Justin Cheong ’13 – Aspiring Teacher

Justin is an aspiring teacher who has spent the past semester working at CIS as a Teaching Trainee. In his free time, Justin volunteers at many NGOs around Hong Kong as a way of giving back to the communities that shaped him.

Name: Justin Cheong
Graduating Year: 2013
Years at CIS: 7 years
College & Degree: HKU
Current city of residence: Hong Kong

Can you tell us a little bit about yourself?

My name is Justin and I graduated from CIS in 2013. Since then, I’ve done a lot of very different things. I first went to the army in Singapore and I did my military service there. After that, I got involved with some church work as a youth minister as well as working at some NGO teaching programmes over the summer, which was what really got me into the teaching field. Outside of work, a lot of what I have done since graduating are things that I never loved at CIS. For example, I’ve gotten really into music and sports. I even have my own band now and we play occasional shows. We’re not any good, obviously, but I think the big thing since I graduated from CIS, is just getting into youth work, whether it’s at the church or at different NGOs around Hong Kong. I feel like that’s where life has called me and I’ve loved it as well.

Justin volunteering at SummerBridge Hong Kong

What do you think it was that held you back from trying music and sports at CIS?

If I’m honest, a lot of it was my parents. I think one of the things about being a CIS student is that academics are the main focus, right? So, I never really got to explore. Especially music because my parents were always like, “Oh, Justin, you’re a guy you’ll love sports.” It was as if they were saying, “Go play rugby, go play football, and go get hurt,” and I didn’t want to do that. I think there were just a lot of things that I wasn’t necessarily given a lot of opportunities to do, whether it was inside or outside of school. I remember even taking music classes at CIS and I was like, “I don’t know what I’m doing.”

Justin and his band Hefty Hombres

During most of my schooling, I felt like I was very safe. But I think once I moved out of CIS, there was a lot more free time and I felt like I needed to take more risks and try new things. So music was one of those things that started with picking up a guitar and now I play the drums, piano, and bass as well. It was really cool to explore different things and just try to find passions that I didn’t necessarily feel like I had.

Also, many of my friends had free time and they are all really good musicians. They’re all pianists basically. So, I spent more time with my friends learning off of them and they taught me a lot of what I know now.

Why did you end up studying economics although you knew you wanted to go into teaching?

When I was trying to choose my degree, there were two main areas that I considered. I always loved studying humanities, so I was trying to choose between geography and economics. A big part of that was the teachers who I had for those subjects were ones that I really felt I had a connection with. If I can name drop, Kathy Lau and David Brian were both fantastic teachers. They really inspired me towards those subjects. I ended up doing economics, just because I always did better in that, but I ended up doing a minor in geography as well. Now as a student teacher, I get the chance to teach both, so it’s come full circle a little bit. I know that as I’m beginning to teach too, I draw a lot of my inspiration as a teacher from them and the lessons they taught me.

How has it been being back?

Obviously, being an alumni and coming back, I feel like I have a bit more of a grasp or an understanding of what the students are going through. Just the amount of pressure that they’re under, the amount of homework they get, and the expectations that are on them. A lot of what I feel like I’ve been doing is just helping students manage their expectations. Having endured, I can let them know that their mistakes are not the end of the world; everything will be okay. I made it out of the world, so they definitely can.

On the flipside, I think it’s really cool getting to spend time with a lot of the teachers who taught me and getting to learn from them. As a student, you kind of just sit in class and listen, but as a student teacher, there’s much more of an appreciation of the amount of work that the teachers put in day in and day out. I can also see how much the teachers really do care about the students. I think that’s something that wasn’t always translated across as a student. There’s so much care and love given to the students from the teachers.

It’s one of those jobs where once the bell rings, it’s not like you can forget about it. You’re constantly worried about the next day or even the things that you’ve done that day. You’re always looking to reflect. It’s a constant process and I think just being a student teacher, I have so much more respect for teachers. It’s definitely a tough job, but I’ve loved it. I’ve loved every minute of getting to collaborate with the different teachers and students.

How have you found online teaching? Has attending university while student teaching helped shape your methods for navigating online teaching?

100%. I still do my university lectures and they’re all online, so sitting in as a student definitely informs me as a teacher of what I don’t want. A big question that I constantly ask myself is “How can I make the online experience as enjoyable as possible for these students?” If I take the easy route and stick to whatever I had planned and just speak at them, it’s not going to be useful or as useful as interacting with students. It has challenged me a lot in terms of just trying to be creative in how I can get them to interact, whether it’s using chat room functions or even body movements.

One of the things that I’ve really loved is the concept of brain breaks. I really appreciate being able to give the students two, three minutes to jump around or do what they need to refocus their mind.

What is it like being the Youth Band Director at your church?

I’ve been doing it for four and a half years now, going on five, ever since I came back from the army that was the first thing I did before I even got to university. It’s super cool because the kids at the church are from all different schools around Hong Kong and it really brings them together. It’s been fun having to learn new instruments so that I can teach someone else how to play them.

Justin playing guitar with the Youth Band

I get to see them grow and develop into mature leaders. We call them worship leaders. A big part of that is looking at how do you manage people? How do you lead with clear a direction, but also making it collaborative? And then obviously, the religious aspect of what is worship? For instance, what does it mean? And how do you keep the heart of it. It’s been a really good learning experience, especially before I even got to student teaching.

Where do you see yourself teaching next year?

Ultimately, anywhere that will have me, I would love to teach at. Even if it’s not now, but in the future, I’d always love to come back to CIS at some point and give back to the community. I think that a big part of my journey has been looking at how can I give back to a lot of the communities that have made me who I am, whether it was school, the NGOs that gave me skills and knowledge, etc. My schedule is a bit packed with different things like volunteering, but I want to help people who need it.

If anything I need to be better about time management because I’m just rushing from one end of Hong Kong to the other. The big picture for me though is just, how can I give back to a lot of the people who invested in me?

What is your favorite CIS memory?

So many. Where do I even start? There’s that little blue bit on the seventh floor of the primary school and every single lunchtime from year seven until year 13, my friends and I would play wall ball. It was just kind of the defining memory for me. We had a monopoly on that zone for a while.

The other fun memory I have is during Chinese New Year assemblies they used to have a duet between, I think 戴老師 and Robert Wellington. That was always good. I found it so impressive because it was all in Mandarin and obviously, Rob is from New Zealand.

Those are the big memories for me and then obviously all of the friends.