingness to execute ideas from her Master's programme group project assignment. She and a group of Westwood Secondary School teachers enrolled in the same course developed a "cyber-wellness" module, to teach Internet etiquette and safe and constructive ways of using the Internet, and prevent Internet gaming addiction.
The cyber-wellness lessons took place during Westwood's pastoral care periods. These classes proved successful, so more lessons were added to make the module more comprehensive. It continued to be implemented even after Mrs Thio-Sim's group had completed their project. "We felt good about contributing to the school, which was made possible because we had support from our colleagues," says Mrs Thio-Sim.
Ultimately, however, their daily work as teachers comes first. All three teachers agreed that it all boils down to time management and prioritising their responsibilities. Mrs Thio-Sim, who was promoted to become a Head of Department during her three-year part-time Master's course, was thankful that she had the company of colleagues in the same course. "We formed a study group and supported each other throughout the course, often splitting up the workload. This made the course more enjoyable and manageable."
A new way of teaching
The course has certainly benefited these teachers in their work. "You learn a lot from other teachers," reflects Mr Kumar. "The course gives you time to dwell deeper on certain issues and think about how to present them in the classroom."
"I see curriculum design in a whole new light, such as the importance of making subjects relevant to the students," adds Mr Chua. "It makes the students participate more willingly and that contributes to everyone's learning in the classroom."
Mrs Thio-Sim chimes in with some encouraging last words. "The experience was quite motivating, actually. It helped us to understand the education system better as a whole."