Teaching: A Meaningful and Challenging Career


I was born and brought up in India, a land of exotic food and spices. Coming from such a place, it is not too surprising that I was attracted to food right from my childhood. When I grew up, I gave up the option of doing an engineering degree to select a course on food and nutrition. I earned my undergraduate and postgraduate degrees in nutrition, food service management, and dietetics in India. In 1996, I was awarded a scholarship by the Australian government to pursue my master's degree through research in food and nutrition at the University of Wollongong, New South Wales. My interest in the field of nutrition helped me to complete a 20-year marathon of continuous formal education in 1998.

My interest in teaching began in Australia, where I enjoyed a rare opportunity to mentor local students. At that time I realised that it is not just internal factors such as one's passion for the field that influence a person's learning. External factors such as parents and friends can influence one's learning equally, producing either a positive or negative impact, depending on the circumstances. Most of the students I mentored in Australia were having problems as a result of either parental negligence or their friends' derision.

Until then, I had not known that this could be so, as I was fortunate to have had loving parents and delightful friends who shared my passion and supported my efforts to achieve my goals. I seized this opportunity to positively influence these students and got them to focus on better things in life. I also used this opportunity to convince them of the value that education offers. I would not say I was 100% successful, but I am confident that quite a number of students benefited from these mentoring sessions.

It dawned on me then that I could be an effective teaching professional.

When I got married, I moved to Singapore, as my husband was working here. Soon after we reached Singapore in 1999, I was offered the opportunity to teach at a local polytechnic. Even though I was initially apprehensive about teaching a large group of teenage students, my passion for education and my desire to teach incited me to take up this challenge. In fact, ever since I joined the polytechnic, I have enjoyed every moment of being a teacher. It is a fulfilling role because I can influence and mould the future of individual students in a major way by setting a positive example.

Teaching is a challenging career in that one doesn't just provide academic support to students; a teacher also provides personal guidance. Providing guidance to students requires me to understand every individual student?s personality, learning ability, and needs. Trying to understand each student's needs--particularly in a class of 80 to 150 students--is no easy task. It takes lot of patience and dedication to monitor them closely and provide assistance. Guiding talented, interested students is generally easier, as they often exhibit the same enthusiasm and passion as their lecturers. It is also easier to provide information and stimulating questions to generate their interest in the subject.

But I strongly believe that students who are weak in their learning can perform just as well provided they get clear teaching, simplified enough to cater to their learning ability, with a personalised touch. Therefore, I try to make all my lessons suitable for all students regardless of whether they are strong or weak in their learning. I muster as much enthusiasm as possible to make my lectures interesting and clear.

Since I began my teaching career less than 2 years ago, I have realised the importance of providing personal guidance to students. Students nowadays are fortunate to receive care from their lecturers, who also take on the role of a careperson. During my own university days, I seldom obtained similar personal attention. My lecturers were experts in the field, keen on transferring as much knowledge as they could during the given period of time; however, they did not provide much personal guidance, most probably because they did not realise the need for it. This does not mean that I did not enjoy my school days. On the contrary, I enjoyed them tremendously. However, I would have had a deeper long lasting impression of my school and lecturers if I had been given personal guidance along with educational knowledge.

I greatly appreciate the value of this personal guidance, as it induces desirable behavioural changes among students that can never be achieved if behaviour depends entirely on the imposition of external pressures and uncaring supervision. However, one of the biggest challenges I face is to care for students who do not wish to be cared for. Such students often have severe disciplinary problems and are often influenced through external factors such as inappropriate friendships outside of the polytechnic. No matter how much concern and counselling I showed to these students, I was unable to establish a fruitful experience. However, I know that in shaping students into becoming whole individuals, it is important for me to look forward instead of becoming despondent because of some isolated negative results.

Being a teaching professional entails a great deal of responsibility, which must be exercised with extreme care and dedication. It also involves imparting emotional and moral values and polishing the character of these individuals. Teaching and moulding young minds is my small contribution to society, in return for all the enriching experience I received through my own education.

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