BECOMING an educator was almost akin to joining the family business for Ms Khoo Ming Fern. The 44-year-old, who began her career as an English teacher, was simply following in the footsteps of her mother and older brothers. Several other members of her extended family were also teachers and principals. To ensure that her interest in the profession was no mere flash in the pan, Ms Khoo took on two relief teaching stints after her A-level examinations in 1991. The then 18-year-old taught General Paper at the then-Outram Institute for a month, followed by History and English Language at the then-Westlake Secondary School for three months. Ms Khoo says: “These experiences at the helm of a classroom were important in helping me, to bridge the gap between being a student at the back of the class and a teacher at the front. “After the relief teaching stints, I could imagine myself as a teacher,” she says, adding that several Westlake students kept in contact with her.
It came as no surprise to her supportive family when, after her positive experiences, Ms Khoo decided to take up the Public Service Commission’s Overseas Merit Scholarship in 1992. She graduated with a degree in English from the University of Birmingham in the United Kingdom in 1995, and went on to complete a postgraduate diploma in education at the National Institute of Education (NIE) the following year. Ms Khoo says: “My mother recounts that I gave little consideration to applying for other scholarships, so I guess my leaning towards education was much stronger. The chance to study overseas was also an adventure of a lifetime — studying English in the UK appealed to me greatly.” Upon graduating from NIE, Ms Khoo had the opportunity to take up different roles within the Ministry of Education (MOE), which allowed her to develop a broader mindset. She started her career as a teacher at her alma mater, National Junior College, in 1996, before joining Tanjong Katong Girls’ School (TKGS) in 2007, first as a subject head (SH), and then head of department (HOD) and vice-principal. She then moved on to Geylang Methodist School (Secondary) in 2013 as viceprincipal. In addition, she also had a threeyear stint as a national education (NE) officer with MOE’s National Education branch. During that time, she also headed the branch for six months. Now a quality assessor with the school appraisal branch in MOE HQ, Ms Khoo leads teams on school visits to learn more about how they have progressed and to support them in their growth. She says: “We read reports and talk to staff, parents and students to find out more about programmes to develop students holistically and what the school hopes to achieve. Through this process, we arrive at a better understanding of what has worked thus far and how the school can continue to grow.” Ms Khoo treasures how her current role allows her to tap her previous teaching experiences working in school settings. She says: “I put myself in the shoes of those in school when trying to make sense of things, and hopefully offer useful perspectives.”
Blast from the past
In going from school to school, she sometimes chances upon her former students. She recalls how one of her former students from TKGS wanted to pursue English Literature as an additional O-level examination subject, purely out of interest. Ms Khoo allowed her to do so as the student was prepared to study the subject on her own with notes made available to her, and her teachers’ help as and when it could be arranged. During a recent school visit to a junior college, Ms Khoo ran into the same student once again. “As I had left the school shortly after, I was glad to find out that she had done well for the subject at the O levels and was taking it at the A levels,” Ms Khoo says.
Ms Khoo believes that teaching is a vocation and a calling, and that the education service has a lot to offer those “who have the heart to help others grow”. She says having to juggle the demands of her job, family and personal needs has made her more disciplined and resourceful. Calling her family her moral support and anchor, she says: “I would not be able to focus on the work if I did not have the support and understanding of my family. Raising my own children have given me first-hand experiences as a parent and indelibly shaped my educational beliefs about how children learn.” She encourages those considering teaching as a career to try relief teaching first to get a better feel of the job; for a more realistic picture, teach in more than one school and for longer than a month. Teaching requires commitment and emotional investment, she adds. “In order not to burn out, you will need a strong base of support, and be able to recharge — with friends, family, hobbies, even drawing upon your spirituality,” she says. “Think about how the work of a teacher sits with your own beliefs and ideas about how you would like to live life.”