Is Kalsum thought that her education and career path ahead was clear, but the difficult decision to quit JC to study in a polytechnic ended up being the best thing she ever did.
Growing up, Is Kalsum was always surrounded by children on the weekends. They were her cousins or family friends who gathered at her house, and she was in charge of entertaining them.
Is recalled having lots of fun inventing games to play with them, but she never thought of turning fun into a career of teaching children. Her mind was firmly set on being a scientist, as the former Damai Secondary School student scored good grades for science.
The 23-year-old shared: “I thought my career would involve scientific experiments, since that was what I was obsessed with – chemistry, in particular. I was good at it.” She had even guided her secondary school friends on how to do chemical equations.
After her O-Levels, she applied to and was accepted to Innova Junior College, at Woodlands, to continue learning science. She would be the first of all her siblings to study in a JC.
But living near Bedok Reservoir at the time meant that Is had to had to take two buses every morning, with a travelling time of more than an hour, just to get to school.
Naturally, she was tired in class and could not focus well. But beyond the physical strain, she also slowly lost interest in the subject in JC. She found the pace of studies too overwhelming and it affected her results and confidence.
“I couldn’t cope. I just couldn’t cope. I think I overestimated myself,” she disclosed. There were too many things to study, and too fast.
After a year of struggling with the subjects, her teachers recommended that she switch to polytechnic as there would be more practical or hands-on courses that would suit her way of learning.
She decided to follow their advice. “I was lucky. I don't have a family who looked down on my grades or my initial decision to go to JC. They just said, “It’s okay, everyone makes mistakes, we learn from it. So we just move on from there, don't dwell on the past”,” she shared.
With the support of her teachers and parents, she enrolled in Temasek Polytechnic, which was much nearer to her home.
Getting on the right course
When she went to the polytechnic’s open house, she found herself drawn to Psychology and Aviation Management as they sounded exciting to her – figuring out what makes people tick and working with aeroplanes.
But she was also interested in Early Childhood Studies as it included psychology modules. It was a familiar topic too as she was teaching part-time at enrichment centre Kumon to earn extra pocket money at that time. It was a natural job choice as she had experience handling children.
Her mother, who accompanied her to the open house, persuaded her to put Early Childhood Studies as one of her top choices, after hearing stories from Is about how the students interacted with her in class.
Her choice of courses were Psychology, Early Childhood Studies and Aviation Management – in that order. As fate would have it, she got into her second choice.
“I had a 50-50 feeling. I was excited but it was also not my first choice. I just decided to go with the flow, and see how it goes and it turned out to be the best thing that happened to me,” she said.
It was the perfect fit for the pint-sized girl who re-discovered her love for playing with and now teaching toddlers. The children, in turn, adore her “child-like, not childish” personality, quipped Is who is just shy of 1.5m.
With her impish smile and cheeky eyes, giving a playful vibe, she has a natural flair with the children, who naturally gravitated towards her.
The course was not easy, but it was on something she loved as well, and it suited her style of learning – balancing between books and hands-on experience such as internships.
Not surprisingly, she breezed through her course. Once again, the natural teacher in her surfaced and throughout the course, she was helping her classmates read through their papers and provided feedback on how to improve them.
Charting the path ahead
During her time in Temasek Polytehnic, Is took part in a couple of internships, including one at My First Skool’s Pasir Ris branch.
She thoroughly enjoyed these opportunities to apply and put into practice what she learnt. Despite juggling part-time work, co-curricular activities and studies, she excelled at the internships and was among the top students in her cohort.
She was even offered a job at My First Skool before she graduated but chose to work at Play@TP, a kindergarten at Temasek Polytechnic itself, so that she could continue to learn more about its pedagogy of learning through discovery and play.
“I've never felt so happy. I do not mind waking up early in the morning just for my children. The drive is just different,” said Is with a wide smile.
Is will be pursuing her learning further at the Singapore University of Social Sciences where she’ll be doing a degree in early childhood, and she hopes to eventually become a curriculum specialist.
It took her a while to figure out her passion, but the little detour has paid off with a rewarding career.