Category Archives: Education


“Cher, why did you give me a B?!” The student spouted in a somewhat accusatory tone.

“R”, I started in my most patient tone, knowing he didn’t take well to confrontations and challenges. “I didn’t GIVE you that B. You GOT a B. It’s what you earned for yourself.” I ended with a tiny knowing smile at him, just to show that I wasn’t really chiding, but reminding him of the truth he already knows.

My statement seemed to surprise him a little – I could tell from his loss of words, which doesn’t happen very often. He then gave a slightly sheepish smile. I knew he had been aiming for an A, and it was understandable that the B had left him disappointed.

More than learning where he had lost valuable marks, I also hope he learnt the value of taking responsibility for his effort and actions, and the importance of accepting disappointment in life, without blaming them all on others or on external circumstances.


“Don’t Steal My Dust!”

One of the inevitable side effects of teaching music in a classroom is that sometimes, the classroom instruments become more than that – they become weapons of childish acts of revenge, objects to tease with, objects which can be used to get attention.

After a particular trifle between 2 groups in which Boomwhackers were hurled through the air, I got them to stay back after class to Talk.

Long story short – after rounds of blame-pushing and fact-crosschecking, the culprits finally owned up to their actions and agreed to accept the consequences.

Still feeling angsty over their misbehaviour, I then curtly told them to make it quick and to make sure I can see how much dust they have each cleaned from the room. The 2 boys picked up the brooms and started sweeping earnestly. After a while, 2 small mounds of dust accumulated  on the floor. Boy1, after sweeping his mound into the dustpan, went over to Boy2’s mound and attempted to do the same. Boy2 became startled. “Hey!! Don’t steal my dust!!”

That he would be so protective over a mound of dust tickled me to no end.

Almost at once, I felt the irritation and angst over their earlier misbehavior dissipate, and I saw them for what they simply are: Young boys who are growing up. With hormones and all.

I allowed myself to crack a half-smile (even though I really wanted to burst into laughter), and told them there was lots more dust under the teacher’s table and under the stacks of chairs. It became almost like a game, with them trying to show me how much dust they could each collect.

I went back to the staffroom and shared the dusty story with a colleague, and we had a good laugh over it.

Self care for the day, done!

Article: The Role of Music in Adolescent Development

By: Miranda, D. (2013).

From: International Journal of Adolescence and Youth, 18:1, 5-22.


This article is a literature review, which highlights how much of adolescent developmental psychology literature and research leaves out the role of music in an adolescent’s life. It concludes by stating that more research into the developmental role of music can present more insights into the psychological, social and cultural needs of the contemporary adolescent.


My reflection:

We know that most of the songs we seem close to our hearts are the songs we listen to from our teens to 20s. There is more research and literature about how music can help in reminiscing in elderly patients and clients, helping them make sense of the world around them in their aging years. “Use of familiar repertoire” is a staple music therapy intervention and technique in working with aged care. Most of these “familiar repertoire” are the songs that accompanied them through the tumultuous years of adolescence and young adulthood.

It would make sense, then, to study how the same songs which adolescents are identifying with as they are growing up, are being used (consciously or unconsciously)to help them cope in their psychological and emotional development. With more understanding in this area, teachers, developmental psychologists, counsellors, and therapists might then be able to better understand how to help adolescents cope with the struggles of growing up. These struggles could include: Peer pressure, identity searching and formation, emotional issues, mental health.

Example: I’ve noticed that having the same tastes in music is one of the first things which bond students together into long-lasting friendships. It could be the latest k-pop band, or just the single which became a hit 2 years ago. The moment 2 or more individuals find out they have the same tastes in music, a tentative friendship is formed, which could then be strengthened or dissolved depending on other factors. Music, then, could be used as a bonding agent within the class, especially to aid students who might not be as apt or skillful in social aspects.

During music lessons this week, I asked students what is their “current favorite song”, promising that I would try to incorporate those into our music lessons. My motive, apart from making the lessons relevant to them, is also to improve the social dynamics of the class. Through group musical activities, individuals who might have found it hard to adjust to the social environment would be given an alternative platform to engage with their classmates, and hopefully blend in better into the social fabric of the class. Being well-adjusted is one of the key factors which could prevent later problems from surfacing, such as bullying, truancy or loss of interest in academic studies.


Am aiming to read and reflect on at least on music therapy article every week and see how I can apply / transfer the content into the music classroom.  Part of self-development and reflective practice, and to not lose touch with the therapeutic side of things!

Teacher Supervision

When I first heard this word: “Supervision”, my heart was struck with fear and worry. And is it any surprise, coming from a system and culture where this word is linked to images of someone standing by the side while you do your work, watching you with a critical eye to make sure you’re doing your work “right”, making sure you’re meeting all the necessary criteria and prerequisites to be deemed as passed and qualified? Supervision, even with the best of intentions, have unfortunately become a word of relatively negative connotations in our work culture.

Despite my initial trepidation, I soon realized, to my relief and delight, that Supervision in music therapy (or Allied Health, for that matter), does not have direct correlations to my perceived impressions of being Supervised. It’s in fact the opposite –  a whole culture of being non-judgemental, accepting that the typical human being is failable, that everyone has emotional baggage, that everyone has times when they need to talk to someone about their emotions and not only about how good they are in their skills and job.

In such an emotionally-charged job, Supervision is seen as necessary and some places, like mental health wards, make supervision mandatory for the clinicians there.

I was thinking about all these, and wondered: Why isn’t Supervision made mandatory for Teachers?

Not supervision in the lesson-observation, work review sense, of course, but in the above-mentioned sense. Supervision for teachers in the sense of each teacher having someone they can go to to sort out whatever comes up in their work. It may not even necessarily be senior teachers, just like music therapists don’t always go to senior music therapists for supervision. As long as it’s someone who understands the nature of their work and the nature of the client population they work with. For teachers, it may be someone who works with students of similar socio-economic status, or perhaps someone in another school who teachers the same subject.

There is informal Supervision, of course. Teachers talk to each other all the time. Along the aisles of the staff room, along the corridors. Over lunch. Mentor-mentee sessions – these probably come closest to Supervision. But even then (at least in my experience), the mentor-mentee talks were always filled with issues like classroom management issues, pedagogy, effective delivery, etc. There was little focus on the individual perspectives of the teacher and how that individuality could affect day to day interaction and working.

The best supervision I’ve had so far was when working in Mental Health. The client group was undoubtedly the most challenging I had encountered up till that point, and having good supervision was so essential to my well – being, development and growth.

In the confidential, closed door, one-to-one sessions, I was able to bring up emotions I felt when working with certain people, ask questions about MT interventions and techniques, discuss academic readings and discourses with the much more experienced and ever non-judgemental supervisor. That experience really made me view Supervision in a different light, and now I find myself wondering if the burn-out rate among teachers would be less if we could have a culture like this. A culture of supervision where it is ok to talk about our problems and inadequacies, instead of trying to hide them and hope that you can overcome them in time to produce a good lesson for observation, to push for that school carnival, to pull off that speech day concert.

Over a meeting with Lecturer K the other day, she asked me how I was going with the course, giving me very encouraging feedback and advice. One of them was: make sure you get yourself a good supervisor and continue to develop yourself professionally when you start working as a MT.

The culture of supervision is so strong in this field that anyone who lets it be known that they don’t have a supervisor to go to is frowned upon and thought of as less-than-professional. It implies that they are not making efforts to reflect, talk about the difficulties faced, and possibly not keeping up to date with the latest developments in the field. That’s how important Supervision is viewed.

Maybe it’s time someone introduces this concept to Education Ministries and get something started. Teachers, like therapists, also give a lot of themselves – mentally, emotionally and physically. And any work with vulnerable individuals is bound to expose vulnerable aspects of ourselves too. Why should teachers be denied the platform to work through these vulnerabilities, take charge of their own professional and personal growth, empower themselves to be the best person they can be, and ultimately present the best aspects of themselves and their abilities to the ones that matter the most- their students ?

The Class Gathering

Met up with the 2011 – 2012 class a couple of weeks ago. They are now graduated, moving on to tertiary education. As I asked them where they were each headed to, I realised many of them gave me names of courses which didn’t even exist a short decade ago. The fancy names just flew right over my head. Names like: Eco-engineering. Green Technology. Maritime-something-Something. Nautical-something else. Energy – something else else.

I was reminded of a quote I read somewhere before, poignantly reminding us that the students we teach today are going to work in jobs, half of which have not even been created yet. How true I have realized this to be.

So what are we preparing students for, really? Are we preparing them to ace their exams, only to find that whatever they have studied is irrelevant in the real world? Or are we preparing them to have strength of character, creativity in problem solving through relating to different people and situations, among many more things they will need for the world which has yet been created? Even as the fancy names flew over my head, I found myself reflecting on their time as students in the classroom, thinking about what I have done to prepare them for the careers and contributions they will eventually make to society.

And I found myself thinking: Because of the Thing we know as the Mark and Grade, even skills like creativity and thinking out of the box have become successfully conditioned and packaged to a set of checklists, rubrics, and numbers. They then find their way into Scheme of Works, portfolios and reviews, looking good in black against 80gsm printing paper.

How much of modern education really prepares us for the world we eventually live in? Or has much of education, with it’s increased availability in developed countries, become simply another motion and stage of life we go through? Because it has become the Norm?

Much more to think about.

Heart Of A Teacher

I remember the December of 2009, before I started work.

That December, my notebook/diary/journal was filled with what I wanted to say to my students – yes, the students I had not met and had no idea what they’d be like.

I wrote down what I wanted to say, how I should phrase certain words so that more impact would be made. Which points should come first, second, last, so that they would be remembered. As I wrote, I rehearsed the tones of voice I would use in my head so as to sound as convincing and professional and experienced as possible. But even after writing pages and pages of the rules I wanted to set for my class, the expectations and values I hoped for them to imbue, I still felt unprepared.

Despite my jitters, I survived the first day of work. And the day after. And the week after. And the year and year and year and year after.

And even though I did not continue writing down what I want to say (who would have the time!), I would rehearse speeches in my head. Practice pep talks (usually before exam periods). Go through lectures/scoldings so as to make the points as clear as possible so that they would know what I’m scolding them for.  It’s funny, but I never did this for teaching content. It was only for topics like “there’s more to life than academic results”, or “resilience”, which would toss about in my head for periods of time, the mind coming up with lines which may or may not find their way into the classroom.

I didn’t particularly enjoy it. Especially if it happened once I had stepped out from school and wanted a quiet bus ride home. Or when I was in the toilet, trying to… Get things done. Or while I was trying to enjoy a relaxing shower.

After coming here, I thought I would be free from this torment of the Voice In My Head. After all, there are no students to be responsible for, no characters to mould, no children to impart values to.


As I was crossing the road the other day, I found myself “talking” in my head as I would to a class of students, about how different the bus driver culture is here and how much more gracious our society would be if we all started greeting our bus drivers.

As I was sitting in a cafe the other day, I found myself coming up with an inspiring talk about people with disabilities and how we can learn so much from people who have seemingly so little, and yes, I was mentally imagining a classroom of students!!

Maybe it’s a good thing that the voice won’t leave me alone. My mind probably subconsciously knows that I might very well be facing another classroom of students in no time at all, so it’s not letting me go so easily. I think the voice really belongs to the part of me who is still a teacher. Not necessarily a teacher in the system, but a teacher at heart.

Smart or Happy?

It was the school holidays here about 2 weeks ago, and one of the therapists brought her 11 year old son to work, leaving him to entertain himself in the library space shared by us students. During my break in between sessions, we struck up a conversation.

“So you don’t have to go back to school at all during the holidays?”

“Nope! But I know my cousins in Sg do!”

“Yeah, I know because I was a teacher there. Students and teachers have to go back to school practically every holiday.”

“That’s why Sg is ranked like top 5 in student smartness and Australia is like number 20-something…”

“Well it’s probably the other way round if happiness  was measured.”

And he seemed to find that very amusing, for some reason. Maybe he thought I was joking.

So which is more important- being smart, or being happy?


Last year, I had a class of 38 thirteen year-olds under my charge. Somehow they managed to get hold of my handphone number and would occasionally send me messages like: “Cher! We really miss you!”
I am happy to hear from them, yes, but… I just don’t feel as affectionately towards them, you know?
I know teachers are supposed to love and nurture all students equally, but I can’t help having my biases.
And to this batch of students I had barely known for a year, I’d feel:


But. When last year’s batch of Sec 4 students – students whom I have seen grow up since they came in as small puny Sec 1s – send me similar messages, I am a totally different person.

Omgosh. They still think about me. I made a difference!! 


Modern Parenting

Having seen and having had to teach the living and breathing products of 21st Century parents in the past few years certainly makes me agree with most of what this British nanny writes.

Coincidentally, I recently witnessed an incident which made me feel quite impressed with this modern parent.

The little girl, maybe 4-5 years old, was on a tricycle, cycling in front of her father in the crowded train station. Suddenly, because she was looking down and not in front of her, she suddenly finds herself confronted by a huge pillar. She freezes in her tracks just before she bangs into the pillar, and instinctively looks to her father. The guy looks back down at her, and gestures his arms in an exaggerated “I don’t know what to do either!” shrug. The girl pauses for a second more before figuring it out. She retraces her steps, pedaling backwards, then pedaling forward again, this time steering slightly to the left to avoid the pillar.

By not stooping down to change the direction of his daughter’s tricycle for her, by pretending that he didn’t know what to do, the dad gave her a wonderful opportunity to solve her own problem, build her resilience and learn from her earlier mistake.

In another country and culture, I can imagine the parent bending over immediately to help their child out of the fix. Some might even start scolding their children for having allowed themselves to end up in that situation in the first place.

If life is a book, then every experience can be a lesson. Trying to prevent children from making mistakes will deprive them of half the learning they could have had. Now why can’t we have more parents… and *ahem* educational systems… understand this?