Jacob Tan: Biology Teacher and Steward of God’s Beautiful Creation

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08/03/2022

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08/03/2022

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Interview with Mr Jacob Tan

Jacob Tan is a Senior Teacher (Biology) in Commonwealth Secondary School, a champion for environmental education, and a fellow coursemate in my Teacher Leaders Programme. He is also a fellow brother-in-Christ who worships at Hope Church Singapore. Jacob has been featured in many local news media, including Channel 5, WWF, and Mothership. Today, I am excited to share my interview with him, to know more about how his Christian faith shapes his calling as an educator who instills the love for nature, biodiversity, and God’s beautiful creation in his students.

Marcus: Hi Jacob, can you share with us how you became a teacher? Was that your first career choice?

Jacob: I have always wanted to be a policeman since I was in kindergarten. I remembered how I enjoy watching CrimeWatch and often surround myself with ‘police toys’. Once I even worn a set of police uniform while watching CrimeWatch and National Day Parade.

A photo of young Mr Jacob Tan in his police uniform! Becoming a policeman was his childhood dream.
Young Jacob in his police uniform! (Photo courtesy of Jacob Tan)

Along the way, I realized how much I enjoy studying Biology and ended up being a Life Sciences undergraduate at the National University of Singapore (NUS). In the year I was supposed to graduate, I went to a Career Fair held at Suntec Convention Centre. I went straight to the Singapore Police Force (SPF) booth, only to realise that I do not satisfy the requirement of having a perfect colour vision. This criterion was also reflected on the pull-up banner at the SPF booth. I could vividly recall the huge disappointment I was feeling after being rejected at the booth, considering that being a policeman was my ambition all along.

I turned around and it was the Ministry of Education (MOE) booth. Somehow, I stepped forward and approached the person at the booth to find out more and left my name and contact details on her clipboard. Subsequently, I was called up for an interview – and the rest is history.

Marcus: That’s an interesting turn of events. My childhood dream was to become a singer, but if you have heard me perform before, you’d advise me otherwise (laughs). Jokes aside, sometimes as we grow up, we develop new interests and passions. I am glad God opened a new door for you to be a teacher, even while He closed the one to be a policeman.  So, what is it about teaching that draws you?

Jacob: There are a few teachers in my life that made me feel that coming to school is more than just studying. I was the shortest in class from primary school till Secondary Four. These teachers believed in me and gave me the courage to develop my own personality, while challenging me to go beyond my timidity and the insecurities I had being the shortest and lightest boy in class. As I prayed through my decision to go for the MOE interview, God assured me that He will use me to be the salt and light in the school I will be posted to. And regardless of the demographics of the students, all of them need a teacher who accepts them as who they are, just like how God accepts me.

Marcus: Tell us more about your work. What do you love most about what you do?

Jacob: I am a Senior Teacher (Biology) in Commonwealth Secondary School, and my slogan has always been “to bring alive the science of life” for the past 12 years in teaching. I see my role in helping my students appreciate the intricacy of life as they learn about their bodies, and how the various biological systems work together for us to function as human beings.

My slogan has always been “to bring alive the science of life”.

– Jacob Tan

With this focus in mind, I started to realise that I lack the same passion and energy when I am teaching the “non-human related” chapters, such as Nutrition in Plant, Transport in Plants, and Ecology. I felt that as a Biology teacher, I should try to bring alive all aspects of Biology, so that my students will not be short-changed by my own preferences.

That was when I started attending workshops conducted by NParks to learn more about our natural heritage and local biodiversity, which made me think deeper about how I could incorporate the local context and biodiversity scene into what I teach.

A photograph of Mr Jacob Tan at work cultivating the plantsa in his schol nursery.

Marcus: To be honest, I am also more of a fauna person than a flora person. So how did the workshops spark your interest in biodiversity?

Jacob: Just as how God brought the animals to Adam and allowed him to name each of them, I saw it as a challenge for myself to be able to identify His creations and put a name to each of them. Those workshops helped me to distinguish one species from another, and I find it fascinating to be able to do that when I started to open my eyes and pay attention to the nature around us, even in our urban city-state.

Genesis 2: 19-20, “Now the Lord God had formed out of the ground all the wild animals and all the birds in the sky. He brought them to the man to see what he would name them; and whatever the man called each living creature, that was its name. So the man gave names to all the livestock, the birds in the sky and all the wild animals.”

I started to look into how my school’s learning environment can be designed to enhance teaching and learning. Along the way, I took up the role of the teacher-in-charge of the Eco Club CCA and have been the anchor person in the school when it comes to environmental education, wearing the hats of National Parks Board (NParks), Animal Concerns Research and Education Society (ACRES), Singapore Food Agency (SFA), National Environment Agency (NEA), World Wide Fund for Nature (WWF Singapore).

I truly enjoy seeing how a school culture of being kind to the environment and nature is being built over time, where efforts are made to make the overall school experience in sync with the school’s identity as an eco-school. It is rewarding to see how staff and students now have a higher threshold for wildlife encounters, and a deeper appreciation of being close to nature. This helps to transform my school in becoming a ‘School in Nature’, a safe haven for wildlife that balances the safety of the school population and the welfare of wildlife. 

Check out this VR360 Virtual Walkthrough of Jacob’s eco-friendly school!

Marcus: Those of us at TLP1 are so inspired by how you infuse your love for nature into your role as an educator! Can you share with us, from a Christian perspective, how your faith influences this passion of yours?

Jacob: Whenever I am stressed from work at my workstation, I would take off my leather work shoes and slip into my black Wellington boots beside my desk and take a walk in our school’s eco-habitats such as the Rainforest and The Wetland.

In this VR360 video, Jacob will walk you through The Wetland, which is one of the signature eco-habitats in the school.

I will be armed with my camera phone to take photos of any insect, bird, or flower that I encounter. Knowing that spotting these organisms can be tough, I would make a prayer in my heart to ask for organisms that wish to be featured to the world through my Instagram and Facebook accounts, to appear in my line of sight and be cooperative enough to let me take clear and up-close shots of them.

A fascinating close-up photograph of red weaver ants carrying a leaf.
Photo courtesy of Jacob Tan

And as I review the photos back in the staff room, I am always intrigued by the intricacy in the design of these organisms, mesmerised by how colours are used in nature, and the microstructures on wings of dragonflies, etc.

Microcosms

I felt that God has been speaking to me through the photos I have taken in nature and the creatures He created. Through my photos on my social media platforms, I hope my friends, students, and the online community can see how creative our God is.

Marcus: Indeed, God our Creator is magnificently creative. From your story, I am reminded of how Man was called to tend the Garden of Eden, and take care of all the plants and animals for God’s glory. Even after the Fall, this cultural mandate does not change. How do you see your work as connected to God’s work in taking care of His creation?    

Jacob: Definitely! I believe that all the flora and fauna are meant to point us back to our Creator. If He has put so much thought into designing all the delicate structures of the flowers, wings, and feathers that we can now easily see through our camera phone lens and microscopes, what makes us think that we are not much more valuable than these organisms that He has created?

Matthew 6:25-27, “Therefore I tell you, do not worry about your life, what you will eat or drink; or about your body, what you will wear. Is not life more than food, and the body more than clothes? Look at the birds of the air; they do not sow or reap or store away in barns, and yet your heavenly Father feeds them. Are you not much more valuable than they? Can any one of you by worrying add a single hour to your life?”

So as a Biology teacher and one who enjoys nature, I could spread the awareness that we need to be good stewards of the resources that we share with the other inhabitants of this Earth. I can help my students who live in the urban environment to build connections with nature, enjoy the wonderful benefits of being close to nature, and play their part through the way they live their lives in our City in Nature.

A photograph of Mr Jacob Tan standing in the middle of his school plant nursery, with a rainbow beautifully rounding him like a halo.
Photo courtesy of Jacob Tan

So as a Biology teacher and one who enjoys nature, I could spread the awareness that we need to be good stewards of the resources that we share with the other inhabitants of this Earth. I can help our students who live in the urban environment to build connections with nature, enjoy the wonderful benefits of being close to nature, and play their part through the way they live their lives in the City in Nature.

– Jacob Tan

Marcus: You seem to be living in the center of your calling. Would you like to share any words of encouragement to others on how they too can find and embrace their calling, or even take it to the next level like you?

Jacob: While every Christ-follower will be interested to know what God’s will is for him/her, it is likely that the calling will be revealed as we obey God in our daily decisions.

I believe we need to be good stewards of what God has already entrusted to us (our spheres of influence, our marketplace, resources, our family, and community), to find alignment in our faith, our work, and our family.

Marcus: Amen to that! Thank you so much for your time, Jacob!

Jacob: It’s my pleasure to document my thoughts this way!


We hope you have enjoyed reading this interview! If you would like to connect with Jacob or follow his work, you can connect with him on:

Instagram (@jacobrui)

This is an Interview post on EmbraceOurCalling.com. Check out the other interviews and be inspired by how they serve God with their vocation, their ministry, their relationships, and their time!

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