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Message from an English Teacher

I started teaching in MOE schools and Junior Colleges over thirty years ago. I came from England where I had trained as a teacher and was sent to teach the Pre-U classes in Raffles Institution in 1979. I moved over to Raffles Junior College when it was formed in 1981. My last MOE posting was five years at National Junior College. I really enjoyed these JCs. I retired from Government service in 2000. Since then I have been teaching in private schools, International schools and in tuition centres.

The main difference between teaching in mainstream schools and tuition centres is, of course, the class sizes. In schools classes can be over 20 students, sometimes even larger. It would be far less than that in a tuition centre. AT KRTC Jurong West, my largest class is six. I have other classes of one, two and three students. Of course, the other difference is there are no school uniforms and normally no homework (though that varies because if a parent or a student requests homework I will set it and mark it). In the early days of MOE schools, there was no air conditioning in either the classrooms or staffroom. Some teachers actually smoked cigarettes in the staffroom. Can you believe that? We had ceiling fans in class, which, if they were old and worn out, could be very noisy. It could get insufferably hot in the afternoons. Now we take air conditioning for granted in our classrooms.

Students like to have fun while they are learning, so in my KRTC classes we have language games in the lessons as well as practising all the old grammar and MOE syllabus stuff.

I feel the best way to boost the students’ vocabulary base is not just to get them to read but to get them to be enthusiastic about reading. Every lesson we read an interesting young person’s novel in serial form. The students really enjoy this. We have just finished reading The Silver Sword by Ian Serrailier.

Each student has different strength and weaknesses and the monthly mock test helps me to identify what these are. Because the groups are small it is easy to explain to students what they are doing right and what they are doing wrong. Once they realize where they are going wrong and work on putting things right, they can really boost there grades.

However, there is no magic wand that can be waved to improve a person’s English overnight. Because English is the working language of Singapore and the medium of instruction in education, most Singapore students have an excellent level of spoken English. Problems arise in written English. Common problems are verb tenses, prepositions, subject verb agreement, spelling, punctuation and essay writing skills.

How to put these problems right? First they need to be identified by the teacher who then tells the student where he or she is going wrong. The student needs to edit his or her work before handing it in for marking, with particular attention to look out for the type of mistake he or she is prone to make.

Like everything we do in life, practice makes perfect. The more we read and write the better we will become. Reading is an excellent way of learning correct English. I recommend students to go to the library, find an interesting story book and read it for twenty minutes before going to sleep. If the book turns out to be boring, take it back and change it. Reading before you sleep will relax you as well as help improve your English.

Peter Burgess Henry
Secondary English Tutor
Kent Ridge Education @ Jurong

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