From a secondary student struggling with Biology, Aaron Lim went on to become valedictorian and a multiple award winner at the recent NIE Teachers’ Investiture Ceremony in July 2017. He was awarded the Lee Kuan Yew Gold Medal, Rotary International 75th Anniversary Gold Medal, Sng Yew Chong Award and the Tan Poey Qyee Practicum Book Prize. He also received the MOE postgraduate scholarship to pursue Masters in Research, Drug Development and Discovery at Imperial College London. How did the unmotivated student decide that he wanted to be a teacher? And how does Aaron hope to inspire his students?
At the heart of Aaron’s vision of education is the idea that every child can do well and what students need is someone to actually believe in them. To him, the teacher is one who takes students beyond intelligence and mastery of content, and nurtures the values and behaviours that would enable them to contribute meaningfully to society and to the world.
Aaron credits his Biology teacher in secondary school for being an inspiration. He was weak in the subject but his teacher persisted in motivating him to improve, on one occasion spending more than four hours speaking to him. Her personal and generous attention turned him around and he felt that he, too, could become an encouraging influence in his students’ lives.
At NIE, he encountered another inspiring mentor, AP Yan Yaw Kai, his tutor, and URECA and FYP supervisor. He appreciates Professor Yan’s patient guidance and how he encouraged him to independently experience and discover during this learning process, rather than spoon-feed him. This resulted in a greater sense of achievement and a desire to learn, and he hopes to become such an insightful educator himself.
Indeed, it was in the robust and rigors in the NIE programme that Aaron and his course mates developed the relevant perspectives and skills to become effective 21st century educators. “I dare say that I would have been a completely different person if not for this experience at NIE,” he smiled.
On what he found specifically helpful, he said, “I think the most valuable aspect of the NIE programme was that it helped us develop our identity both as a person and as an educator. Learning began through the courses and modules, and continued as we embarked on teaching practicums with real students and real situations. We were given support through the NIE Supervisors and the School Cooperating Teachers, but had the independence and flexibility for us to make mistakes and to learn from those mistakes.”
Aaron feels that it is always important to build mutual trust between teachers and students. Students must know that their teachers genuinely care for and believe in them. On their part, teachers have to trust that the students do want the best for themselves and, understanding this, use the appropriate methods to motivate them.
The subject matter itself can be the spark to light the classroom. As a student, Aaron found the violent reaction that resulted from adding a tiny piece of potassium to water fascinating. This and the many other intriguing chemical reactions that he observed drew him into the world of chemistry.
“I have learnt various strategies for differentiated learning in mind, to engage both stronger and weaker students. The training at NIE has well equipped me with all the necessary tools and resources to manage learning and to help the whole range of students that I will meet,” he explained.
Aaron believes that stronger students would benefit from additional and challenging questions, and can be encouraged to look beyond what is required by the syllabus by applying what they learnt in different situations. This can ignite their interest in the subject as well as make the learning more meaningful and authentic.
As for weaker students, first and foremost, they must be assured that the additional questions are optional and they are not required to do or understand them yet. This is so that they are not discouraged by the thought that they will lag behind their classmates.
“For these students, what is most important is to ascertain the root cause of their problems. Some may improve with more practice, while others need clarification of key concepts or a more manageable learning pace. Hence it is critical that the teacher builds their interest and confidence in the subject. In order to do this, I might rely more on methods such as animations or visual and hands-on lessons, as well as mini quizzes that can encourage students with incremental success,” said Aaron.
Aaron feels honoured and humbled to represent his cohort as valedictorian and sees these awards as a celebration of what they have collectively accomplished. Armed with his achievements on one hand, and a mind brimming with ideas for the real stage of the classroom on the other, he is also well aware that much of the real learning lies in the days ahead – “We need to remember that this is just the beginning of our teaching journey!”