The Story of One Teacher in a Big School in a Small Island Doing Incredible Things Together
One looks back with appreciation to the brilliant teachers, but with gratitude to those who touched our human feelings. The curriculum is so much necessary raw material, but warmth is the vital element for the growing plant and for the soul of the child. – Carl Jung
Every now and then we hear of students inspired to thrive, work hard, and achieve their dreams. Of how family and friends have provided more than enough moral support for all the challenges and trials and roadblocks that they needed to conquer to be successful. Of how the school and their teachers have unceasingly guided them through academic path to get to their dream universities and colleges and eventually prepare them for the “real world.”
But this isn’t one of those stories. This one tells of a teacher with a big heart whose biggest inspiration is not getting the next promotion or buying a bigger house than the one he previously had or having another car parked in his car. The one thing that made him look forward to start another work day and inspired him every single day he was at work was the simple thought that students have never stopped coming back to him to say he was one of their biggest inspirations.
Michael Singh, or Big Mike as he is fondly called in school, is currently SIS Medan’s Head Teacher and has been working for SIS for slightly more than a decade now.
One of the offshoots of the Singapore International School Group of Schools outside of Jakarta, SIS Medan prides itself in being named one of the top schools, if not the best school, in the island of Sumatra. That shouldn’t be a surprise when the school provides the best mix of rigourous international curriculum, character building, and preparation for university and the workplace.
SIS offers different curricula at various academic levels, beginning of course with the framework as set by the Singapore Ministry of Education in preschool and primary levels. As children get older, they are trained and taught based on the Cambridge Curriculum and the International Baccalaureate Diploma Programme during their final years of Senior High School. This unique and excellent fusion of word-class educational curriculum has earned SIS numerous awards and accolades that all points out to one thing: it is one school (if not the only school) you would want your child to get into.
Head Teacher Michael never actually thought he would have a career this far and big in education. Most of his professional experience where in the world of banking and finance.
One particular summer though, a client came to ask him if he’d be interested in working as a camp counsellor over the summer school break. That came as a very welcome surprise for Michael as he had no idea how much satisfaction could be gained through working with children. And that was the big turning point in his life and certainly worked out for the best for him.
Eventually Michael gave up his finance career and took on more roles with the City of Toronto as they gave him more opportunities to work with children. He then decided to have a hand at teaching and took some teaching courses with the idea that he would go overseas for a year or two and return to Teacher’s College in Toronto.
He later joined an agency that helped him find a number of teaching opportunities abroad and one of those was in Medan. Michael took the job in Medan, knowing nothing about the city, much less about Indonesia and 10 years later, “I am still here and loving it,” he exclaims.
Just like other professions Michael is constantly faced with challenges at work, and one of which is dealing with the problems that arise from a variety of age groups.
“You have to worry about everything from the children’s safety to the school’s security to maintaining the high standards of different international curricula within the system. The most important thing however is to make sure that you give every problem the attention it deserves regardless of the gravity of the situation,” the SIS Medan head teacher explained.
When asked about the biggest accountability he has with his role, he mentions having to be answerable to the long line of stakeholders, the students, parents, staff, local community leaders, local governing bodies, and the Board.
“All of these entities play a role in guiding my decisions whether they be short- or long-term. My focus is mainly on the students, their well-being, and how to best place them in positions for success for university and life, which is why I have a hand in their university applications.”
Amidst all these, the Canadian teacher finds his passion from the success of his past students who come to visit or send messages about the defining difference that SIS and himself as a teacher have made in their lives.
“When a former student comes back or sends a message about how much you and the school have helped them succeed really helps to affirm that what you have been doing is the right thing,” Michael proudly says.
When asked about the most important thing he thinks readers should know about himself and SIS Medan, he gleefully answers, “At SIS Medan, we care. We care about all children and their families. Here, you are not a number. When you join us, you become family. You get treated like family. And just like family we will do anything and everything we can to make sure you are in the best position for success.”
Before we exchanged thank-yous after the interview, Mike happily shared one of his favorite lines from the 11th President of India Avul Pakir Jainulabdeen Abdul Kalam (more popularly known as A. P. J. Abdul Kalam) who was quoted, Teaching is a very noble profession that shapes the character, caliber, and future of an individual. If the people remember me as a good teacher, that will be the biggest honour for me.”