Teaching brings “light bulb moments”: A conversation with Toi Heung Lam

Teaching about tax is a rewarding experience. Read an interview with Toi Heung Lam, a long-time group study leader and winner of the Jeff K. Jutzi Memorial Award.

Toi Heung Lam, a senior manager, Taxation at Ernst & Young LLP is one of the winners of the Jeff K. Jutzi Memorial Award. The award is granted annually to three outstanding In-Depth Tax Group Study Leaders (one each from Parts 1, 2 and 3) whose engagement with the program and ratings demonstrate their exceptional work in creating a positive learning experience for their groups.

Since 2008, Toi has tutored Group Study Level 1 and 2 and In-residence Level 1. We asked Toi to share her feelings about her Group Study Leader experience.

Toi, where does your love of teaching come from?

Teaching was a passion I got from my father. He was a math teacher in China before coming to Canada, but he was unable to carry on with that trade after he immigrated. Years later, I see students recognize him in the streets of Vancouver. They still greet him as "Mr. Lam" to show respect, even after so many years. You can tell how he much inspired them, affected their lives, and gained their respect.

What about later in your career? How did the professionals you work with influence you?

I've always had great mentors — either partners I work with now or in the past or other colleagues with my firm. When these mentors apply tax legislation or find some quirks within the legislation, their eyes gleam with satisfaction and accomplishment. This pride, passion and enthusiasm toward tax has inspired me throughout my career.

To get that sense of accomplishment, I’ve found that you have to want to understand the words in the Income Tax Act and how to apply them to solve problems. When I started out, I’d be frustrated by how hard it was to understand some provisions. But my mentors helped me along the way by giving me insights, tricks and traps, approaches and guidance.

Can you share an example?

I often tell my Group 1 students about how my colleague, Martin Wickens, helped me understand the importance of the word "deem.” Martin pointed out that "deem" is the most powerful word in the Income Tax Act. It changes something that you may think of as one thing into something else. As he put it, “If the sky is blue but the Act deems it to be purple, the sky is purple." And that can change everything. Understanding just that one word helped me see the whole scheme of the Act much more clearly.

And you clearly carry on this mentoring approach in your Group Study sessions.

I always feel a sense of pride and satisfaction when I can convey something to help students understand. It may be simply a way of reading the legislation, an approach to the legislation, or the history.

I call it the “light bulb moment.” I enjoy it when I see the satisfaction and sense of accomplishment from the students and the sense of relief when they understand some complicated provisions. That brings me great satisfaction — I feel that I’ve been able to mentor and guide someone in the same way someone guided and passed on their enthusiasm to me.

Would you recommend the role to others?

Absolutely. Tutoring is rewarding on a personal development basis. It builds your presentation and public speaking skills, enhances your tax technical skills, increases your self-confidence and expands your personal network. And if you can inspire even one student and help them excel in this profession, you’ll gain their long-term respect.