Our very own Jessica Kuan interviewed Catherine Tan about her upcoming Keynote for the Singapore Homeschool Convention 2020. Catherine shares behind the scenes of her experience in the lead up to the convention day and gives a sneak peak at her topic. Her speech, and those of the six other Keynote Speakers, will be presented on the 16th of April.
Jess Kuan: Good evening. Thank you so much for speaking with us about your keynote! We are all really excited to listen to your speech at the convention and would like to find out more about your thoughts during and leading up to it.
The Keynote session is a public platform during the convention, and although we’re going virtual you’ll still be speaking to an audience. Do you often speak on public platforms or is this a new experience for you? What are some things you’re looking forward to or nervous to encounter?
Catherine Tan: I have done public speaking before, but it was not regular. When I was younger I used to do storytelling. When I was in the workplace I had to do presentations. These are all types of public speaking, but the delivery is different and the content will change. Even coming to the convention to speak, I would have to learn how to present in this new way. I would have to learn how to memorize my speech. It’s a very intentional speech with a message. Before the lockdown came, I still had to study how to engage the audience and present it on stage. When I go digital, I suddenly have a camera in front of me and have to pretend I have an audience. This digital change is a rather different experience. In addition to this, I cannot read my audience’s expressions. In a live presentation, if I made a joke, they would laugh. I would know how long to pause before I continue. In a digital presentation, however, I would just have to go on. Connecting with my audience poses a greater challenge. I was actually looking forward to getting to know the audience, I don’t believe in just giving my speech and not availing myself.
Jess: Our homeschool community is very precious to us, and Homeschool Singapore has taken measures to ensure that the health and wellbeing of everyone involved with this convention is safeguarded as much as possible. Because of the recent Ministry of Health Advisories, the convention has moved online. This is a new experience for every one of us, can you tell us what it’s been like for you as a keynote speaker with these new precautions?
Catherine: I think we have been very resilient and resourceful as a team. Even though having a live audience with a physical convention would have been preferred, we quickly adapted to moving the convention online. Even I had to adapt to how I was filmed. I couldn’t be recorded by a professional cameraman and had to film myself with my humble phone. Does it change how we do things? It definitely comes with some inconvenience, but I think for homeschoolers, we are used to working from home. The struggle to adapt is a lot lesser than for those who are used to learning in public school. WE may face some difficulty along the way and some problems, but I believe we will get through them. We were created to be problem solvers!
Jess: As I understand, a few weeks ago you filmed your speeches live, will these be played on the convention day or will you still present live over Zoom? How are you feeling about that?
Catherine: There was actually a little bit of difference between my speech and the other Keynote speakers. I made a trip to the UK between the 6th and 21st of March. It was a little like going into the eye of the storm of the COVID virus. The reason I went was to send my child for a clinical visit to an orthodontist for a very special medical suit that was going to help his severe sclerosis. It was a very hard decision for me to make: Whether to go or not to go? My physiotherapist would be there as well. I decided to go, as once the trip was made and was successful, many other children who can’t make their way to the UK could seek help from my physiotherapist. With a live case like my son, she could learn the fine details of measuring and return with the expertise needed to help other children. I knew my trip was not just going to help my own child, but others as well. Lo and behold, the flight that I was on from the UK had COVID patients. When I arrived home I was stuck at the airport for 5 hours as everyone had to go through COVID testing. I was put under the stay home notice. As a result, I wasn’t filmed with the other Keynote Speakers.
I had to get everything ready and film my speech at home!
Jess: Were there any difficulties faced in recording yourself at home?
Catherine: I had to soundproof my room and be creative, putting up blankets in the walls, floors, and doors. I had to send my children to their Grandma’s place so they wouldn’t make any noise, and make sure all appliances were switched off so the humming would not get recorded. Sometimes, when I was recording, I would forget my lines and have to reshoot! Sometimes my throat would give way right at the end. It was really tiring! It took me almost three hours to finish recording a short video. It really tested my perseverance.
Jess: Have you had any experience filming yourself before?
Catherine: No, I haven’t. I had to ask the cameraman for tips, and he very kindly provided me with some guidelines. So thankfully I had a rough idea of what I should be doing.
Jess: The topic you’re speaking on is your classic ‘Do’s and Don’ts’ for homeschooling. How did you come to discover these?
Catherine: I think there were two sources of information. The first was my eleven years of raising four children. Because each of them is so different, I have to change my methods. What might work for one child might not work for another. Each child has a different personality and I would have to change how I teach for each of them. The other source would be drawing from my observations of other homeschooling families. You don’t really teach on your own. You teach with others and this helps us identify what aspects of their education are similar to their children, and what are similar to mine. Sometimes these families would also share with me what their homeschooling journeys were like. I would either learn from those who I have homeschooled with or from those who have completed their homeschooling journey.
Jess: What inspired you to talk about this topic this year? Was it the first thing to come to mind and how did you decide on it?
Catherine: I think with age you mellow. With age, you gain greater insight, and you won’t want other excited homeschooling moms to make the same mistakes you have. I think sharing these will help them and save them some pain. It may apply to some and not others and each person’s experience is unique, but I hope to share the worthwhile lessons I learned from others and pass them down. Even before I became a speaker, I was already in ministry. I was speaking to other homeschooling moms and they told me about the challenges they had. Therefore, I decided to share this on the platform! The first thing that came to my mind was to share this openly. What might work for one family might not work for another, so I stopped and pondered over the most universal and general principles.
Jess: In your bio, you stated that you had no prior teaching experience, what were your initial thoughts as you embarked on this homeschooling journey? How did you start? What were your children’s thoughts? Did you ever see your journey leading you to speak at this convention?
Catherine: Before I homeschooled I was the Vice President of a bank. I spent close to 18 years working in a bank since I graduated and had known no other jobs besides working in a bank. Homeschooling was never on my radar. I had gone to school and my career was soaring. What happened was that I suffered a stillbirth at 37 weeks. That set me thinking deeply. If I cannot do anything for my dead child, what can I do for my living ones? At that time I had three children. Very interestingly, I came to meet this homeschooling family. There was a homeschooling girl who was baking to raise funds for her education. Her order form was FAXed to me and I was amazed by her resourcefulness. I hadn’t met many children who were raising funds for their education at such a young age. I ordered, but because of the stillbirth I completely forgot about it. The father rang me up and I came to meet them to collect my order. We talked for a while and stumbled upon the topic of homeschooling. I told them I had read about it in a newspaper. He went to a cupboard and revealed a huge file, and they pulled out the exact same article I had read about homeschooling. It turned out that they were the ones featured in the article! I had called up a friend to ask if I could learn how to cook some healthy food for my children, and she invited me to a demo hosted by her own friend. At this meeting, there were three homeschooling families. I thought ‘Oh dear, one divine appointment. Here is another one!’. The children looked so happy to me and I asked the parents what their occupations were. They were teachers! If they were teachers why would they homeschool their children? This really set me thinking. In another situation, I was cleaning up my cupboard and found some of the old dresses that I couldn’t wear anymore. I decided to give them to the daughters of one of these homeschooling families. I was going to call them, but I accidentally made a mistake and called the wrong number. I ended up talking to another person, who happened to be a homeschool mom as well!
There are many other stories, but these incidents really did set me thinking. Finally, I plucked up my courage and gave up my career to homeschool my children!
I started by picking up the easiest curriculum I could do. The schools back then were not as detailed and rich in their courses as they are now. I went on from there. My first child was still in Primary 5 (Grade 6) when I pulled him out. He was reluctant but compliant. My second child was in kindergarten. I never homeschooled my children when they were very young. The only one who started later was my eldest. The younger children were all very happy and excited, and they never went past P1. They were not upset or angry. I didn’t have any problem pulling them out of school. They were all happy to be home with mom. Perhaps it would have been a different experience if they were in Secondary School.
I can see my homeschool journey leading me to speak at this convention in some way. I explored different curriculums and teaching methods for each of my children to match their different learning styles. As time went on, I accumulated experience and some knowledge of how certain things worked.
Jess: As the convention day draws near, what is some encouragement you have for both attendees and fellow speakers? How do you hope the convention will connect our community and give reassurance in this time of social distance and self-isolation?
Catherine: I would say that homeschooling is a manic learning journey, so no matter what up and downs you may go through, other homeschooling moms are going through them as well. So, hang in there and keep going! Do what’s right and best in the interest of your child.
Jess: Thank you so much for your time. I’m sure your presentation will be wonderful and we’re all excited to see what you and the other speakers have in store for us. I look forward to listening to your speech! Have a good evening!
Editor’s note: The Keynote sessions will be held through Zoom, all ticket holders have been given details.