‘Tricky but possible to find the right job fit’

Unexpected love: Soo had never thought about becoming a teacher until she took on a position at a kindergarten and found her passion for teaching.

CHOOSING one’s future career is not always a straightforward or clear-cut decision.

Kelly Soo can vouch for it as she has taken an entirely different path from her initial choice to make a career out of multimedia advertising.

For over three decades, Soo has immersed herself in early childhood education, which saw her first starting out as an assistant teacher before eventually founding a kindergarten and now running four kindergarten branches, with 60 teachers under her employment.

In a recent interview with StarEdu, Soo shared that as a fresh school-leaver, she had never thought about becoming a teacher.

Having obtained a multimedia advertising diploma, the then 18-year-old landed a job in the industry but had to give it up due to the working hours.

“The advertising job had really weird hours. I wanted to take care of my mother, so I looked for a day job,” she said.

That was what got her to apply for an assistant teacher’s position at a kindergarten run by a friend, and how she discovered her love for teaching.

“I loved every moment of it. Even though lessons started at 8.30am, I was awake by 5.45am to get ready for work,” she recalled.

“I used to drag myself to the advertising firm, so when I was truly excited and happy to show up for work, I knew I wanted to do this,” added Soo, who completed a diploma course in Montessori teaching, before pursuing her bachelor’s degree in early childhood education in the United Kingdom.

Her studies abroad and experience working in a kindergarten in London, she shared, opened her eyes to different schools of thought in education, including language development and special education.

After spending seven years abroad, she returned to Malaysia where she would go on to expand her horizons in the field.

According to Soo, the most impactful part of an early childhood educator’s job is the ability to make a difference.

“You watch these kids come in still in their diapers and three months later, they can use the toilet by themselves.

“Even though these are very small differences, you get to say, ‘I did that!’ or ‘I contributed at least a little bit to that!’, and feel proud,” she said. Soo also takes pride in seeing her students go on to obtain achievements in their studies, most notably the Top in the World achievements for International General Certificate of Secondary Education (IGCSE) subjects such as Additional Mathematics, Geography and Physics.

“The parents will say their children are very hardworking or very talented, but I think we also get to claim a little credit for giving them the passion for mathematics, or for setting up their foundation,” she said.

Soo’s job description has changed considerably since her initial venture into early childhood education.

Instead of teaching, she has been focusing on curriculum management and teacher training through assessing lesson plans, reviewing monthly reports of student progress, and attending events to scout the best training courses for her teachers.

She has also taken the initiative to include charity work under the umbrella of education.

“I make sure every event, be it sports day or concert, can be a fundraiser,” she said, adding that she and her team have donated books to the underprivileged and helped Orang Asli villages build classrooms, among others.

Advising students to explore various opportunities, she said, “You never know until you try, and there’s nothing wrong with any major, science or not. As long as you have the passion for it, it’s okay.”

Dream come true

Unlike Soo, Gerald Ng is living out his dream of making a career out of his childhood passion for music.

A professional violinist, Ng, who learnt to play the violin at the age of five, is currently a teaching fellow attached to the music department at a local university.

Over the years, the lecturer-cum-researcher has explored educational psychology, music technology and the organisational identities of music-related organisations, while focusing on orchestral studies and music education.

One of his main tips for fresh school-leavers is to dip their toes in as many buckets as possible. “Some universities offer double major programmes, like combining music and business management for an entrepreneurial streak.

‘Worth every second’: Ng is living out his dream of making a career out of his childhood passion for music.‘Worth every second’: Ng is living out his dream of making a career out of his childhood passion for music.

“Do not shut yourself from knowledge that doesn’t excite you, because you never know when it might come in handy. Chances are, you will need it eventually,” he cautioned, citing his personal estimate that 30% of fresh music graduates do not pursue music as a career and instead, have gone on to work as air stewards, bankers and other jobs due to the scarcity of music-related vacancies.

“Persevere and practise discipline. Even if you don’t enjoy it, it’s necessary like practising scales on your instrument,” he added.Ng also advised students to equip themselves with skillsets that would potentially help them in 21st century careers.

“Communication, teaching and coordinating with people were things that my music major, which specialised in individual performance, didn’t prepare me for.

“When I started working in the National Symphony Orchestra, I only had my seniors and experience to learn from,” he shared.

Describing the final two semesters of his undergraduate life as “hectic”, Ng said his schedule consisted of nothing else but classes, assignments and practice for his graduation recital.

Nevertheless, he believes that every second of it was worth it as he said, “Being in a university is the most fun place one can be. The joy of discovering ideas and new information is just never-ending.”He, however, conceded that he is still “not 100% convinced” that his music career is right for him.

“What drives me is to keep moving forward to find the answers to my self-doubts. These doubts are what keeps me on my toes and allows me to improve,” he said.

Nuan Ning, 17, a student in Selangor, is a participant of the BRATs Young Journalist Programme run by The Star’s Newspaper-in-Education (Star-NiE) team.

Now that you have read the article, test your understanding by carrying out the following English language activities.

1 Can you imagine a day in the working life of Kelly Soo or Gerald Ng? If you could experience it for yourself, which of their jobs would you take on for a day? Explain your choice.

2 What do you think are some factors that can influence one’s career choice? Discuss with your activity partner, using examples from the article and other sections of today’s copy of the Sunday Star newspaper.

3 Now, flip through the newspaper. How many types of jobs can you find in its pages? Make a list of the occupations. When you are done, compare it with the list your activity partner has come up with.

4 Look through the Occupations list you have just drawn up. How many of these jobs do you desire? Circle them in blue. Then, rank them in descending order of your preference.

a) Do you think you have the personality or character to take on your most desired role? Why or why not?

b) What do you think are the top three skills you would need in order to succeed in this role? Write them down.

c) Using words and pictures from the newspaper, design a poster to motivate yourself to work towards pursuing this career in future. In your poster, include the name of the career, and the types of personality and skills you need to develop for the role.

Since 1997, The Star’s Newspaper-in-Education (Star-NiE) programme has supported English language teaching and learning in primary and secondary schools nationwide. Now in its 25th year, Star-NiE is continuing its role of promoting the use of English language through a weekly activity page in StarEdu. In addition, Star-NiE’s BRATs Young Journalist Programme will continue to be a platform for participants to hone and showcase their English language skills, as well as develop their journalistic interests and instincts. Follow our updates at facebook.com/niebrats. For Star-NiE enquiries, email starnie@thestar.com.my.

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