MOST children are undecided about what they want to do when they grow up, but not Ms Ong Su Yin.

When asked what her ambition was during a Chinese oral examination, the then-10-year-old replied without hesitation that she wanted to be a pre-school teacher.

Today, the 40-year-old is a mentor specialist with Knowledge Universe Singapore (KUS), a leading early childhood education provider with a global presence.

Learning Vision, Odyssey and Pat’s Schoolhouse are some of the pre-schools under its umbrella.

Ms Ong is one of a pioneer batch of six mentor specialists engaged to provide mentorship to trainee teachers on the apprenticeship programme.

She mentors and supports new teachers in building their competencies and confidence as effective early childhood professionals.


Learning on the job

Ms Ong currently mentors 18 teachers.

Part of her mentoring approach, she says, includes imparting her experiences, knowledge and skills to her mentees.

“Sometimes we focus so much on the technical side of becoming a teacher that we forget the social-emotional component,” she says.

“New teachers may seem enthusiastic and passionate but they too need someone to trust, express their fears and concerns to and celebrate their achievements with,” she adds.

She speaks from experience, because before her current job, the pre-school education veteran dedicated almost two decades to early childhood education, both as a teacher and a principal.

“When I was a new teacher, I had to learn many things on-the-job, skills such as class management and engaging students. It was really difficult having no one to guide you along,” she recalls.

While the initial years as an inexperienced teacher were challenging, she believes it “solidified my desire to continue in this teaching profession”.

Along the way, she pursued several courses and diplomas in early childhood education that taught her about new teaching methodologies and management of schools.

At one point, she even toyed with the idea of starting her own pre-school.

But when she joined Pat’s Schoolhouse as a part-time teacher in 1999 — she had wanted to spend more time at home with her two children — she was sold by its teaching methodology and pedagogy.

She enjoyed teaching there so much, she stayed on for the next 13 years. There, she was known as the go-to person other teachers could approach for guidance and ideas.

She was also often tasked to mentor new teachers on an informal basis — a role she found thoroughly fulfilling.

So in March this year, when she was asked to join KUS’ new structured mentoring programme for its pre-school teachers in Pat’s Schoolhouse and Learning Vision, she readily agreed.


Teaching the right lessons

Today, she makes it a point to organise mentoring sessions and conduct periodic reviews to track her mentees’ competencies and development milestones.

Ms Ong, who has mentored 66 teachers with her colleagues since March, also has one-on-one weekly meetings with them.

During these sessions, discussions on how best to manage classes and implement curriculums, operational procedures and health and hygiene routines are held.

“I always remind my mentees they have to think on their feet as kids are unpredictable. Often, what they plan is not what actually happens in the classroom,” she says.

She also equips herself with the latest industry knowledge and trends, and attends early childhood education courses so she can consistently inspire and educate new teachers.

She has a WhatsApp chat group with each batch of mentees, using the mobile messaging app to keep them abreast of new teaching methods and ideas she comes across.

Her team of mentor specialist colleagues has also started a closed group Facebook page where they float ideas and discuss anything related to early childhood education.

It has been an immensely rewarding career thus far, she says.

“Seeing new teachers gain confidence and teaching with passion is fulfilling to me.”

As early childhood educators, they lay the critical foundation for a child’s learning and development, she says.

“I’m glad I followed in the footsteps of my inspiring kindergarten and primary school teachers,” she adds.


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