Published on 31 Mar 2022

Standing On The Shoulders Of Giants

Dr Morgan Zhou (EdD, Class of 2020) is a recipient of the NTU Nanyang Outstanding Young Alumni Award in 2021, and a former Anglo-Chinese School (ACS) boy who went on to teach at his alma mater and become its Vice-Principal. He tells NIEWS about his serendipitous journey into becoming an educator.

“Please call me Morgan,” says the modest Teaching Fellow with the English Language and Literature Academic Group at the start of our interview. As a Ministry of Education (MOE)-seconded staff at NIE, he supports, advises and implements learning programmes for pre-service and in-service teachers.

He quickly qualifies that he did not set off to become an educator. “While I was studying for my business degree, I’d made a foray into tuition centres and set up a training company to conduct motivational and study skills workshops. I didn’t want to be stuck in a desk-bound job,” he said.

He attributes a chance meeting with a former teacher at a primary six class reunion that inspired him to apply for a teaching position. “My conversations with the teacher made me realise that I wanted to impact and influence young lives with a greater sense of purpose, just like her.”

That teacher was the late Dr Teong Su Kwang, or Miss Teong as she was affectionately known to her ACS students. She was Morgan’s primary five and primary six form teacher, who went on to complete a PhD in Mathematics and become an NIE assistant professor before her untimely demise in 2004. Till this day, Morgan and his primary school classmates would still visit her grave every year to celebrate her legacy.

“I will always remember Miss Teong for the way she nurtured and extended pastoral care to all her students. She was the kind of teacher who cherished holistic development. Through her, I learned the importance of building strong teacher-student relationships (TSR) as well as showing genuine love and care to students from all walks of life. As a young man at the start of a teaching career, Miss Teong’s example made all the difference to me,” Morgan recollected.

Not surprising, when he rose through the ranks to become Head of Department of English and Vice-Principal at Anglo-Chinese School (Junior) , Morgan advocated for the development of 21st century competencies through effective TSR to facilitate the attainment of the desired education outcomes of our Singapore education system. An ardent Suess fan, Morgan’s approach to knowledge is simply this: “The more that you read, the more things you will know. The more that you learn, the more places you'll go” (a quote from the book, I Can Read With My Eyes Shut! by Dr Suess.)

He talks fondly about Read Up!, a reading mentorship programme that he implemented with help from staff and parent volunteers. “To encourage ACS boys to read, we devised a credit system where students could earn collectible reward cards for achieving specific goals. The reward cards came in sets, which incentivised and steered the boys towards tackling more challenging and quality fiction. Furthermore, the dialogues with their reading mentors helped to enrich their communication and social skills. The programme grew so popular that it spun-off as an afterschool activity — like a school-based student care centre, which the school did not have back then! At the height of the programme, the school also saw historical bests in terms of quality passes for English at national examinations.

“Miss Teong’s legacy is also why I’ve always valued the role of teachers as mentors. After that class reunion, I’d kept in touch with Miss Teong, who would counsel and encourage me despite her own struggles with an illness. When I cleared my MOE interview, I called her to share the good news. Unfortunately, the reception was poor and I told myself to call again. But she was gone before I could do so, as a surgical operation for her affliction had been unsuccessful. I never knew Miss Teong was scheduled for an operation. Not once did she focus on herself during our many conversations,” he mourned.

Today, Morgan honours the memory of his favourite teacher by striving to build authentic relationships as an educator and life-long learner. In fact, exploring the role of relationships in the sphere of mentoring had been the focus of his doctoral research under the guidance of another mentor from NIE, Associate Professor Lim Lee Hean. “I studied how the mentoring process equipped protégés with stronger career and psychosocial functions, compared to those without mentors,” he added.

He believes that the idea of showing kindness and respect in relationships establishes an improved platform for learning and self-development among students in schools and society. Beyond NIE, he upholds these values by volunteering at social service agencies, helping disadvantaged learners with diverse abilities and special needs to read, write and learn.

Describing his motivations for serving in the community, he humbly said, “I’ve been fortunate to stand on the shoulders of giants. Individuals like Miss Teong and my fellow volunteers are the ones who truly understand the need to create opportunities for meaningful learning, sustainable knowledge building and enduring relationships.”

Reward cards from a particular series (left) join together to form a picture (right)

This article was originally published in NIEWS #119.

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