David Chan this year’s only primary school teacher to win Outstanding Youth in Education Award
Teaching in Fairfield Methodist Primary School has convinced him he has found his calling in life
SOME may call it a strange twist of fate, but David Chan never wanted to be a primary school teacher. In fact, he never thought of teaching in the first place.
But thanks to a former teacher, things have turned out very differently. Mr Chan is the only primary school teacher this year to receive the Outstanding Youth in Education Award. And he says teaching in Fairfield Methodist Primary School has convinced him he has found his calling in life.
On winning the award, Mr Chan, who worships at Aldersgate Methodist Church, said: “I think it is a form of encouragement. And when people say you deserve it, it acts as a form of affirmation. It is a form of recognition for the school as well.”
The award honours the achievements of young educationists below the age of 30 for their passion and commitment to teaching and nurturing their students. It is presented every year by the Minister for Education at the Teachers’ Investiture Ceremony, and serves to inspire new teachers as well.
Mr Chan, 28, teaches English and Physical Education at Fairfield Methodist Primary School. He also takes charge of soccer and the school’s Gold Medal winning Boys’ Brigade unit.
Watch him put his soccer boys through their paces and his rapport with his students is evident. He admits he is happier in the field than sitting behind a desk. Outdoor activities, he says, present opportunities to build character.
“I think character is more important than academic results, he says. “Making good progress is more important than being top in class.
“Teaching PE helps because you are going beyond academics. I tell my soccer boys that they can learn the skills on their own. What’s more important is playing together. I love it when they quarrel a bit. That is when the teaching moments come. It’s during such moments that you show them what teamwork is all about, what sportsmanship is all about. And it helps that the school is very much involved in character development and sports.”
Mr Chan believes in open communication with both students and parents. “Some teachers say ‘Never give your handphone number to parents.’ I always give my number to any student or parent who wants it. To me, parents aren’t a problem, they’re an asset.”
Born in Penang, he took an uncommon route to teaching. He started schooling in Singapore when he was 10. During his days at Fairfield Methodist Secondary School, he was a keen Boys’ Brigade member and was more interested in outdoor activities than classroom work. When he finished his “O” Levels, he chose to go to a polytechnic instead of a junior college. “I’m a person who likes to work with my hands. I felt polytechnic would be hands-on.”
After polytechnic in 1995, he applied for jobs as an engineer. “Teaching was not in my mind. I looked for jobs as an engineer. I had one or two offers but when I accepted them, I did not feel good. So I told them no.”
Then his former teacher at Fairfield Methodist Secondary School, Ms Thio Lay Hong, also an old girl of the school, suggested that he should try relief teaching. What she said made an impression because he could remember how Ms Thio had motivated him when he was a student.
“She would always go all out to see that we learn. It was not just academic work, she cared about what interests us too. She knew I love to play. So after school, she would let a group of us play first, then book a room for us to study. It was like we had our own club house!”
So Mr Chan took her advice and did one year of relief teaching at Fairfield Methodist Secondary School before he enrolled for a diploma course in education. “Going back to school was like going back to a second home. The thought of waking up at 6 to go to school makes me happy. That tells me teaching was my calling,” Mr Chan recalls. It also helped that he had kept his links with the school by helping out with the Boys’ Brigade.
But the diploma course he was taking would qualify him to teach only in primary schools, and he was set on teaching in a secondary school. Halfway though his diploma though, he was picked to cross over to a degree course, which would allow him to teach in a secondary school. You would think he would jump at the chance, but by then, he had had a change in heart.
“I told myself that if I wanted to teach, I shouldn’t just hold out for a secondary school. I realised that if you want to mould the minds of students, you may actually want to start from primary school,” he says. “I started off thinking that young children cannot take responsibility. But I changed. I found that when given proper guidelines, they can be responsible.”
Wong Wei Kong is a Fairfield Methodist Primary School Parent Volunteer.
‘I told myself that if I wanted to teach, I shouldn’t just hold out for a secondary school. I realised that if you want to mould the minds of students, you may actually want to start from primary school.’
— Teacher David Chan.