Teacher Feature: Tr. Bernie

If you’re a student at either PTS or Sri Emas, chances are you're familiar with Tr. Bernie who wears multiple hats in both schools, teaching English, Art & Design, as well as Geography. We sat down for a little chat to find out a little bit more about what motivates her, her life outside school and her passion for all things green. Enjoy! 

Tell us a little bit about your background and how you ended up teaching in both schools?
After attending Chinese primary school and government secondary school I went on to study first at Taylor’s for a year, and then three years at Monash. I majored in communications and went on to work as an account executive in an agency here in Malaysia but just didn’t love it as much as I thought I would. I knew both Trs. Erica and Grace from our university days already, through dance. I had met up with Erica and she asked if I'd be interested to join them at PTS. That was six years ago now. Funnily enough, I remember being in school, the kind of routine work life my teachers had and thought I never want to be one! [laughter]

Between your subjects, do you have a favourite one to teach?
Really tough to pick one out of the three because they all have their own little things which make them enjoyable for me to teach. If I really had to pick one then right now it’d be Geography. Not only because I’ve been teaching it the longest, but because we are talking and learning about how the world works and that’s obviously something very exciting and engaging. I am fascinated by all things Geography; how the little cracks come to be in rocks, how landforms come into existence and all that. 

Were any of those subjects your favourite ones at school already or did you develop a liking for them only later on?
It was actually a substitute teacher in high school who kind of kick started my interest in Geography. She was also the vice principal, actually and she taught us how the seasons change, how the earth revolves around the sun and that was something very different than what I had thought Geography to be before. It was a lot of memorizing of where crops grow, highest exports, etc. It goes to show that who you learn from makes a difference, I suppose.

It’s nice that you’ve found a profession where you can teach something that you’re personally interested about. It’s hard to get someone else excited about learning something if you’re not really passionate about it yourself.
Yup! And it’s only recently that I’ve come to realize how much passion can have an impact on learning. I received a letter from a former student of mine and he let me know that he never really liked Geography but he still did well in it because of me…and that was just such a big compliment, it really took me aback.

So, if you weren’t a teacher, what profession would you have pursued?
I think I would be involved in something which is focused on sustainability. I think it’s something which the world desperately needs but I was already in my third year at university and at the same time, I figured that because I hadn’t taken Bio in high school subjects like Marine Biology just weren’t there for me, so to speak. So if it had to be something other than teaching, it would be something to do with the environment; creating sustainable products, or systems, something along those lines.

You have a knack for arts & crafts, I’m told. When did you first take an interest in that and on that note, what does Tr. Bernie do to you find balance in life?
My exploration of the arts & crafts world started when I was very young. When I was in third grade I saw an origami set in a Japanese store and begged my mom to buy it for me even though it cost a ton of money. She gave in and that’s pretty much where it started for me. The balance in my life does in fact come from doing a lot of crafting and not just from one kind of medium. I dabble in a lot of different things but I also love to just hang out and watch TV because it allows you to really just relax and wind down. My husband and I also recently got a cat and a hedgehog who keep us busy and finally, a little bit of gaming here and there.

Gaming! I’m sure our students will love to hear that. What do you play? 
Well I recently clocked a 100 hours in Stardew Valley which is a farming simulation…

So we go back to Geography again! 
[Laughter] Yes! I do have a fascination with growing things and recently I’ve taken up actually growing things again after a string of unsuccessful attempts when I was a lot younger. I’ve killed my cactus, my strawberry plant and even an air plant which really doesn’t require any effort. Now in our new house, I’ve got a bunch of money trees and also, sunflowers! So far, so good and this time around it looks like my green thumb might actually work out. 

What would you say has been your favourite moment so far as a teacher?
I think it’s hard to pin point one moment. For me, it’s the growth you see in your students. When you realize how far they’ve come, the kinds of positive changes and growth they’ve made over a period of time, that’s probably my favourite experience as a teacher.

That about wraps it up for us but I’ve got one last question for you: If there was only one thing you’d want your students to take away from you, what would it be?
I think it’d be that they understand that learning never really stops. That’s something I’ve learned and it’s really, really important because as soon as you turn your back on wanting to learn, then you’ll start to stagnate. Being open minded to new things and continuing to want to learn, that’s what I’d like my students to understand. 

Wise words, thank you very much, Tr. Bernie!