In his late teens, whenever Mr Chiew Jing Wen thought about the future, he would be invariably drawn to jobs where he could work with people.
Having experienced how his teachers in Chinese High School and Hwa Chong Junior College helped him develop as a student, he eventually decided that he wanted to do the same for his students by becoming a teacher.
Says Mr Chiew: “I came to see that what a teacher does, in small and big ways, can make a real difference to the quality of learning for young minds.”
He applied for and was awarded a Ministry of Education (MOE) Teaching Scholarship in 2004.
He joined the Faculty of Arts and Social Sciences at the National University of Singapore and graduated in 2008 with first class honours.
The scholarship certainly made it easier for him to read history as a major, quips Mr Chiew, revealing that his father initially wanted him to study economics as it was a “more prudent and pragmatic option”.
Yet he is convinced he has chosen the right path. “I have always wanted to be part of a profession in which I can share my experiences, perspectives, values and beliefs with others.
“Teaching allows me to do all these and more — to guide young minds to formulate their own ways of making sense of the world, as well as to help make society better for everyone.”
Wearing multiple hats
Mr Chiew, 34, currently heads the humanities department in Serangoon Garden Secondary School (SGS), where he has taught since 2015.
Prior to that, he taught at Bedok North Secondary School from 2009 to 2011.
In between, he was attached to the Ministry of Education’s headquarters (MOE HQ).
Besides teaching history and social studies, Mr Chiew supervises the curricula, pedagogical approaches and the assessment of humanities subjects across all levels in his current role.
He has been in this role for three years, an enriching period that he says provided him with “insights and perspectives into educational policies, as well as school planning considerations”.
Mr Chiew also oversees SGS’ corporate communications and strategic partnership efforts, as well as its collaboration with industry partners, post-secondary
education institutions, community organisations and public agencies.
He adds: “I also help to drive the school’s Applied Learning Programme (ALP) in media communication, and support my school leaders in strategic planning for the school.”
Highs and lows
Teaching keeps Mr Chiew young at heart, as he makes it a point to be in touch with what makes his students tick.
He sees it as a privilege when they share their hopes, aspirations and worries with him.
He says: “To be able to guide them on their way, even if we are but a small part of their long journey, is truly precious.”
Challenges, he says, arise when he tries to manage difficult parents.
They may sometimes appear unreasonable, but Mr Chiew understands that, for the most part, they share the same goal as him — to do the best for their child.
He explains: “We show how the school is working with them to support their child’s growth. Then we reach a consensus on how both parties can do this together.”
Seeing the big picture
During his stint at the MOE HQ in 2012, Mr Chiew was part of a study team that reviewed how Singapore’s education system could better support students who needed more help with learning.
The team studied issues that educators and students were facing, and reviewed strategies to see which were working.
Says Mr Chiew: “By looking at gaps that were present even in well-intentioned policies, and seeing how students and parents were affected, I got a better understanding of policy processes, and the need for constant iterations of policy considerations and design.”
That experience has served him well in his current role as a head of department.
“I am glad to see how some of our recommendations are being implemented by schools and educators, along with innovations to meet specific learner profiles,” he says.
“It is extremely satisfying to know that the work I contributed to has helped to change students’ lives and give them hope to do better in school,” he adds.
It is no surprise, then, that Mr Chiew received the Outstanding Youth of Education Award (OYEA) last year.
The OYEA is a national award that recognises young teachers for their dedication and active involvement in youth development.
Mr Chiew said that receiving the OYEA was a deeply humbling experience for him and dedicates it to his fellow teachers.
“Thousands of educators are doing good work in schools along students and parents, delivering quality education to help students contribute meaningfully to our society.
The work that I have done is inspired by the efforts I have witnessed.”