She's inspired by students' spirit

SINGAPORE - She spent 14 years teaching in neighbourhood schools, so Ms Suvia Tan (right) knows first hand how some children struggle to overcome a poor start.

And since January last year, her class sizes have shrunk from 40-plus to four.

The reason: Ms Tan is now teaching troubled teens in two juvenile homes.

“I’ve always wanted to work more directly with young people and impact lives,” the 41-year-old said.

“Here, I can do a lot more (than in mainstream schools).”

No matter that her current charges are more challenging than their peers, low on motivation and high on discipline problems. Teens are alike, their moods “fluctuate like the stock market”, Ms Tan said.

Many of the teachers, who are seconded for two years, are seasoned veterans with at least six years’ experience handling Normal stream students - who make up more than nine in 10 residents at the juvenile homes.

Ms Tan’s formula is to give her charges space to cool down and talk. But she does not condone rudeness or verbal abuse: “They came here to be rehabilitated, so they cannot do anything they want.”

Still, the initial months were an eye-opener. For instance, a class can have students from Secondary 2 to 5.


She uses “differentiated interactions” to deliver lessons, over-prepares for lessons in case students finish activities early and uploads videos ahead of time as there is no Internet connection in classrooms.

Teachers also limit students’ access to everyday objects like scissors in case they hurt their peers.

What keeps Ms Tan, a mother of three children aged eight to 12, going is seeing troubled youth make good.

“Previously, this boy told me he was always the one going on stage to be caned,” she recalled.

“Now I see him going up to get awards. Seeing him taste success, feeling his pride... and knowing that everyone helped in his progress — that gives me great satisfaction.”

Youth case worker Ang Lay Hoon, 38, said: “When youngsters see their friends going onstage to get awards, it spurs them on (to do better).

The youngsters’ never-say-die spirit is inspiring, said Ms Tan.

“When you look at their backgrounds, what they went through... yet, they still try,” she said.

This article was published on April 21 in The New Paper.

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