May 2012


Play. Imagine. Wonder.

Siu-Lan Tan aimed the water pistol at the school vice-principal—and fired. The result was predictable, but the mischief too irresistible. Siu-Lan skipped down the well-worn path to the principal’s office. By third grade, she had accumulated the highest number of detentions among the 100 third grade girls in her school. No wonder she loved school; it was just so full of play! And that feeling hasn’t changed at all, in part because childhood isn’t end-dated in Siu-Lan’s way of thinking. Instead, childhood is a vital current that runs alongside and comingles with adulthood’s waters. “I am lucky to earn a living doing something I absolutely love to do—teaching. Being a professor and researcher is truly living a dream. I love everything about being an educator: the interchange of ideas, the cycle of the academic year, the small dramas that define every day of a teacher’s life. To me, the classroom is a place for imagination and wonder—where minds connect and intersect.”

Her presence at K is more than just a matter of good fortune. She’s very accomplished in the art of teaching.  An associate professor of psychology who specializes in developmental psychology and the psychology of music, Siu-Lan is the recipient of the 2012 Florence J. Lucasse Lectureship for Excellence in Teaching. On the occasion celebrating the award she delivered a moving lecture titled “From There to Here.” It described two journeys—one about the Indonesian-born Chinese child who grew up in Hong Kong, was educated in the United States (music and psychology), and today teaches at K; the second about a good teacher’s continual journey of constant learning in order to become a more effective teacher.  Siu-Lan is a traveler (and always will be) on that pathway, where the pedagogical focus shifts from the mere transfer of information to discovering the singular strategies that allow individual students to explore how they learn as they learn. That second journey is a love story (and a hard work story) from which all her students benefit.

What’s the best song ever recorded?

The nerd in me would pick any of the piano concertos by Rachmaninoff, but I also love “Layla” and “Bohemian Rhapsody” as they’re all magical in different ways.

What’s your favorite childhood fairy tale or story?

I liked the movie Mulan, released some ten years ago. Mulan’s no Disney princess; she’s a warrior.

If Heaven exists, what would you like to hear God say when you arrive at the pearly gates?

“This is gonna be so much better than you imagined!”

What’s your favorite word?

If you allow me three: PLAY, IMAGINE, WONDER--with those three words everything is possible.

What’s your least favorite word?

Polyp. It’s a creepy word and it’s never good.

What turns you on?

Little things—great conversation, good music, dark chocolate, aged cheese, a nice piece of crusty bread. Life is in the little delights.

What turns you off?

Grown-up serious things because I don’t quite understand them.

What sound do you love?

Children playing in a playground.  So chaotic and vibrant.

What sound do you hate?

Anything that’s discouraging, negative, or pessimistic. Anything that takes away from life.

What profession other than yours would you like to attempt?

A toy designer, or someone who does voice-overs for cartoons.

What profession would you not like to participate in?

A money- or finance-related career.

What’s been a GREAT MOMENT in your liberal arts learning?

Any moment when the entire class feels like they and I are carried away on an idea. Those times when none of us are in our seats or in the room, but we are all suspended on an idea.

Who’s the person (living or dead) with whom you’d most like to spend a lunch hour?

I’d ask someone to find the most creative, curious, and imaginative mind of the day. It wouldn’t have to be anyone famous.

What memory from childhood still surprises you?

The courage of my parents to move from Indonesia to Hong Kong and start a whole new life, to give me opportunities they didn’t have.

What is your favorite curse word?

There are so many other words in the English language that I haven’t gotten around to the curse words.

What is your favorite hobby?

Anything to do with imagination, play, and performing arts.

What is your favorite comedy movie?

Woody Allen movies. It would be too difficult to choose a favorite from them.

What local, regional, national, or world event has affected you most?

The terrorist attacks of September 11, 2001.

If a cow laughed, would milk come out of her nose?

No, it would be ice cream.

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