Did you know that before 2017, preschool teachers were not able to celebrate a day-off on Teachers’ Day unlike their counterparts in primary, secondary and tertiary education?
When the extension of the school holiday to preschools was made in the third-quarter of 2017, the Early Childhood Development Agency (ECDA) announced that almost all 1,300 childcare centres in Singapore declared they would be closed on Teachers’ Day, which falls on the first Friday in September.
On 5 March 2020, Senior Parliamentary Secretary for the Ministry of Social and Family Development (MSF) Muhammad Faishal Ibrahim made it official when he announced that the ministry will make it mandatory for all preschools to be closed on Teachers’ Day from this year onwards.
He explained that this was part of MSF’s efforts to recognise, appreciate and raise the standing of educators in the preschool sector.
Although they work with younger children, teachers in preschools and childcare centres work just as hard as their higher education compatriots as they have to look after their students’ basic needs on top of providing lessons.
The Pride speaks with three preschool teachers on how they are spending their well-deserved break on September 4.
Spending time with her own children
Many preschool teachers are working parents too. And sometimes they feel guilty for having to prioritise their students over their children.
When parents pick their children late from school, early childhood educators have to stay back, sacrificing their own family time and what little energy they have left at the end of the work day.
Teacher Afifah, 29, who has been an educator at a private childcare centre for seven years, tells The Pride: “I wish parents would stop treating preschool teachers like nannies. Even when they speak to us, they should be more aware not to instruct us like their domestic helpers.”
Afifah says that before the new mandatory rule kicked in, having to work on Teachers’ Day made her question if she was less of a teacher.
“Is our profession not good enough to be recognised just like other teachers? I think that the younger the children are, the more resources and attention should be given to them. Preschool teachers also deserve a day of appreciation for all the effort they have done.”
On her day off this Teachers’ Day, Afifah is looking forward to spending time with her 3-year-old son, Hannan.
She shares: “I’m going to spend time with my son doing things that he enjoys, like going to the beach or cycling, or maybe somewhere we have not been before. I would really love to take him to the zoo again!”
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Going out to unwind
For 25-year-old Teacher Fiona, who teaches at a popular community preschool chain in Singapore, she looks forward to meeting her friends to unwind on Teachers’ Day.
She says: “It’s hard to have a social life when you’re a teacher. You’re either going home late or bringing work home.”
It’s not easy to arrange meet-ups with friends, now even more so with social distancing regulations. On dating apps, Fiona, who is single, finds it hard to find someone who respects her job and choice of career.
She shares: “The moment I mention that I work as a childcare teacher, many will either reply ‘oh you mean you just clean them all the time,’ or ‘the kids so small, study for what!’. If they aren’t joking, I would block and delete their numbers.”
Preschool teachers are often stereotyped as having an easy job – or worse, get called a nanny. However, most people don’t see the amount of paperwork and documentation that teachers are required to do for their classes. This leads to a situation where some teachers hesitate to take medical leave when they are feeling under the weather lest they burden their colleagues.
Any public holiday or school break is a welcoming treat for teachers in the early childhood education sector because of their demanding workload.
“I’m really appreciative towards my school principal. She understands that to take care of other people’s children, we also need to take care of ourselves. Someone like her is hard to find in many preschools,” Fiona tells The Pride.
Spending some quality “me” time
It is the first Teachers’ Day celebration this year for 20-year-old Teacher Insyirah, a recent Early Childhood Education diploma graduate.
She shares: “I honestly don’t know what to expect. But I’m excited to receive letters from children and parents, and also my colleagues! I appreciate letters a lot and getting them from my children would definitely make me really happy. It’s something I can keep as a momento even after they graduate from preschool.
“I have no plans yet for the break because all I can think about is sleeping in late in the morning and having an afternoon nap! Other than that, I want to catch up on all my Netflix shows. Ever since I became a teacher, I don’t remember the last me-time I had or when I could binge-watch all my shows!”
Being in a room with up to 18 students at a time can certainly make one susceptible to all kinds of germs and viruses. Although Covid-19 precautions such as wearing masks, safe distancing and regular handwashing have been implemented in preschool classrooms, teachers are still not immune to falling sick.
Many times, teachers can simply be physically or mentally exhausted from caring for so many children.
Insyirah hopes that more people can understand that being a preschool teacher is not only singing about ABCs or just playing with children. She faces discrimination many times when she tells people about her new job, even from her own friends.
“They would tell me, ‘your job is basically a maid but based in a centre, right?’ I’m really disappointed that till this day there are still people who view preschool teachers as just a babysitter for the children. Preschool teachers spend so many hours on lesson planning, looking for fun, developmentally appropriate and challenging activities for their class.
“We even use money out of our own pockets to decorate the classroom to make sure it’s a pleasant learning environment for the children. There are really more things that preschool teachers do that I feel some people don’t know of, or understand,” Insyirah says.
Insyirah wishes parents would appreciate their children’s teachers more. Many teachers like her, she says, do really love each one of the children under their care and always make sure that they are always happy and safe in school.
We have to remember that early childhood educators are human too. For some parents, it’s hard enough to raise one child, yet these teachers have their hands full with a classroom of kids for more than eight hours every day.
This Teachers’ Day, don’t forget to share some words of appreciation to the most underappreciated teachers – the early childhood educators. They are as important as the others in shaping our future generations.
The Pride wishes all teachers a happy Teachers’ Day!