The student has become the teacher. More than an expression, this is an enduring tradition that just keeps on growing here at Singapore Polytechnic. Let’s meet a triple generation of students-turned-teachers – each generation taught the next at what is now the School of Architecture & the Built Environment (ABE) and they’re all colleagues today! From Chalkboards to Tablets
Three generations of lecturers as colleagues in SP (From left: Faris, Choy Ling, Dillon and Keng Keng)
Chan Choy Ling and Lee Keng Keng have fond memories of their student days at the SP Prince Edward Campus (PEC). Keng Keng studied for her Diploma in Architectural Draughtsmanship there before furthering her studies, and Choy Ling was from the then University of Singapore, which was conducting lessons at PEC at that time.
They both returned to SP to build even more memories as lecturers in the school now known as ABE, where they have been nurturing new generations of students for decades. Keng Keng says SP is “more than a second home” to her, and as the recently retired Choy Ling puts it, she had been teaching at SP “since using chalk back then, to OHPs [overhead projectors], then PowerPoint, and now, with the iPad!”
And though she admits that a teaching career can be “a tough balancing act” where one has to juggle between “exerting discipline on students while also nurturing them”, it has always been worthwhile.
“Teaching is about relationships and how we interact. The relationship is very enriching because you become so involved in the growing up process,” she shares.
Keng Keng agrees to the fullest, saying: “Just knowing what my students have achieved is good enough for me... to know I have played a little part in their lives and now, to become friends with them is really wonderful.”
From Student to Director
One such student that these two doyennes of ABE have seen grow up is their current SP colleague, Faris Akbar Hajamaideen, whom they both taught when he was a student at the then School of the Built Environment & Design.
Keng Keng remembers Faris as being an inquisitive and impassioned student when she taught him during his first year in poly, one who would “question the role of the architect”, and who was eager to explore the profession’s possibilities.
And Choy Ling reveals that this distinctive trait stayed with Faris all the way into his final year, where he stood out as someone who was “always questioning, never accepting things just on the surface,” adding, “there was this value in him that made him stand out.”
Faris has since come a long way from his student days of 1988 to 1991. After he graduated from university, he returned to the School of the Built Environment & Design to teach.
“I developed my passion for architecture there, and I came back to help others do the same,” says Faris. “I came in as a part-timer in 2002 and I remember Keng Keng invited me for a staff meeting though I was not officially a staff member. It was quite a proud moment when Peter Lee, the School Director at the time, pointed out that ‘one of ours has come back’,” shares Faris.
And just like she had when Faris was her student, Choy Ling has nothing but praise for Faris as her colleague.
“I sat in on Faris’ lecture once… the way he teaches theory, the way he expresses it is like he is sharing his experiences with the students. He makes it very real to the students. They don’t see it as being taught a topic and very theoretical, it becomes alive and real to them,” she says.
Being part of the multi-generational family in SP has made his journey in SP much more richly rewarding
The Faris of today now helms the SP Design School as its Director! For him, his SP journey has been richly rewarding indeed, and all the more so because of the many friends he has made here.
“I’ve worked in SP for 13 years, and one thing that stands out here for me is the relationships one can build. There’s a kind of campus connectivity… I have friends everywhere,” he says.
Choy Ling elaborates: “We learn from each other. Not just about professional things but about life as well. That’s where we are more than just colleagues.”
Strong from Generation to Generation
Faris himself is all too aware that there are bound to be more people like him, who start out in SP as students and subsequently return as educators themselves.
This has proven all too true. In one of Faris’ earliest days as a lecturer, there was a group of students Faris would describe as being “more inquisitive.” Amongst them was Dillon Lin, an individual who reminded Faris very much of himself. Dillon, who graduated in 2004, is now his fellow colleague at SP Design School, which adds yet another link to this chain of multi-generational students-turned-teachers.
Dillon attributes his decision to be an educator to passion and a keenness to help foster new generations of talent.
“As trained architects, we have a lot of possibilities to pursue. Coming back to the academic industry stems from a passion to pass on knowledge and see students develop.”
His then-lecturer and now-colleague, Faris, echoes this viewpoint.
“You are shaping another facet of building, by way of teaching,” he says.
Grown from Students, to Colleagues, to Friends
These four students-turned-teachers have grown to become close friends, with a strong shared history that has enabled them to build up a richer relationship.
“We’re colleagues, and we’re also more than that. It’s enduring,” says Faris.
Choy Ling is in full agreement, saying: “When students come back as teachers, it’s like seeing a long-lost daughter or son. Because SP is so established, we get to experience this long history of relationships. It’s fantastic.”