Voices enthusiastically discussing the day’s lessons echo across the corridors as students make their way to their classrooms.

From the opposite direction, a teacher approaches, emerging from a stairwell with a brisk pace in her step. The students reach her in a moment, and cheerful greetings are exchanged with a smile.

This is what Ms Hong Xiaohui, 27, looks forward to each day as a teacher at Millennia Institute, where she has taught Geography and China Studies in English for almost four years.

Having made a mid-career switch after three years as a personal wealth manager in a foreign bank, Ms Hong understands firsthand the part that a teacher can play in touching the lives of her students. She is convinced that she has made the right career choice.

She says: “There are many ways for a person to impact lives. I guess working with young people was my calling. I’ve always thought that a teacher has a profound impact on a person’s life. Nothing held me back, and the people around me were very supportive… my relatives were always asking me how I liked my job.”

She adds: “I also interact with my colleagues and students regularly and they helped me to adapt quickly to my new working environment.”

She finds that her prior working experience has also enhanced her teaching and enriched her lessons.

She says: “As a personal banker, you need to know the investor’s needs and wants… likewise, as a teacher, you need to know the students so you can better tweak your teaching style to suit their needs.”

Beyond the classroom

As a teacher of a subject that focuses on nature and human demographics, Ms Hong engages her students in lessons and activities inside as well as outside the classroom. For example, she has conducted classes in the school’s garden, among other venues.

Her students also participate in various extra-curricular activities and competitions such as the Geographic Information System (GIS) National Competition, an annual competition lasting from March to July that requires participants to make use of the GIS mapmaking software to solve geography-related problems.

While students are trained in the use of the GIS software, their learning experience is not only limited to that.

She says: “In the process, they learn how to carry out crisis management by themselves. They learn to work as a team. After the competition, they have become very good friends.

“And after four months interacting with my students as their teacher-mentor, I find that I understand them better.”

Strong rapport

Ms Hong shares a strong rapport with her students.

When her Junior College 2 Geography students, Rachel, Izzuddin and Suriya, are asked to describe their teacher, they reply that she is “informative, inspiring and engaging, as well as caring and determined”.

Izzuddin elaborates: “She gives us a holistic education. Even though she is our Geography teacher, she also touches on character development. She teaches us to be realistic but optimistic.”

Adds Rachel: “When you ask a question, she will make sure that you understand the topic before continuing.”

As a participant of the 2010 GIS National Competition, Izzuddin is also appreciative of Ms Hong’s guidance as the team’s mentor.

He says: “She was very helpful. We were very new to the GIS platform, so she tried her best to give us supplementary notes. We did not experience as many problems as anticipated.”

To Ms Hong, sharing her knowledge has its rewards, whether it is successfully delivering a lesson or shaping the future of the next generation. 

She says: “I have students who return for visits after graduation, and they are appreciative of what we have taught them — not just content, but about how to be a better person.

“As long as I have changed someone’s life positively, I am happy enough.”