At her secondary school graduation, Ms Lee Mian Jun’s Language Arts teacher gifted her a poem which has stayed with her till this day.
“It was ‘Ithaka’ by the Greek poet Constantine P. Cavafy, which spoke about the importance of not rushing the road to a destination,” recalls the 29-year-old.
“The poem reminds us that life is about adventure and discovery; it’s not just the destination that matters, but also the journey.”
What might have been a simple parting gift from a teacher turned out to be one of the defining moments of her life. Together with a fond memory about a primary school teacher who told her that her smile could brighten someone else’s day, and to smile through any challenges she might face, these interactions have crystallised in her mind and showed her the difference teachers could make in one’s life.
“Making big waves of change are beyond me; instead, I believe in the power of small, personal connections like these, at an individual level,” she says.
“That is why I applied for the Education Merit Scholarship offered by the Ministry of Education (MOE). I hope to become a teacher who, through such personal touches, will make a difference for my students too.”
Seeing the bigger picture
Ms Lee was awarded the MOE scholarship in 2013 to pursue a Bachelor of Arts in Sociology and a minor in psychology at Barnard College in New York City, and later, a Master of Arts in the Teaching of Social Studies at Teachers College, Columbia University.
Besides offering financial support, the scholarship also afforded her a multitude of learning opportunities both within and outside of the teaching profession.
|More on this topic: Living out her childhood dream of being a teacher|
On a teaching internship at Queensway Secondary School, she was assigned to work on a project that gave her insights into the internal processes of the school, as well as relief teaching duties.
She is currently seconded to the Planning Office under the Communications and Engagement Group at MOE’s headquarters, following a three-year teaching stint at Gan Eng Seng School, where she taught social studies and music.
Although not directly related to the teaching profession, Ms Lee’s involvement in projects that strengthen the ministry’s policy communication and engagement efforts has helped her “understand the considerations behind certain policies and how they were shaped with the students in mind”.
Focus on shaping lives
Since joining the profession, she has never lost sight of why she joined the education sector in the first place: To make an impact on her students’ lives.
“So much is dependent on the relationships you build that it feels personal when difficulties arise,” she says. “However, my first form class helped to remind me what a difference a teacher can make and the value of simply being there for them.”
Ms Lee recalls the heart-to-heart talks she has had with students from underprivileged family backgrounds, and how she had helped them overcome some of the emotional challenges.
She was particularly touched when one student shared with her video clips of a family outing.
“Even though it was a small gesture, the fact that he trusted me enough to share a good memory he had with his family reminded me that I had the opportunity to help my students grow and, hopefully, become the best versions of themselves,” she says.
Having checked in with some of these students since their graduation, she is heartened to learn that they are doing well.
“It is nice to touch base with them and let them know I am around if they ever need to reach out,” she says.
“Knowing that I am the trusted adult for these students reminds me that, even if it is just for a brief moment in time, I have made a difference in their lives.”
For aspiring teachers looking to apply for the scholarship, she advises dipping a toe into the field before taking the plunge.
“MOE offers a ton of opportunities to get a taste of life as a teacher – from relief teaching to the Teaching Internship Programme,” she says.
“These not only help you understand what a teacher does, but also gives you the chance to interact with and learn from other teachers before you commit to a career.”