SINGAPORE — Shortly before I completed my teacher training 15 years ago, my vice principal gave me some advice.
“Don’t forget that the higher and faster you fly, the more blurry things on the ground get,” he warned. “You need to land once in a while.”
This profound reminder to make periodic assessments has shaped much of my belief system and identity as a teacher, including my decision to pursue the teaching track, one of three possible career tracks on which Singapore’s teachers may embark.
The teaching track focuses on practice, professional development and advancement opportunities for classroom teachers. It is different from both the leadership track and the innovation-conscious senior specialist track. Within the three-track system, there is flexibility to explore different tracks or make lateral transfers. The three tracks are discussed in Linda Darling-Hammond’s Empowered Educators study. (Here’s a link to order the book associated with the study. Note: a print copy of the book costs $31. The Singapore brief can be read free of charge here. Other country briefs can be accessed free by scrolling to the bottom of this page. )
In my current appointment as a senior English language teacher, I am still honing my teaching craft in the classroom. One element that differentiates my work: my role as a mentor and coach to other teachers. While my subject specialization does include scheduled meetings with fellow teachers to discuss teaching and learning needs of English-language pupils and teachers, my mentoring duties extend beyond just teachers of the English language.
I may, for instance, mentor beginning teachers. These instructors have two years of experience or less. I assist them with with professional and personal concerns and needs and ensure that they are settling into their new roles.
When more-experienced teachers express certain needs or identify gaps in their teaching, I may step in as a coach to discuss ways of addressing and filling the gaps. Additionally, certain teaching initiatives which require larger scale implementation or training would see me working with my fellow teachers in conducting workshops and dialogue sessions.
The teaching track allows me to remain connected, both as a classroom teacher and as a teacher leader of my professional community. I still enjoy interacting with pupils but I also find great satisfaction in working with my fellow teachers, conveying information to them and helping them grow as teachers.
I am not left to flounder in the professional expectations of my appointment. The Peter Principle of one being promoted and eventually “rising to one’s level of incompetence” is avoided in the Singaporean career track system design with robust continuous learning opportunities, including full-time, completely ministry-funded programs like the four-week Senior Teachers Programme and 10-week Teacher Leaders Programme during which I continue to receive my salary, meet and network with other Senior Teachers, and establish a better understanding of my professional role.
The Singapore Ministry of Education’s commitment to the continuous growth and support of teachers in their academic, personal and professional aspirations is reflected, too, in a thorough, systemic approach. The Teacher Growth Model (TGM) undergirds the personal and professional development continuum of teachers, the Singapore Teaching Practice (STP), launched in 2017, allows the fraternity to exchange teaching methods on a dedicated, online portal, while the Academy of Singapore Teachers (AST) focuses on developing teacher professional development and excellence. Professional development packages and leave schemes where different types of scholarships, study loans and leave provisions are also made available to teachers.
I am currently on professional development leave, where I still draw part of my current salary and am pursuing my Master of Arts in leadership and educational change fulltime. When I complete my studies, I can expect to return to a school where I may continue to contribute and share my experiences with others.
My experiences and opportunities have shaped my flight, but I am not alone as there are many in the teaching profession who are pursuing their passions both academically and professionally, and are living, breathing examples of their convictions daily. Due to how our career track system is designed, we will never fail to land once in a while, just as my former vice principal once advised me to, and ensure that we have a sharp perspective of the ground
This story was produced by The Hechinger Report, a nonprofit, independent news organization focused on inequality and innovation in education. It is part of a series of opinion pieces highlighting teaching policies and practices from top-performing countries that participated in a study led by Linda Darling-Hammond and funded and supported by the National Center on Education and the Economy, called The Empowered Educators. Sign up for The Report’s newsletter.
Qidong ‘Alan’ Yang is a Senior Teacher of English Language for primary school students in Singapore. He is currently on government-funded professional development leave while he pursues a master’s degree.