A triple science student in secondary school, Cheak Yen Hui made a shift entirely to study art in NAFA under the MOE Art Teaching scheme after her O levels. At the recent NIE Teacher’s Investiture Ceremony in July 2017, Yen Hui gradated with a Bachelor of Arts degree. She was awarded the Lee Kuan Yew Gold Medal and the Art Book Prize. How did she cope with the switch? Who were her pillars of support?
Yen Hui attributes her interest in teaching to her father, a Mechanical Engineering Lecture in ITE, who showed her how teaching was not just a job. He would share the positive stories of his day with the family. As a child, she was fascinated by her father’s stories about his day at school. As she watched his students and him at their annual Christmas gatherings in her home, this also left a deep impression on her.
“It was not the major achievements my father would gush about but the little successes he shared with his students that made his vocation fulfilling. The shine in his eyes when he related these stories to us meant a lot for him, as much as they did for me,” she smiled.
Both her parents played a part in her interest in art. Her mother was a graphic designer and her father was a passionate photographer and was skilled in handiwork.
“The creative opportunities, observations and experiences that I obtained from my parents enabled me to learn from them, leading to an increased interest in art and creative thinking,” she shared.
Yen Hui’s NIE experience proved instrumental in developing her perspectives and dreams as an art educator.
The culture of teaching and learning in NIE and its rigorous curriculum trained her to be a more resilient, confident and critical educator. There were numerous presentations, micro-teaching sessions and field trip planning opportunities where she could practise her communication skills, collaborate with classmates and work efficiently. The content and pedagogical modules, guided by excellent tutors with extensive experience and knowledge either in their field of research or in the classroom, provided sound advice and stimulated critical thinking and discourse.
“NIE has enabled me to gain exposure from the different lecturers’ unique styles and practices. As an educator, it is of key importance to be supportive and encouraging, and allow students to experience and draw connections with the subject,” she explained.
Yen Hui recognises the impact that her lecturers had on her: “There were many professors and lecturers who inspired me daily to be a better educator with their immense care, enduring support, their wealth of knowledge, expertise and experience in their specialisations. This gives me confidence in my potential and capabilities. There are three individuals in particular who have played a huge part in bringing me to where I am today.”
Mr Yow Siew Kah, her art theory and history tutor, was always ready to share his knowledge, reading, and both his local and overseas experiences in the art scene. As her academic referee, he was extremely supportive throughout the process and continues to be her pillar of support for her Master’s study.
Mr Tan Hsiao Yuz, her art theory and pedagogy lecturer, was approachable and provided pedagogical advice and ideas. His enthusiasm in coordinating initiatives for developing art teaching resources inspires her to continue improving her strategies to engage her students.
Dr Kevin Blackburn from the History department gave Yen Hui immense support and encouragement, particularly during her crossover degree programme where she took History as a second curriculum study after she had specialised in Art in NAFA.
“As an art teacher, it is all too easy to dictate how a child should draw and paint, what ideas to try and how best he should complete his work. When I enter a classroom, I need to constantly remind myself that I am not just teaching a class, but a room filled with very different individuals, each with their own ideas, abilities, backgrounds and potential,” Yen Hui shared.
Art teachers today also face the challenge of dealing with apathy towards art and she has designed her strategy to deal with this. In order to provide authentic and meaningful experiences for her students, she shares her practice with them by bringing her artwork into class, and exposing them to the range of mediums beyond painting and drawing in order to ignite their interest in art, with work that they can see, touch and appreciate.
She would then progressively introduce the fundamentals of drawing, object making, observation and painting techniques that can be found in her work. She also gets her students to use and manipulate various tools and materials and to handle different media and experience a variety of outcomes that link art theory to everyday experiences.
Fundamentally, Yen Hui feels that an effective 21st century educator needs to teach from the heart. Teachers need to be sensitive to students’ strengths, and to give them opportunities to gain confidence in their abilities and space to develop their potential. It is also necessary for the teacher to engage effectively with students both within and outside the classroom, a lesson she learnt from her father.
Now that it is her turn to work with students. She intends to enter the classrooms with an aim towards cultivating earnest hearts that enjoy learning.