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Rachel Zeng looks at the perceived role of childcare teachers in S'pore.

The childcare teacher – not your high-class maid (Part 2)

This is a continuation of the article by Rache Zeng. Read Part One here.

Rachel Zeng

Parental involvement plays an important part in the early development and education of a child. To enhance what has been taught in school, it is best if parents reinforce school lessons at home.

For example, if the child is learning about the different types of leaves in school, his parents can bring him to the neighbourhood park or even the Botanical Gardens to collect and take pictures of leaves during the weekend. They can then make it a family activity by making a chart out of the leaves collected or photographed. The child can then bring the chart to school and the whole class can have a nice sharing session. This simple activity will not only deepen the child’s knowledge and foster an interest in what he learns in school, but also contribute towards a healthy family relationship.

Allowing a child to bring something to school for a “show and tell” session will also boost a child’s confidence as he gets to conduct the show by presenting what he has done. Children naturally take pride in their work and it is a joy to see them present their effort to the rest of the class.

However, parents rarely have this luxury of time. This is a problem in most first world societies, and Singapore is no different. According to some of the parents I have spoken to, there are just too many things to be done, even during the weekends. Some of them bring home work and are sometimes too busy to spend quality time with their children. Although I can understand why parents need to work so hard, especially as the cost of living nowadays is rising ever so sharply, I do not see why a family needs two cars, an expensive private apartment and branded apparel for their child(ren). Over the two years I have taught in Singapore, I have met all sorts of parents. There are some who are never there but will buy any toy for their child(ren) without a second thought and there are some who really go all the way out to spend time with their child(ren) – these are few and far between, though. I wish to see more of the latter type of parents.

In every childcare centre, there will always be the odd child or two who arrives at 7am every morning and leaves at about 7.30pm or 7.45pm (the latest I’ve seen a child stay back is beyond 8pm) almost every evening. Most childcare centres operate from 7am to 7.30pm while a small number of them closes at 8pm. Teachers dread working the closing shift because they might have to work overtime and not all centres have the policy of fining late parents. In some centres operating under stingy management, teachers will not be entitled to claim the extra minutes they clock looking after the children whose parents were too busy to bring them home during dinnertime.

While parents might apologise and have reasons for being late, may I take this opportunity to remind everyone that teachers are human beings too. We have families of our own, we have a social life and we need to have our dinner and our rest too. Even the most passionate teacher will not willingly wait for a child’s parents to arrive as she sees the sky get darker and darker, her stomach cries for mercy with every tick of the clock. A passionate teacher would rather start work earlier and spend the time productively by teaching the children, rather than working late and ending late, looking after the children whose parents are late. Please don’t get me wrong. I do understand why some parents are late, but the reality is, even though we are teachers, we have our needs too.

Being late also affects a child negatively. No child wants to be the last one to leave and every “leftover” child I have observed so far has expressed his unhappiness at being the last one to go home. Many a times children ask me questions like why are they the last ones to leave, why are their parents late, or if their parents are coming at all, and I have no idea how to answer them. Some children have asked me whether they can just go home with me, and to tell you the truth, that is the saddest question of all. I hate telling the children every day that their parents are busy with work, because if I say it often enough, they will eventually start to accept that work is everything in life. Mental conditioning is like that: that if you repeat something every day, it is very likely to eventually ring automatically in a person’s thoughts for a lifetime. Why would I, as a teacher, want to instil such a thought and foster the next generation of workaholics for Singapore? Never a chance.

A Message for All

This is a message that I have always tried to put across to centre owners and parents alike, as well as anyone from MCYS who could be reading this right now. Childcare teachers are not slaves to the nation’s plan to ease the child-caring load of parents so that they will produce more children without worry. We facilitate development and we advocate what we believe to be the best teaching approach for a child. Although we might not always be right, we do not deserve to be treated like nannies and certainly do not deserve to be made solely responsible for a child who turns “bad” (for example). The passion in the development of children in their early years is why we look forward to work every day despite the crazy workload. Please do not take this passion for granted.

Parents should realise that young children who spend long amounts of time away from them and their home environment are likely to grow up to be less emotionally secure. There are always pros and cons to letting children be alone by themselves – while such children might well be more independent, they tend to crave for more attention than others in their own way, sometimes positively, but sometimes negatively. However, of course, this is debatable as it comes from my personal observations and experience in dealing with children from different family backgrounds for the past three and a half years. Yet at the same time, I will never give up encouraging parents to take the time to reinforce what we teachers do in school for your children. May I boldly say that if your job is more important than your children’s developmental and educational well-being, then please do not have children.

As a teacher, and I am sure that other teachers out there will agree, it is encouraging to see parents come forward with constructive feedback and suggestions instead of complaints over minor issues. Teachers and parents should work together, and not against each other, for the benefit of the child.

Finally, to the parents who have been and are supportive of their children’s teachers, I would like to say a big thank you to you. You make a great difference in the quality of our work as well as your children’s development. It really makes my day when I hear a child tell me about what his family did during the weekends!

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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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