Howard Cheng

Alumni

Tell me about your current role...

I’m currently teaching 6 English which involves enabling my students with the literacy and literary concepts required for their HSC examination. I am also the Year 12 Year Advisor for Matraville Sports High School which means I deal with the welfare of my year group as they progress through their final HSC year. Our school also has a program called AVID (Advancement via Individual Determination) which is a system developed to close the achievement gap by empowering students with academic and social skills to succeed in post-secondary education.

What does your typical day look like?

I’m currently teaching 6 English which involves enabling my students with the literacy and literary concepts required for their HSC examination. I am also the Year 12 Year Advisor for Matraville Sports High School which means I deal with the welfare of my year group as they progress through their final HSC year. Our school also has a program called AVID (Advancement via Individual Determination) which is a system developed to close the achievement gap by empowering students with academic and social skills to succeed in post-secondary education.

What is one thing you love about your job?

Interaction with the kids. I grew up in Blacktown in the west, and I saw a lot of people I went to school with who were very bright but weren’t given a lot of encouragement or support to reach their potential. Matraville Sports High School is predominantly a low SES school, and being able to interact with the kids, to understand their situation, and to help them on their path, that is honestly the best part of my job.

Did you imagine this would be your career? What would a 17-year-old Howard think of what you are doing now?

Definitely not. 17-year-old Howard wasn’t even going to English class and now he is teaching English! I used to hide in the library and do maths instead. I always thought I would just run my family business. And I did that for 2-3 years. Then I studied to become a chef, but that wasn’t right for me either. I think subconsciously I always knew I wanted to be a teacher, but never took the plunge. Then one day I had a look on the UAC website, and before I knew it, I had applied to study Education.

Why did you decide to do a Bachelor of Education (Secondary) / Bachelor of Arts degree at UNSW?

I liked the double degree option. My brother was already there studying a PhD, so it felt like a natural transition for me to go to UNSW.

What was your Bachelor of Education (Secondary) / Bachelor of Arts degree at UNSW like?

It taught me well. And teaching is not just everything you learn from books. It taught me about the pedagogy, which is really important. UNSW does a lot in terms of preparing you for prac teaching, so the transition was nice and seamless. My tutors were supportive, and the students were supportive too.

What is your best memory of your undergraduate studies?

I majored in English Literature and minored in Linguistics and one of the things I really loved was the social side of Linguistics. I loved learning about how people connect with each other via communication or via language depending on social context or culture. It was totally up my alley! It was so great to learn how different cultures react differently to different scenarios. Relevancy is such a huge part of UNSW, and this has been one of my most relevant courses.

How do you feel that your UNSW Bachelor of Education (Secondary) / Bachelor of Arts degree shaped your career?

It gave me my career. It taught me about the kind of teacher I should be, through the pedagogy. It gave me the opportunity to stay on at Matraville High School after graduating, and now with its partnership with Matraville High School, UNSW is still helping me grow as a teacher as our school receives PL (Professional Learning) support from UNSW. I also continue to grow as a teacher by working with new prac students from UNSW, with all the new knowledge that they bring to our school, which really helps in my professional development as well.

Where else have you worked since graduating?

In addition to teaching at Matraville, I also tutor in other areas. It is very easy to live in a bubble, so to be able to tutor in other areas has helped me to find out what other schools are doing. If we don’t keep looking for new ideas and ways of thinking we will be doing a disservice to our kids, so tutoring is actually another way that I am gaining professional learning (PL).

What is your greatest achievement to date? (Professional or otherwise)

We have a high population of Koori kids, and in my first year of teaching I was given the Koori Kid’s Choice Award on NAIDOC day. There weren’t a lot of Indigenous students at my school when I was growing up, so to be able to connect in that way meant that I felt like I was doing my job right.

What advice would you give to someone trying to decide if they should sign up for a Bachelor of Education (Secondary) / Bachelor of Arts degree?

I would ask them to think through whether this is something that they really want to do. Because it is a lot of work. Growing up we have an idea of what we think the perfect teacher is and that may not actually be what is required. As teachers, we are all well-educated and relatively gifted, but we must remember that a lot of the kids we teach will not be as fortunate, and we can’t just teach them big concepts, we need to teach kids the fundamentals like how to write. You shouldn’t just be a teacher because you love your method area. You must love connecting with your kids.

What's next for you?

I will broaden my teaching to also include VET hospitality, which will be great, because it ties in my previous experience as a chef. I would also like to develop my skills and abilities in incorporating wellbeing programs that will assist in the academic performance of our students. Fundamentally, I will also just continue to work hard and learn all that I can. Perfection is not to be reached, it is to be strived for, and that is what I will continue to do to be the best teacher I can be for my kids.