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How to defy your family’s expectations

Six minutes
Teach For Australia Friday, October 14th, 2016

Mankirat ‘MK’ Singh (Cohort 2016) knew he wanted to be a teacher for almost a decade before he was accepted in to the Teach For Australia (TFA) program.

“The realisation dawned on me back in Year 11,” he said.

“I discovered that I had this intense love of chemistry and that I was really passionate about sharing my knowledge with my friends and classmates.”

Having completed four years of a Chemical Engineering degree at home in India, he decided to apply to a Master’s program in Melbourne.

He knew that his family wanted him to be an engineer. But, a delay in visa processing led him to defer his acceptance.

In the intervening nine months, MK volunteered with an Indian non-profit called ‘Make a Difference’. They work to ensure equitable education for young people in children’s homes across India.

“I was fortunate to be recruited as a volunteer tutor and I worked with a group of 15 to 20 students every weekend for those nine months,” MK said.


MK at the children’s home

His experience at the children’s home made him question his own values, because it was clear from the start that the children he was working with faced significant inequity. They were three to four years behind in both literacy and numeracy than their peers.

“It was highly discouraging to see that on one side of society there were students who had access to the best schools, tutors, books and resources,” said MK.

“On the other side, there were students who had none of those things through no fault of their own.”

MK finished up at the children’s home in January 2013, having become even more convinced that teaching was the career path for him.

Now he also knew that he wanted to make a difference to children from low socioeconomic communities.

As such, he started to research Teach For Australia.

“The vision statement of TFA resonated so well with me that I just knew I had to join the movement,” he said.

“Even before I boarded my flight from New Delhi to Melbourne I was thinking about how I could become part of TFA.”

For the next two-and-a-half years, MK worked on his Master of Chemical Engineering degree while researching the eligibility requirements of the Teach For Australia Leadership Development Program.

“The only requirement which seemed to get in the way was that TFA only accepts applications from Australian citizens or Permanent Residents,” he said.

“As soon as I received my Permanent Residency, I pressed ‘send’ on the online application form which I’d filled in days before.”


MK at Mid-Year Intensive 2016 in Perth, Western Australia

Being accepted in to Teach For Australia felt like a dream for MK, but he was nervous about what his family would think. He hadn’t told them about his desire to become a teacher until then.

“It wasn’t because I didn’t want to share it,” he said.

“It was more that I knew they would never entertain the thought of me being a teacher.”

Finally, he let his parents know that he was going to join Teach For Australia just before the Initial Intensive. As he had expected, his family didn’t take his news well and it would take him months of convincing to finally get them on board.

“I didn’t like the idea of him teaching,” said MK’s mother Tejinder.

“I wanted him to opt for a high-paying Chemical Engineering job.”

“My intention in sending him to Australia was for him to land a comfortable job in engineering. I felt so disheartened and found it hard to support him.”

His family’s lack of support didn’t weaken MK’s resolve, however.

“I’ve known people who spend all their lives looking for their passions and here I was, fortunate enough to know with firm conviction that teaching was it for me. I wasn’t going to give it up no matter what and I’m glad I didn’t.”


MK studying in the grounds of St. George’s College, Perth, at Mid-Year Intensive 2016

MK was placed to teach at Warwick Senior High School in Perth, Western Australia from January of this year and began his Initial Intensive at Deakin University’s Warrnambool campus in November 2015.

Like many of his cohort, he took the train from Melbourne to Warrnambool and he described the experience as being like the Hogwarts Express.

“The only real differences were that the train took us to Deakin and that it departed from a platform with a whole number,” he said.

During his time at Deakin, MK and his Cohort participated in an in-school practicum component, which is where he taught his first real lesson. That had him hooked.

“I was put on the spot by my mentor to teach the third law of indices to a Year 10 maths class and I expected to completely bomb it, but it turned in to one of the best lessons I’ve ever taught.”

“I was jumping around the classroom and found myself using all the techniques we’d been taught. The students and my mentor were really pleased and gave me excellent feedback which helped me to make my next lesson better.”

Over the next several months in the classroom, MK worked hard to convince his family back in India that he had taken the right path in life.

“Whenever I tried to talk with him on the phone, he tried to convince me that he would be much happier teaching because it was his passion,” said Tejinder.

“His argument always ended with ‘I would be an average engineer but I can be an excellent teacher’.”

“It took hundreds of conversations before I was fully convinced that he was doing the right thing,” she said.

“His heart is in teaching.”


MK and Tejinder

Eventually, Tejinder realised that her son’s values were different than her own.

“I discovered that he needed a balance of both ambition and conscience in his work and his life,” she said.

“Teach For Australia has given him just that.”

“I’ve seen a new side of him since he started working at Warwick Senior High School. He was become more mature, more disciplined and focused.”

“Most importantly, he is very happy and content with what he is doing. It’s changed my whole perspective towards his job.”

For MK, every day in the classroom has continued to be a dream. Balancing work and study has been hard work, but he sees himself spending his life contributing to education and plans to apply for a leadership position once he completes his Master of Teaching (Secondary) at Deakin.

As such, Tejinder now fully supports his ambitions.

“To other parents who are concerned about their children choosing teaching, I would say that if your child has a passion for it or for making a lasting change in society, then by all means support them in their endeavours,” she said.

“What matters in the end is being happy and content in the life you choose for yourself. MK is happy, which makes me happy.”

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