Happy Teacher’s Day to all teachers! Teaching is more than imparting academic knowledge to young ones. Three educators share with us how they go beyond books to spark the joy of learning in their students.
Albert Einstein once said, “It is the supreme art of the teacher to awaken joy in creative expression and knowledge.”
Anyone who has been a student would agree that it is the teacher who brings a subject to life and inspires the student to explore it outside the classroom. What does it take to awaken joy—or at least spark interest—in those they teach? Three teachers from City Harvest Church share their views.
TEACHING BEYOND ACADEMICS
To Kong Yun Rui, who teaches children and teenagers with dyslexia, the key is to remember that academics is not everything.
Yun Rui is an educational therapist in the Dyslexia Association of Singapore. She teaches English and Chinese literacy to students aged between 7 and 17. Besides dyslexia, many of her students also have other learning difficulties such as ADHD and autism.
“Education is not just about academics; it is also about values,” Yun Rui says. “In my classroom, there is a lot of emphasis on putting in one’s best effort and to keep trying.”
On her part, Yun Rui builds value in her students with the words she uses. She regularly employs descriptive praise such as “I see some perseverance going on there”, “I see that you took the effort to write neatly” or “You remembered what I taught you last week. Thank you!”
“All this requires time, intentionality and observation skills on the part of the teacher,” she relates.
In each of her classes, Yun Rui works with three to five students. Apart from going through academic work, she often gets them to reflect on how they did after each class, in terms of behaviour and what they have learnt.
“I also enjoy building critical thinking skills in my learners, so I create opportunities for them by using reading activities based on world affairs,” she adds. “When students interact with each other, I also like to use those moments to help them learn to think.”
Each of Yun Rui’s classes last two hours in a group setting; this means that every moment with her students counts. Still, she takes time to address their emotional needs and learning attitudes. “I find that when I take time to do these things, it ‘clocks in mileage’, and I get to reap benefits down the road,” she explains. “It results in greater rapport between us and I find they develop a better attitude towards learning. In short, I try to capture opportunities to help develop my student as a person holistically and make adjustments to his learning along the way.”
Some of the students Yun Rui has suffer from self-esteem and emotional issues. “In their schools, they tend to be misunderstood. I had a boy who became very frustrated with himself when he felt he cannot do the work he was assigned in school, and he would start pulling out his hair. It took a lot of encouragement and helping him to see that he can do it, before he eventually developed the confidence to try,” she shares.
At the end of the day, it is the mutual respect that Yun Rui and her students have for each other that makes the difference. “It’s about remembering that academic results are not everything,” she emphasises. “You are really working with a person, so we have to respect him or her. My students all know that I do not know everything, and that we can all learn from one another. It is also absolutely important to take time to listen to them and understand them, and not jump to conclusions based on their past behaviour or track record.
“We all need second chances. Praise them when they do well, and allow yourself to be continually surprised by them.”
HELP THEM TO ENJOY LEARNING
“Being tutor and tutee requires chemistry: ff you and the child can click, and they can understand your teaching method, they will flow with you, show improvement and eventually enjoy learning,” describes private tutor James Sim. “That’s what I set out to do with each of my students. I think this is what teaching is all about—to help your student find the joy of learning.”
His student’s enjoyment is James’ motivation to teach. James graduated from NIE and taught in a secondary school for a while, but left teaching to start a career in sales. He is now a property agent. But throughout this time, he has always been a private tutor.
“I feel joy when my students actually come to love the subject and understand the concepts,” he says. “When I can bring them from a position of not understanding the subject and having no passion for it, to a place where they are eager to learn—there is great joy in that. I think all math and science teachers enjoy doing that—To bring a very difficult concept to the students and they can actually learn and understand it.”
Early in his teaching career, James was told that “a teacher’s words can make or break the students”. “This was something that impacted me,” he shares. “So, every time I talk to my students, I would make sure that it’s not demeaning, but encouraging and positive. Also, I always try as much as possible to make sure my lessons are interesting.”
He often reminds his students is that academic results are not everything. “Whenever my students tell me they are not good at the subject, I’ll tell them that there are other things they are good at—things that I, their tutor, may not be good at.” He feels this helps build confidence in his students.
“I had a student who had such low self-esteem, particularly when it came to his ability to solve mathematical problems, that he refused to learn anything more than what the school had already taught,” James recounts. “I could sense that he lacked the confidence to learn new things.”
To encourage this student, James started to find things that the boy excelled in. “I asked him to teach me. He is quite musically inclined so after we completed our tuition sessions, I asked him to teach me the guitar,” he recalls. After a few months, James’ relationship with his student improved and it eventually became easier for James to teach him.
“It’s important that the students know that just because they do badly at maths, they are not good at anything,” says James. “My job is to make sure that they understand the concept and do it to the best of their ability.”
AWAKENING THE JOY OF EXPRESSION
Salome Hoon teaches piano from her home, not just to children but also to teenagers and adults. “This is my career and also my ministry,” she shares. “I have students from different churches who serve in their church’s worship ministry.”
A keyboardist in CHC’s worship team, CityWorship, Salome has a gift for welcoming the presence of God when she plays. And that is one thing she brings to her students.
“We encourage one another, we pray together, we worship together, we intercede for one another, and we stand in faith together,” she shares.
“One morning, when I was doing my quiet time, I ‘felt’ this song and I shared it with my student. And then she shared with me the song she was playing, and I demonstrated how I would play the song,” Salome describes. “That’s how we often have lessons—it’s quite freestyle!”
This freedom between teacher and student comes with the relationship Salome has built with them. Many of them tell her that they feel encouraged when they play the piano, and some even experience breakthroughs with God when they are practising and worshipping on the piano.
“One student sent me a text message to say that she felt such a breakthrough because she finally managed to master a piece of music, and she really felt a tangible sense of God—she wept in the presence of God while she was playing,” Salome recounts. “Such testimonies are so powerful, they go beyond learning a skill or achieving certification. It is something I’m thankful for: when we press in and chase after God and are found by Him.”
For her younger students, Salome would often use a different approach to inspire them to love music. “My teaching method is not just reading the notes. I engage them to play songs that they like—worship songs or movie theme songs—so that they feel inspired. I show them how they can play by ear, so we don’t just do exam material, but also something fun.”
To Salome, being able to play music is a gift. “Most of my students tell me that it’s been most therapeutic having the gift of music,” she says. “I have at least three students who have shared with me that they suffered from clinical depression, and that music helps them.”
She shares the testimony of a mother of her students who eventually started taking lessons from her as well. She had been on depression medication for almost 20 years, having gone through many tough patches in her life. “I would pray for her, worship with her, and encourage her go to the doctor. I encouraged her to cling on to God, to go to church and attend conferences,” Salome recalls.
Gradually, this mother’s mental health improved and she returned to working as a healthcare worker. “Through learning music and finding God again, she has been able to go completely off medication now,” Salome says. “I know that it’s not just her effort or my effort—it’s really God. God really uses us when we’re willing to become vessels to impact each other’s lives.”
With this in mind, Salome has built a community with her students to help and encourage each other through difficult seasons in their lives.
Having the right teacher makes all the difference: they show us what we are capable of. If these stories remind you of a teacher who has inspired you in some way, take time to thank them today, on Teacher’s Day!