Puan Tan: Teaching Much More Than Mathematics

This May – the month of Teachers’ Day – Teach For Malaysia (TFM) is appreciating and celebrating the strong champions in the education system, who work alongside us to give all children an excellent education.


Photo credit: Global School Leaders Malaysia

Puan Tan Siew Choo, the Penolong Kanan Petang (Head of Afternoon Session) at one of TFM’s placement schools, is one of these champions. She received her education degree from Universiti Sains Malaysia and has been a teacher for close to 30 years, teaching more than 13 subjects, with Mathematics being the main subject.

Puan Tan’s Teaching Philosophy

Something she strongly emphasises is for teachers to build close relationships with their students. “This is important to be as effective as possible in the classroom. The more they like you, the more they will want to do their work, for you,” she says. Puan Tan walks the talk by intentionally building close relationships with her students in school, even to the extent of playing DotA (an online multi-player game) so she has more in common with them!

Puan Tan also believes in turning every mistake into a learning opportunity. Avoiding caning as far as possible, she asks her students to choose their own punishment when they do something wrong, which also has to be something that benefits the school.

Thinking outside the system

On her views of the education system, she says “The one-size-fits-all approach to education is letting students down. There are students who aren’t academically-inclined but do well in other areas. What currently exists in the system doesn’t give these students the chance to be recognised, or develop what they are good at. Our school has built relationships with vocational schools in Taiwan and I encourage my students to also explore opportunities to study there, rather than drop out of school completely.”

“It’s really helpful when TFM brings externals to school, so that we can learn from them and update ourselves on what’s going on in other sectors outside of school and use that to update our approaches in school. Many of us are teachers and deal mostly with students but don’t always know what other jobs and sectors are like. It is important that we continue to learn, to improve what we impart to our students!”

Puan Tan with some of TFM’s staff
Words of wisdom

Her advice to younger teachers, which she received as advice from retired principal Mr Phua Seng Tiong, is: “Your classroom is not just 4 walls. In your career as a teacher, if you impact just one student a day for 30 years, you will leave a real legacy.”

Thank you, Puan Tan, for your continuing belief in and building up of generations of Malaysians. A very Happy Teachers’ Day to you, and to all the teachers who dedicate their time and effort to developing students to unlock their fullest potential.


Teach For Malaysia recruits, trains and supports Fellows to teach in high-need schools across the nation. Beyond the Fellowship, our Alumni continue to champion education in different ways. As of 2019, we’ve impacted over 92,000 students, working with the Ministry of Education and other partners.