Get to Know Your Teachers is our regular interview series where we sit down with ISD faculty to learn more about them, their interests, and how they ended up at ISD. This week's interview is with Secondary Music Teacher, Mr. Clay Tan.
So, Mr. Tan, how long have you been at ISD?
This is my second year. I teach Middle School and High School Music, from grades 6-12.
Have you always taught Music?
Actually, yes, so I’ve been doing it for quite a long time. I got my start at the Canadian International School in Singapore. When I got my teaching certificate, there were no jobs where I was in Ontario and so, the University of Toronto, where I was, said ‘you know we have this position opening up at the Canadian International School in Singapore.’ And you know, I thought, I’m just going to go for the interview to get interview experience. So did a majority of my class so there were about 40 of us going for this interview. And in the end, I got a job!
Were you excited to move abroad?
Yes… but not as excited as my parents. They were like, “Oh, Singapore? You go back to the old country!” [laughs] But yeah, both my parents are from Southeast Asia. My dad’s from Indonesia and my mom is from the Philippines.
Have you been there to visit?
Yes, I’ve been to both a couple of times. My parents took us when we were little, maybe 11. And then I went back with my family, with my wife and my two kids, in 2015. We basically did a tour around the world for a year.
A tour around the world!? What was that like?
We pulled them out of school and Barb is a Curriculum Coordinator so we got some math programs, and I loaded up them onto my Macbook Air. And then all the geography, the language, and social studies, the history, and everything else just came from the travel.
Where did you go?
We hit about 24 countries in the span of a year. Our first stop was China and we didn’t speak the language. We relied heavily on the kindness of strangers. We did China, Laos, Thailand, back to Indonesia, Australia. We hiked the Annapurna mountain range in Nepal. We went through India, Egypt, up through Europe and then in South America, we did Peru and Ecuador. Just all over the place.
That sounds amazing. How was it?
It was absolutely incredible because you’re with your family 24/7, which can be hard, but you learn to live with each other. It’s different, I guess in North American culture, the kids are off to school, you’re off to work and you meet up at the end of the day. But this really drew us together and strengthened us as a family. And so, now that we’re here at ISD, I find it’s very much like that. Community is very big at this school, which we really appreciate because it really… well this feels like an extension of what we were doing. It’s just that we’re not moving around every two or three weeks!
So what made you decide to be a teacher?
It combines a couple of things I really like. I have this great love and passion for music. This is probably the best gig because you get paid to play. And I get to work with young people. What’s really gratifying for me as a teacher is when you see a student develop and you see that spark…they connect with the music, and for me, it’s amazing. You see them progress, and you see their passion develop.
You guys are the musical family at ISD! How did that come to happen?
I think it’s because Barb and I both see the value being a well rounded, educated, person. Not just head knowledge, but artistic creativity and physical activity. All those different things make you a better person. And that’s what we want to strive to model for our kids.
Why do you think a musical or arts education is important?
Music gives us a way to express ourselves creatively. Oftentimes, people cannot put [their feelings] into words. But if you can put that into musical form, it comes out more naturally. It gives you the opportunity to explore that whole other side of you we don’t always teach in schools.
Okay, last question: what is on your current playlist?
I’m a little bit of everything guy. I try to listen to a variety of different things, whether it’s classical, or neo-classical really. I’ll listen to pop, I’ll listen to rock. I even listen to some rap. But I don’t really stick with one genre for too long, just because – having been immersed in a musical culture for most of my career—you hear a lot of things and you take the pieces that you like. And of course, it depends on your mood!