Our Student Dialogues: A Teacher’s Role.

@Jade Ow Yanhui

Posted March 06, 2020
Last modified March 06, 2020

7 mins read



What does it mean to be a teacher? In this OSD segment - we ask teachers of all backgrounds about what really motivates them to stay on in this thankless job and what they hope to achieve in the process of teaching. If you've ever considered a career in the education sector, here is the place to start.

“I can teach better than this teacher!” If you have ever whispered this to your friends mid-lessons, chances are you might have considered joining the local public education industry. However, as your teachers would tell you, it’s not all fun and games. Aside from the six to twelve hours spent on school grounds every day, there are tons of other duties a teacher has to manage. Investigate disciplinary cases like a sleuth? Check. Negotiate a deal with a magazine vendor? Check. Handle angered parents without winning yourself a lawsuit? Double check.

Let’s be honest, teachers - as civil servants - do not earn as much as your average tutor in the private sector. So what’s the appeal? What makes being a teacher in a public school unique? The second Our Student Dialogues session aims to answer some of those questions and more.

Due to the COVID-19 situation, the OSD2 was converted to a livestream panel. Our three panellists gamely turned up for the session and fielded questions collected from our online participants. They are Mr David Tay, Assistant Director of Youth Engagement in the National Youth Council; Mr Suhaimi Zainal Shah, a Google for Education Certified Innovator with teaching experience in at least four countries; and Mr Ow Yeong Wai Kit who is a recipient of the OYEA (Outstanding Youth In Education Award) in 2019. 

We compiled their insights into a question and answer format in line with the nature of the panel session.

What is the role of a teacher? Is it just about imparting knowledge, or could it be something more?

For Mr Suhaimi, the concept of a teacher has been redefined by the digital era. The emergence of new modes of learning means that teachers are no longer the key to content knowledge. “The teacher becomes more of a facilitator of learning instead of just a chalk-and-talk kind of approach,” he points out, adding that teachers now have more autonomy to design the learning experience for their students.

“It is vital that teachers continue to be role models,” Mr Ow Yeong Wai Kit stresses. Regardless of how many overhauls take place in the syllabus or even the entire education system, there will always be a need for teachers to model the values and attitudes that we want to see in our youths. During the session, he related to the panel an incident where a student decided to make fun of his name. “Why Ow Yeong? Why not just Yeong? Is it because like (sic) people poked you and then you say ‘Ow’ and therefore became Ow Yeong?” Instead of reprimanding the boy outright, Mr Ow Yeong chose to ask the boy if he would say “Ow” if someone else poked him, and the boy replied that he did not want to be poked.

He continued, “Then why are you poking me with your words?”

It was a teachable moment - one that sparked, in his words, a genuine conversation about respect, about values and lead to more questions such as what names are, why they matter, where they come from and so on. “This is not the kind of conversation that you can just have by viewing a screen,” he observes.

Mr David Tay added, “In today’s context, everyone with a smartphone can access all the information in the world.” When the teacher’s job is no longer just to relay content knowledge, their approach must change. As a result, teaching has gotten harder than ever before. Teachers now have to promote the curiosity of learning. “So it’s not just to teach what to learn, but they also have to think about teaching students how to learn.”

Any situation can be a learning experience, but a teacher must know how to spark curiosity in their students. “By taking them for a walk in Bukit Batok Nature Park,” he elaborates to knowing chuckles from the other panellists, “And maybe ask them to use their smartphone to maybe just create a video on nature, or anything they like.” Through such an experience, students learn many things from science to environmental conservation to practical skills like videography. These are the learning journeys which every teacher seeks to engineer for their students.

In other words, a teacher serves as the bridge between students and the knowledge, skills as well as the values they need to succeed in the real world. That alone makes the role of a teacher irreplaceable.

Where do teachers fit in when it comes to career guidance?

“Self-directed learning can be facilitated by online courses and resources,” Mr Ow Yeong notes. “Students can read up online to find out more about their desired career, and ask teachers for guidance as well.”

Mr Ow Yeong’s views were echoed by Mr Suhaimi, who adds, “Beyond going out physically, read. The Skillsfuture portal has lots of resources that are not well known, such as personality tests. Going online to read is a good resource and starting point to learn more about a certain industry and about yourself.”

In fact, teachers need not do this alone. The education system can form partnerships with various youth organisations such as YoungNTUC to link students up with various industries or jobs so that students are exposed to a myriad of grants or programs locally and overseas, Mr Tay suggested. “Let students explore, learn and develop a lot of skills to find out their passions. Youth is the best time to learn as you get a lot of opportunities nowadays.”

Mr Suhaimi was also partial to the idea of introspection and self-reflection when considering their career options. “Encourage students to look inwards - ask them to think about how else you can grow and improve. Students can and should take the initiative to approach organisations on their own to volunteer and contribute back to the community.” Internships and community work would also provide room for students to explore their interests and strengths before committing to any one industry.

Mr Ow Yeong summed up the question with this conclusion: Students do not choose their careers based on a single event, but because of continuous exposure to particular industries. “They need to see the value of the career path, and they need to learn more about themselves before they choose their career. Teachers can assist by pointing them in the right direction, although the final decision should still fall on students themselves.”

What academic traits do teachers hope to see in their students?

“Students should constantly be aware of world affairs,” Constantly learning about what is happening globally is one habit that Mr Ow Yeong hopes students would cultivate. “Also, many cannot discern between real and fake news. Such a skill is also something students should possess. To help them gain this skill, there are agencies out there such as NLB conducting relevant campaigns.”

Another trait which teachers would like students to have is curiosity and a willingness to learn beyond what is taught within the school grounds. As Mr Tay says, “Take charge of learning and seek out opportunities yourself. Learning is not just something for the classroom.”

For Mr Suhaimi, students are more likely to develop such habits later in life if they can see the role models around them doing the same. I share with students what I am learning at that point in time - even as a teacher I am also a learner. Letting students know that someone they look up to also struggles with learning new things will motivate them to study more.”


Ultimately, the definition of a teacher is fluid and ever-changing. One might ask, what is so special about a teaching career? As Mr Ow Yeong says, teaching is a calling, not just a job. “It will be a long and arduous journey, and one must be willing to commit and be disciplined. Ultimately, it depends on one’s answer to the question, if memories are more important than money. As a teacher, one will be appreciated for a very long time, and set a fire that never burns out in the hearts of students.”

One could imagine, then, that perhaps the most special thing about being a teacher is to live in the memories of the next generation. The primary school teacher concludes, “It is inspiring to be remembered.”

Author @Jade Ow Yanhui

A free spirit at heart with a passion for anything creative, Jade enjoys all forms of writing. She often dreams of escaping the ordinary and planning her life once she gets out of the education system. While the 'A' Level Examinations eat up much of her time, you can occasionally find her daydreaming by the Bishan river, under some trees, or just daydreaming in general. She runs a blog at tinygreenstone.com.

Editor @ws_ong

Born and bred in Singapore, Wilson is currently a PhD student in the United States, where he works in the field of Medicinal Chemistry and Chemical Biology. When not mixing random chemicals in the lab, his recent hobbies involves writing articles on science education in his personal blog , visiting obscure islands around the world and gawking at maine coons. Visit his personal academic blog at http://isomerism.home.blog