Teachers who Provide Star Service
Monday, February 20, 2012
While teachers are often esteemed for the positive impact they have on their students, Mdm Azizah Bte Abdul Rahim and Mr Victor Chia of Yishun Secondary School have also been recognised for helping fellow teachers to become more effective in the classroom, develop themselves professionally and find fulfilment in their career. In 2011, both teachers received the Excellent Service Awards (Star), a national award for individuals who have delivered outstanding service in their workplaces.
Mdm Azizah has taught for more than 30 years and is as passionate about her calling as ever. "I never forget that I'm a classroom teacher," says this Senior Teacher of Humanities, whose warm personality and big heart has made her a mother figure to students and a "big sister" to younger colleagues.
In fact, Mr Chia is one of the many teachers who have grown under Mdm Azizah's guidance. "Yishun Secondary is my first posting and guess what - Mdm Azizah was my mentor," says Mr Chia, who is the School Staff Developer (SSD). "She is a source of inspiration for me."
A mentor to younger teachers
Mdm Azizah joined the profession in 1977 when her father was laid off and she, as the eldest child, had to help support the family. Teaching was already a task she loved, having coached her neighbours' children and seen how her aunts, who were teachers, nurtured their students and supported their colleagues.
This desire to make a lasting difference in others' lives still drives Mdm Azizah today. One student she recalls fondly is Mr Mohd Heikal Bin Mohd Yusof, a member of the school's pioneer batch in 1989, who used to be "very naïve and quiet" but has returned to serve as president of the Alumni Club. "He has really surpassed my expectation," she shares. "He's now doing a doctorate programme but he's very humble about it. I hope it's because we have given him the right opportunities and the right path."
Similarly, her colleagues have benefited from Mdm Azizah's experience and readiness to share. She has mentored generations of trainee teachers and as the coordinator of the school's Structured Mentoring Programme, she inducts beginning teachers into the values, ethos and philosophy of the education system and ensure they are equipped with the desired mindset, competencies and skills of engaging and nurturing their students. She shows beginning teachers how to find and use resources for their lessons, as well as hosts regular tea sessions in which her younger colleagues can speak up in an informal setting with the school management.
Such initiatives, according to Mdm Azizah, help orientate new teachers and keep them from feeling overwhelmed by a plethora of roles, from classroom teaching to developing lesson plans and leading CCAs. "They won't feel left out - there's always somebody for them to go to, be it their own colleagues, their teacher mentors or the school management," she explains. "We make sure that there are resources and help for them to do their job."
It also helps that the school enjoys an open door policy whereby teachers can pop in to seek help from Heads of Department and school management at any time. Experienced form teachers are also paired up with new teachers to help the latter learn about how to lead a class. "The camaraderie we share in the school is unbelievably strong," adds Mdm Azizah.
Helping fellow teachers engage their students
As for Mr Chia, he joined teaching out of a desire to pay it forward and help others pick themselves up and move on. "I wasn't a brilliant student," he admits. "Why I could succeed was because of the values of resilience and hard work imparted by my parents and teachers."
Mr Chia joined the school in 2000 and has served as the Subject Head for Geography. He also became involved in organising staff retreats and training programmes, experiences which made him the obvious choice to prototype the SSD role. This role was introduced by MOE in 2007 to oversee the professional and personal growth of teachers in each school.
To help his colleagues become more effective in class, Mr Chia, together with Vice Principal Mr Apollos Induchoodan, introduced a twice-yearly survey of the student body. With the goals of MOE's Teach Less Learn More initiative in mind, the survey asks students to assess their teachers based on criteria such as how well they have made their lessons easy for their students to understand, the level of student participation in class and the quality of feedback given to their students.
Acknowledging that this can be unnerving for some, Mr Chia explains that he gave teachers the assurance that the survey serves simply to aid their classroom skills and is not used in professional assessment. "Our objective is to enable teachers to improve in engaging students with their lessons," he states. "So far we have been quite successful. The majority of teachers have seen increases in their survey scores and this has been consistent for the past three years."
Work-life harmony is another goal Mr Chia strives for. Getting teachers to sign up for training courses without taking time away from their students and families, he reveals, has become easier following a new schedule that factors in school-based learning for teachers within curriculum time. He was also instrumental in developing a plan for the school's 25th anniversary celebrations in 2011 that did not require his colleagues to put in extra time.
For both Mr Chia and Mdm Azizah, family support is also crucial. "My family helps me to recharge and refresh myself," says Mr Chia. "You really need to set aside quality time with your family." Agreeing, Mdm Azizah adds, "They understand why we stay very long hours in the school. I am still passionate about teaching and would like to influence as many young teachers as possible. It's a very gratifying feeling."