Many people think that being a pre-school teacher is a walk in the park. I mean, they just play with children all day, how hard can it be… right? Well, if by walk in the park you mean looking after 15 young children at once – one of them needing to use the restroom (always asking only when it’s urgent), another biting a friend (obviously the one on the receiving end is probably crying at this point). One just sits down and refuses to move just because he/she doesn’t want to. Not forgetting the wanderer who has their own plans and just walks around or does things as they please. Ah, my personal favourite, the “I tell my mummy”. Basically every single instruction you give that is not what the child wants, this threat comes flying right out. So yeah, a walk in the park? If that park is Jurassic Park then yeah, probably.
High Teacher-Student Ratio, Low Pay, Low Retention Rate
If you ask any parent/guardian out there, they will be able to tell you how challenging it is looking after a young child. Even more so if there are two or more children. Now as a pre-school teacher, multiply that number by 5 (or more – depending on the age group and the school’s teacher-student ratio). In the pre-school sector here in Singapore, there is always a high demand for teachers. There are just not enough qualified teachers who stay on in the industry, many experience burnout rather early on in this job and leave after a few years (some even sooner than that). For pre-school teachers to reach the point of quitting, it is usually due to a culmination of factors.
Being a pre-school teacher, you pretty much have to be a Jack or Jill of all trades. Paying attention to safety always comes first, especially when it comes to young children – in that sense you need to be a safety officer. These days with the ongoing pandemic situation, you can never be too careful and there are even more safety regulations to look out for (eg. Ensuring children above the age of two wear masks in school, constant sanitisation of toys/materials/commonplaces etc.) Children are easily distracted, they have a relatively short attention span so keeping them engaged in an activity most times requires you to have high energy – you’re almost like an entertainer. Children love to ask a lot of “why” questions, which is very much encouraged as this is how they make sense of the world (you kind of need to be a trivia expert of some sort). These are just a few examples of what is required on top of the daily teaching tasks. Imagine having to be responsible for so much and getting paid a fraction of the amount. For pre-school teachers, this is the reality. More often than not, pre-school teachers’ pay are nowhere near reflective of the work they do. There has been an increase in recent years but we still have a long way to go here in Singapore.
Planning Lessons and Managing Parents’ Expectations
Every child is a unique individual with different learning needs. There is no one-size-fits-all teaching method. Teachers tweak the lessons to help different children learn and understand better. Lessons are planned to support children’s holistic development (that includes the cognitive, socio-emotional and physical aspects). There is a lot of time and effort invested into planning developmentally appropriate lessons, preparing lesson materials and documenting each child’s learning progress every step of the way. Too often, teachers are bringing work home to do as there just isn’t enough time to do it during work hours.
Parents receive regular updates on their children’s work through written, verbal and pictorial modes.It is very important for teachers and parents to work closely together for the child’s holistic development. It gets tricky when parents and teachers are on different pages. It is more apparent here in Singapore that many local parents place a strong emphasis on their child’s academics. To them, learning to read and write properly at a young age and not wasting time playing all day is what’s important to them. Your child is three, learning looks a little different at this age than at seven. There has been a lot of research conducted over the years to support how children learn best through play, it forms the very foundation for lifelong learning.
Lack of Mentorship and Support for Teachers
After graduating from their diploma/degree course, new teachers enter the teaching industry. Oftentimes they are expected to go from zero to a hundred real fast, there really isn’t much of a buffer. You apply to teach at a school, get hired, you’re handed a class to teach – now, teach. Having a proper mentor (for example a senior teacher) who is there to support you (not one who already has a lot on her plate and is annoyed to have to add you to it), is essential for both the teacher and the children’s welfare. Having a strong support system at work helps get rid of unnecessary stress/anxiety. Another area that many pre-school teachers hope to have more support in is managing a class of children with varying needs (including those with special needs).
For many pre-school teachers, seeing the smiles on the children’s faces and watching them learn and grow to be caring and resilient young individuals is the most rewarding part of the job. Despite the struggles that come along with the work that they do, those who stick it out do it out of passion and hope for positive change in this sector. When you’re a teacher, you don’t just teach. You are nurturing the minds of the next generation – that is a great responsibility. Take great pride in being a pre-school teacher, you have my utmost respect, superheroes.