Working with children at a preschool centre may seem like a perfect fit for Ms Sophia Koh, since she has been active in engaging children at her church and volunteering in overseas orphanages over the years.
However, when she left school after her O levels, her first choice was to study veterinary science at a polytechnic. It was only after she graduated with her diploma that she knew she wanted to keep working with the young people she had grown so happy to be around.
While at a career fair in 2009, she found an apprentice programme from childcare service provider Busy Bees Asia, which let her learn on the job the necessary skills to be a pre-school teacher.
"All those years of experience working with children made me want to do things full-time," says the 27-year-old curriculum specialist at Odyssey - The Global Preschool, which is run by Busy Bees. "I wanted a programme where you can learn on the spot and put theory into practice," she adds.
She achieved that unique experience with Busy Bees. During the two-and-a-half-year course, she would spend mornings at a childcare centre with a mentor guiding her. In the afternoons, she attended formal lessons.
"The structured learning and practical experience was beneficial because the mentors were very experienced teachers," says Ms Koh. She now teaches children between two and six years old, having completed the apprenticeship in 2012.
"It's important for teachers to go through the right studies. It's not just taking care of children and bathing them," she explains. "Every child is different. If teachers are not aware of different styles of learning, they can't apply any teaching methods effectively," she adds.
While children may be the centre of attention in her profession, one area that is increasingly important is communicating with parents as well. This often comes as a surprise to many new to the job.
"Many people think it's all about children and development but it's also working with parents. A big part of our job is communicating effectively and understanding their expectations," says Ms Koh.
She also believes that pre-school teachers have to be able to impart the right values to children. "They need to be knowledgeable. They need to be sources of knowledge, and to seek to upgrade themselves," she explains.
The rewards are enormous for those in the fi eld. Ms Koh, for example, is glad she followed her passion after leaving school. "When you see the child develop from who he or she was on the first day of school, you will feel satisfaction. You have helped to shape a child's life, to start life the right way," she says.
This article was first published on January 12, 2016.
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