Taking care of the mind and body at Coral Secondary School has helped Mrs Diana Lim win the President's Award for Teachers.
"To teach is to learn twice" - this dictum rings especially true for Mdm Diana Ng Yee Ping, as she discovers each day how her career choice is shaping the future of young lives in school. A teacher at Coral Secondary School, Mrs Diana Lim (as she is known to her students and colleagues) is also a born-again student who is pursuing post-graduate studies to boost her effectiveness in class.
Given her dedication and contributions, one might have thought that Mrs Lim was born to be a teacher from the very beginning. But for this 40-year old who teaches General Science and Biology, teaching was a mid-career switch that has now yielded a wonderful reward: the 2008 President's Award for Teachers.
Learning about people and patience
"I yearned for more," says Mrs Lim of her decision to leave a long-held position as a broker about ten years ago. The job paid well, but after years in environments ruled by power politics and money, she "yearned to have more quality relationships and quality learning."
The switch from brokering stocks to building minds has yielded immeasurable rewards for Mrs Lim.
"I wanted to do something meaningful with my life," recalls Mrs Lim. As she moved from the fast-paced world of investing with money to a new goal of investing young minds with knowledge, she learnt that what matters most are people and patience. "I remember how angry and disheartened I was with some Sec 1 students in my first Normal (Technical) class," she says. "A few were learning slowly and some boys were disruptive."
Then on Teacher's Day, she received a card from one of her so-called slow learners which "jolted me out of self-pity." In simple English, the girl thanked Mrs Lim for teaching her and "she hoped I would give her more time to complete her work." Mrs Lim also learnt that the girl's slowness was due to the effects of a childhood injury. "It was a humbling moment and I will never forget the shame I felt at how I had initially perceived the class," she recounts.
Approaching her students with new awareness and empathy, Mrs Lim persevered with them through their time in secondary school. "Four years later, two of the boys from that same class returned on Speech Day to thank me for teaching and bearing with them," she says with pride. "One is now pursuing a course in ITE and the other is helping his step-father run a car-wash business."
Since then, Mrs Lim has herself grown as a teacher and learnt "to overcome many of my shortcomings". Convinced that the entire community plays a synergistic role in the success of every student, she actively solicits feedback from students and colleagues to develop tools that could "improve and promote behavioural, emotional and cognitive engagement" in her classes. Besides reading and learning from noted educationists, she has also embarked on a Masters course in educational and psychological evaluation.
A teacher as well as a student, Mrs Lim is pursuing courses to learn how to be a better teacher.
Over and above these methods, Mrs Lim adds that what matters most is "an overriding belief that anyone, no matter how slow or how unmotivated, can learn in my class." Thus, in all her lessons, she ensures that the students know that "I value their inputs, experiences and perspectives." At the same time, she sets high targets to spur "their innate motivation to excel, their sense of self-worth and a positive view of their personal future."
How does Mrs Lim cope with classroom challenges as well as her responsibilities as Head of Department for ICT? Well, she counts as role models her fellow teachers, such as a colleague with three children who inspires her with a "positive and calm demeanour in attending to 101 tasks and people."
Spare time from schoolwork and her own studies is spent on yoga sessions, which Mrs Lim took up after an operation last year. "I believe my body was giving out distress signals and realised that if I do not slow down and exercise frequently, more dire consequences could follow." She credits her family for keeping her spirits up with "their unstinting support and love."
Last but not least, ex-students who have made it good as far as Australia and Canada regularly share their milestones with Mrs Lim. Calling such moments a reward "that cannot be measured or quantified," she fondly remembers a girl who called to tell her that she had secured a prestigious internship in China. Even far from Singapore, her students, "no matter what stream and course, sustain me and are my proudest achievement."