English teachers who go beyond the book

Nur Syahiidah Zainal and David Teo
​The Straits Times
Mon, Oct 17, 2016

Last week, seven teachers were honoured with the Inspiring Teacher of English Award (ITEA) 2016.

Now in its ninth year, the award is jointly presented by The Straits Times and the Speak Good English Movement, and supported by the Ministry of Education.

Here are three of the teachers who put a tremendous amount of heart in their work.


For Ms Naznin Rehana Begum, 37, a wish to bring her favourite subject to life for her students drives her in the classroom.

The English literature teacher at Dunearn Secondary School does it by centring her lessons on presentations, which is often scary for her students at first "because they are not used to it".

However, she persists because she believes presenting the results of their group discussions helps students express their views confidently, which then translates into their writing. She also encourages reflective journal writing to get them to express their personal thoughts on the texts they study.

Ms Naznin, a teacher of 11 years, said: "I truly enjoy working with teenagers, and the opportunity to continue enjoying one of my favourite subjects through young people is what keeps my passion for teaching strong."

Indifferent or anxious students at the beginning of each school year do nothing to dampen her enthusiasm; she attributes their behaviour to a fear of the subject.

Ms Naznin is also a great supporter of local literary texts. A favourite with her students was playwright Haresh Sharma's Off Centre, which deals frankly with how people here regard those with mental illness.

She amplifies the experience by inviting the authors to her school.

"The students have a lot of questions about the texts and they get to hear (the answers) from the horse's mouth."


Mr Ian Tan Xin Long, 32, who teaches English literature at Raffles Institution, believes the best way to transfer the love of literature to his students is by example.

"When my students see that I embody passion for the subject, it rubs off on them," he said. "I love seeing how poetry excites them, and touches them emotionally... (they) think more deeply about their lives and the lives of people around them."

Mr Tan, who employs a range of teaching methods to make his lessons appeal to students, often uses film clips to teach literature and narrative writing.

"Some students may not take too well to certain literature texts, so I show them the film adaptation of the text and then ask them to read what others say about the film. This method appeals to students who are more visual," he said.

One thing he enjoys most about teaching is the interaction with students. "I love the two-way process of building knowledge that comes from activities and discussions. Instead of just telling them the answers, I guide them to discover knowledge for themselves."


Ms Foo Soo Ling, 48, who heads the English department at Nanyang Girls' High School, is always looking out for strategies that excite and engage students.

For instance, inspired by a lesson she observed during a visit to an international school, she worked with two colleagues to adapt lessons to start conversations about students' literature texts to improve their understanding of the works.

Even with 24 years of teaching experience, she said teaching could sometimes be challenging and tiring. But constantly coming up with new initiatives and strategies is what spurs her on.

She previously won the ITEA Teaching award in 2009 and is the first teacher to receive both the Teaching and Leadership awards.

"Winning the ITEA is very meaningful to me because it is an affirmation of my efforts, as well as the efforts of my colleagues in continually trying to bring out the best in our students."

The Straits Times

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