Impacting lives and having love for the lives you impact. These are the driving forces and traits that Michael Koh shared as critical factors in his career as a teacher. In his 32 years teaching physical education, mathematics and character and citizenship education, Michael has taught a multitude of students who have since gone on to further their education and their subsequent careers.
When asked about his experiences as a teacher, Michael has graciously shared with us some of the motivation factors, defining moments and challenges he had experienced and are facing daily along with some useful advice for new and aspiring teachers.
Was teaching your first career/job? What were the factors that motivated you to choose teaching as a career?
Yes, it is my first job. At that time, till now, I am serving in a uniform group, called the "Royal Rangers." We run programmes for children and youth aged between 5 and 18 years old. I enjoy interacting with them, teaching them skills and organising activities to let the children enjoy the great outdoors. I guess, it was then that I was opened to consider teaching as my career. But really, it was the school posting during the course, the teaching experience, standing in front of a real class, which began my love for teaching.
How much of a role did your own teachers play in you deciding to become a teacher?
Not much. But after I became a trained teacher and started teaching, some teachers that I had inspired me because, in those years as a student, I did not know they cared for me that much. Because of them, I am inspired to be a better teacher.
What do you feel is the most rewarding part about being a teacher?
Lives. I value every life. There is so much potential in every child. What is rewarding is to know for a fact that in this 'job', I could be a part of every child's journey. Every child that I come in contact with, I can teach, instruct, build, influence, inspire, help, love, listen to, encourage, care for and lead. There is so much I can give, and I consider this a privilege. What better way to spend my life working than with lives? What is most rewarding is to look back in time and see those times that I could be present to make a difference for a child, that my words or actions has made a difference to them.
Have you ever had a defining moment where you said “yes, this is why I became a teacher”? Could you share that story with us?
That defining moment came from my mentor who inspired me with the word, "Influence". It is this word that continues to give me strength and passion in my job. I can help my students achieve academically, I can teach them how to live better lives, I can teach them to love and honour their family, I can teach them to serve their community and I can teach them to be loyal citizens. I can teach them that their lives are not just about themselves but also about the way they choose to live and love and how this will impact everyone they come in contact with. More than just teaching, I can model it, I can share my stories, I can lead them and I can show them how.
What are some of the challenges you face as a teacher? Do you ever feel like you want to give up?
The key challenges I face is the demands of the job. There are many expectations from different groups of people, the education ministry, school leaders, heads of departments, parents and of course the students whom I face every day. The skill sets and knowledge that we need to be an effective teacher is also varied. Other than being an effective teacher - we need to counsel, relate to parents, win the trust and respect of students, work as an effective team member with fellow teachers, lead in projects, communicate with vendors, write reports, budgeting and much more. Over the years, I have grown. I learn from others, I learn from my mistakes, I attend training and sharing sessions, I reflect on my practice.
From the start, I knew where my passion lies in the teaching career - lives. This has been my key focus, and I have not deviate from it, as a result, I have never felt like giving up.
Teachers need to really manage their lives well, to prioritise and balance every role they hold in their lives, so that they do not neglect their responsibilities in any way.
As a teacher, what keeps you going? How do you find the motivation to do your job every year?
My students, past and present. Teaching is a meaningful vocation. I can help students to do well academically so that they can have a bright future with a good education. What is more important for me, is to be able to be there to encourage, to discipline, to instruct and inspire them to be a better person for themselves and for others.
What do you feel is the most important trait you have to possess to make it as a teacher?
Love. Love makes me give and care.
What is one piece of advice you would give to teachers- those who have recently joined teaching as well as others who have been teaching for many years; to keep going?
Know why you chose to teach. Write it down, maybe 3 key reasons. Know it for sure. After years of change and challenges, you must continue to do what you first believed in and that will surely keep you going, because you have intentionally chosen to teach, with clear reasons to do so.
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