Samy Rajoo, and 3 of his students
Manager, English Department (Jiang Education Centre)
1) Why did you choose this profession and what do you love most about your job?
I am now 43 and as long as I can recall, I have been involved in teaching, training and coaching for more than half of it either directly or indirectly. But I have come to realise that Life is indeed strange for you need to shuffle the cards you are dealt with.
And even though I have always been keen to share, exchange, and learn from others, it took me the better part of 15 years to arrive at the place I find myself now in – in the interim, I worked in privilege card sales, insurance sales, the supreme court, a training centre and now a tuition centre :)
I have also volunteered extensively in the grassroots, toastmasters where I met you and am an active guidance volunteer counsellor with SANA and the HINDU CENTRE.
So in a sense, I feel that the profession chose me for on hindsight in almost all of my full-time previous jobs, and volunteer stints, I inevitably ended up conducting training and mentoring than in the scope I had been originally recruited for.
2) What is your mission in Life?
Ha ha what a lovely breathtaking question. But I’ve come over time to realise that it is simply to pass on what I’ve learnt and to have the opportunity to learn from all those I have shared with. Especially so now that I have a four year old at home, I am chuffed at how many of my students have adopted her as their baby sister. I think that reflects why once a friend of some 20 years standing once said that I was someone who wanted, “to build people who build people.” That observation from that dear friend made me realise that that in a nutshell was what I had been chasing all along – to be in a position where I could ‘pay it forward’ so to speak :)
3) How do you create a work-life balance for yourself?
Ha ha I would be the first to hold up my hands and fess-up that in my opinion there is truly no such thing. I say this because as I truly enjoy what I am doing – it, all sniggers and cliches be darned, what I do really does not feel like work – why do I say this? Well, Grace, as you well know, I work long week days and full weekends but when I am in class, sharing, teaching, guiding, learning, inspiring, I feel that I am in my element - I am in that space between real and surreal – where I truly feel fulfilled and time truly flies. How fast? Well, I teach weekends 9am til 7pm and I can go on all night if needed. In fact, I had an amazing cohort of students last year and the weeks before their “O” Levels, we would pull marathon sessions up to 11pm even.
Whilst I do try to make time for my family, to be completely honest (just in case my wife does read this) I am somewhat too selfish and happy to reduce the hours I spend doing what I love. Trust me, I love my wify and daughter and family but I realise that I need to be happy before I can spread that joy around. So at best, it is a compromise. Not ever truly a balance in my case.
4) What makes you happy?
The simple things. Being able to wake up completely from sleep. NTUC marketing with my angel. Being able to get what my wify wants on that very day. Sending my mum on holidays. But what truly makes me happy is being able to hang around people who are keen to learn, who have a yearning to improve themselves and who are fearless enough to take that leap of faith – for I warn them – the reward for hard work is more hard work and once you’ve accomplished good results, it is an addiction, a drug that will keep you dragging back for more and more.. hard work. It is as much blind faith partly in me and partly in them that if they truly try, they’d envision and realise vistas never before imagined.
I must share one of my fondest memories – that of a student who is now himself a teacher in a junior college doing what he loves best. Teaching. I first got to know him when he was in Pri 6 but his attendance at the weekend tuition centre (it was a volunteer managed centre) was terrible at best. His father approached me the following year to assist him in his secondary one work. As I was then self-employed, I took the effort to accompany him to his school and spoke to his teachers together with his parents.
My student, who had been posted to one of the weaker neighbourhood schools, was shocked when he realised that even amongst such academically modest students, he had the third lowest aggregate in the entire cohort - I used this to shake him up and over the months that followed, we worked together tirelessly on setting, smashing and targeting new accomplishments.
Thanks to his strong work ethic, his family’s support and the mutual partnership we shared in helping him be the best him he could be, over the years he went on to top every exam from Sec 1 onwards. I was pretty chuffed when during his valedictorian speech at NTU, he mentioned a friend who had inspired him to study. It was truly a gratifying moment for me.
Apart from all this, my daughter Visalini and wify Lakshmi complete me :)
5) How difficult is it to teach English to foreign students, and how do you manage it?
As I have often shared with friends who teach in MOE schools, it is a joy to teach, coach and work with students who come pre-inspired, ever ready to hang on to your every word and who have discovered that one of the secrets of success in life hinges on academic success.
In that aspect, foreign students are no different from local students and I consciously try my best to NOT draw a distinction between students based on school, age nor nationality. How do you interest teens to read and acquire grammar? How do you cause them to get interested in language? What can you do to keep them going? Well, I leverage on what they like and would read even without my prompting. I allow them to sample flavours of different materials, writing and sources - I distill articles from 8 days, Time magazine, The Straits Times, Today, gossip rags, Yahoo News and the excellent info graphics from The New Paper. I painstakingly highlight, explain and clarify issues, content and vocabulary covered in the materials.
I do offer additional conversation time to all my students outside the class sessions. And not just the foreign ones so that they have the opportunity to read, answer and clarify issues in a more informal environment. I do keep in touch with many of my students via facebook, emails and smses - I try and more often than not, it does let them know that I am there – even if it is to verify a word that they came across somewhere and are too lazy to check a dictionary for - I tell them “Ask me – for when you learn, so do I.”
The best lesson I have learnt from my students is this -
“Students don’t really care how much you know,
Students want to know how much you care.”
Which is why in these past five fantastic, fun, fulfilling years, I have taught more than three thousand students at the centre where I coach and during MOE enrichment programs. It is indeed a blessing to be where I am now and I stand guided by these lovely words:
“All human beings have a place inside which is filled with treasures; be still and you will find it. “
Grace says: Samy promised me a masterpiece of an interview. And boy, what an interview! I’m glad I asked him. He’s such an awesome friend that I just HAD to interview him for this blog. THANKS, Samy! :D
I think his students are all extremely blessed to have him as a teacher.
It’s been an awfully long time since I last met Samy (workaholic *ahem* that he is) but my most vivid memory of him is, and hope this doesn’t embarrass him, of him lugging his purchases of baby diapers and milk powder to Toastmasters meetings, so he can bring them straight home afterward. I think he’s an amazing father, and hope his daughter realises that while he may often be busy with teaching, his heart’s still very much at home with his wife and kid too! :)
Come back next week for: The interview with Celest Chong, whom Samy is a fan of. ;)