More professionals switching to teaching

One in 4 teachers today has at least one year of prior working experience

After 16 years as a deputy superintendent in the police force, Mr Colin Wong decided to make a mid-career switch to become a teacher, forgoing potential promotion opportunities and taking a 50 per cent pay cut.

It also meant the 45-year-old had to start from scratch, alongside peers half his age.

"It was difficult leaving the force and my colleagues. But I felt that at this juncture of my life, I would like to use my experience to teach and give back to society," said Mr Wong, who took up a full-time postgraduate diploma in education (primary) course a year ago.

One of the rising number of professionals who have made a mid-career switch to teaching, he graduated yesterday from the National Institute of Education (NIE) with the Justice Choor Singh Book Prize for outstanding performance.

Currently, 25 per cent of all teachers have at least one year of prior working experience, up from 15 per cent in 2002. In 2013, there were 33,000 teachers in total.

Dr Timothy Chan, academic director at SIM Global Education, said: "There are many reasons working adults make the switch to the teaching profession. Some may switch due to personal interest and others may do so because the hours are more predictable.

"And with more dual-income households, there is less financial stress compared with the past where only one party worked to support the household."

Mr Wong now teaches English, Mathematics, Science and Social Studies to a class of 39 nine-year-olds at Corporation Primary School in Jurong West.

He said: "It takes time for pupils to warm up to the teacher but my previous work experience has allowed me to adapt to the new environment, and I get a lot of guidance from fellow teachers."

Coursemate Robin Teo, 51, who has two daughters aged 14 and 16, also graduated yesterday.

Mr Teo, who quit his project management job after two decades in the research and development field, is now at Wellington Primary School in Sembawang.

He said: "Now that my kids are older, I felt that it is a good time to switch careers. I hope to use my experience as a parent to bring a new perspective to teaching."

Yesterday, NIE welcomed 449 new teachers in an investiture ceremony at Nanyang Technological University. Education Minister Heng Swee Keat, the guest of honour, told The Straits Times: "I think it is useful for the Education Ministry to have teachers from a variety of backgrounds. Having some mid-career teachers will bring rich and useful perspectives to the education system."

calyang@sph.com.sg