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Mind your language

Ms Ann Cheo is one of the rare few who is proficient in three languages – English, Mandarin and French.

Her love for all things French intensified when as a student at the Ministry of Education (MOE) Language Centre, Ms Cheo joined a month-long immersion programme in Lyon, France.

She explains: “During this time, I was able to see, hear, touch, taste and feel everything that I could only imagine prior. It was as if my textbooks had come to life. Before, I was interested, but after that one month, I was hooked.”

Four years later, Ms Cheo was over the moon when she was offered MOE’s Overseas Specialist Award (Teaching) to pursue a Bachelor of Arts in French Language and Literature at the Université de Franche-Comté from 2000 to 2004.

While the scholarship allowed her to fully focus on her studies, she managed to soak in more of the French culture through museum visits, concerts and the opera.

After graduation, she trained at the National Institute of Education to teach both French and English. She says she will always be thankful for the opportunities she had studying abroad as she is able to share those experiences with her students.

“I also like to think that the exposure to alternative perspectives on things has enriched my thinking and made me a more open and compassionate person who is better placed to educate and Mind your language mould young minds,” she adds.

Career progression 
Ms Cheo is now the head of department for English language and literature at Seng Kang Secondary School, a position she has held since June 2014.

Her career with MOE has included vastly different roles, from being a French instructor at the MOE Language Centre to assistant manager – Teaching Scholarship Unit in MOE HQ, and subject head and head of department at Christ Church Secondary School.

While busy with work, she also pursued various avenues for pro-fessional development, including taking up a postgraduate Master of Education at Harvard University in the United States on an MOE scholarship. Incidentally, both scholarships supported her passion for the French language and for education.

She says: “The reason I took up an MOE scholarship (and signed a bond) a second time around was because I feel a deep sense of gratitude to the education service.

“After completing my studies, I was given access to multiple platforms that expanded and grew my thinking and competencies, and wonderful mentors and colleagues to learn from.

“As someone who relishes any opportunity to learn, I was thankful for the myriad of developmental opportunities that were afforded to me.”

A calling 
Ms Cheo, 35, says: “Some think that ‘scholars have it made’. I think that, being a scholar, you need to work even harder to prove yourself.

“Apply for the scholarship because of what you can do for others, not what the scholarship can do for you. MOE is a huge organisation and there are many areas in which one can contribute. If you’re worried about the job fit, think of it as hundreds of possible jobs within MOE, not just one,” she says.

Currently, Ms Cheo teaches English to upper secondary levels in the Express and Normal (Academic) streams.

The last time she taught French was in 2008. She has tried to keep in touch with the language by reading in French – literature, the news or anything else she can get her hands on.

She also watches French movies, listens to French music and keeps in touch with her university friends. Plus, she visits France every couple of years.

She adds: “Teaching is a highly rewarding and enriching career but, while we are competitively remunerated, it is unlikely to ever make you materially rich so that is a reality you need to be content with. Also, contrary to popular belief, not everyone can teach.

“The truth of the matter is that teaching is an extremely demanding career choice, and not just in terms of stress or workload. Because you are expected to be a role model to children and young people, you almost need to be superhuman.

“You are expected to uphold the highest moral standards at all times. If you’re up to the challenge, then I would recommend teaching.”

Among the things she finds most fulfilling working in the education industry is seeing students learn and benefit from her teaching. She says that it is encouraging to know “that you’ve opened up their minds to worlds of knowledge and possibilities, and possibly helped them pave the way to a brighter future for themselves and their families.”