Rachel Zeng

Although it was with sadness that I bade farewell to the teaching industry in Shanghai in September 2006, my heart was also filled with hope and excitement of coming back home to teach.

Finding a job was not too difficult a task. There is always a demand for childcare/kindergarten teachers here. By the second week of my homecoming, I had found a job. I had done much research on the schools offering me a position and I had settled for one that sounded promising although the pay was lower than my expectations.

The curriculum had looked sound to me and the management seemed to know what they were doing. However, things did not go as smoothly. A week into the job, I was thoroughly disappointed, but I decided to persevere.

I continued to stay on for six more months until a friend of mine invited me, and I accepted, to teach at a school she had just set up. Things changed and I became a little more optimistic about the early childhood education industry here in Singapore. I am still teaching here today.

My years of experience as an early childhood education teacher has given me an understanding of the many challenges the industry faces, and has yet to address. I would like to elaborate on two important ones here.

Effective early childhood education vs the perceived role of teachers in the local context

The role of teachers in the early childhood industry is not clearly defined and depends on the management of the school they work in. This is with especial regards to teachers working in a childcare centre. In a document released by the Ministry of Community Development, Youth and Sports (MCYS), a childcare teacher is

One whose main job responsibility is to take charge of a particular group of children in the centre

The above definition of a childcare teacher sounds very simple, but if one were to follow a childcare teacher around for a day, one would realise that the role of a childcare teacher is far more demanding and complicated. Taking care of a class involves the following:

– Facilitating their development in all areas

– Making milk for the children

– Bathing them/making sure that they bathe properly

– Ensuring that they take their meals and drink an ample amount of water

– Being very alert for any signs of illness

– Fulfilling the requests (and demands) of the parents as best as one can

– Making sure that they bring their belongings home every day

– Preventing accidents and squabbles

-Constantly communicating with parents on the development of their children (it is a must in my opinion)

Most of the above are logical tasks for teachers to fulfil, but that is not all. Besides taking care of a class, paperwork such as lesson planning (to be done a week in advance) and evaluation, attendance taking, temperature taking, filling in the school logbook, making the relevant records in the parents’ communication book etc. need to be done. What’s more, planning of excursions, the writing of monthly newsletters for some, filling up the classroom with boards (one for each subject), decorating the school, sweeping and mopping the classrooms…it is a workload that can drive some crazy.

Inability to fulfil some of the duties (could well be non-teaching related) can earn a teacher a warning letter if she is working under management that is particular.

Are teachers everywhere educator, administrator, maid and mother all in one? The answer is no. In comparing my teacher life here with that of my life as a teacher in Shanghai, one can see the difference immediately. There, a lot of the administrative duties were done by the school administrator and there was always at least one cleaner around. Furthermore, the principals supported the teachers’ teaching approaches and methods constructively and parents were educated through this support about the different approaches in early childhood education.

Principals even took their time to sit down and discuss with us about the pros and cons of certain approaches, respecting our professional opinions even as they gave theirs. In their opinion, a teacher’s duty was to teach and to take care of the children’s mental, psychological and developmental well-being. I did not have to change a single diaper or make a single bottle of milk there because it was not perceived as a duty of a teacher; but of course, I understand that schools in every country work differently.

The Singapore context

Coming back to the local context, a teacher not only has to teach but is also responsible for many other things which seem to be never ending. But despite the multi-tasking we do and the sacrifices we make, some parents here still treat us like slaves, coming up with biting comments like

My maid from Indonesia can wash a milk bottle better than you


I demand worksheets, why are you telling me about a project-based approach?

Now, honestly speaking, how much time are teachers given to do what they are truly good at, that is, facilitating a child’s development through planned activities? A lot of teachers I know are dedicated enough to bring their lesson-planning work home so as to complete the weekly plans in time for submission to the school, whereas some teachers just briefly write in their book what they will be teaching without thinking much about the quality of their lessons because they have no time to do so. Who can really blame them?

For a lot of teachers out there, lesson planning has become a chore, something to be cleared in time to meet the deadline, the quality of which can be developed later on if and when there is time. There are many other things to attend to as well and if you want to keep your rice bowl secure, attending to everything on the list before knocking off is important.

Here I pose a question to all (teachers and school owners included). Which is more important, teaching and spending time facilitating the development of the children, or making teachers fulfil a long list of non-teaching related duties in addition to teaching-related ones?

Maybe with the speed at which technology is advancing, someone will soon develop a robot intelligent enough to observe the personalities of children and effectively teach them accordingly, as well as fulfil a list of never-ending tasks. Then this issue will probably vanish into thin air.


In part two next week, Rachel talks about “Effective Early Childhood Education vs. Workaholic Parents”.

About the author:

Rachel Zeng is currently a teacher with a local childcare centre. Besides being involved in the early childhood industry and trying not to skin ungrateful parents alive, she paints during her free time and rants over at her blog. Photography, music, art and design, picking up new languages, people watching and playing computer games and cats excite her to no end. Other than that, she just cannot sit still!


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