Why being a teacher in Singapore was the most terrible mistake I have made
I have procrastinated quite a fair bit before this entry. Well, I guess I will just do an entry about the most irksome job I have had which pulled the trigger on my migration plan to Canada. I had wanted to write to MOE when I resigned last year about the misfits and frustrations I felt as a teacher, but I hesitated and eventually, I didn't. I am glad I hadn't, else further investigation would have probed another teary face. I am not going to start a list on how much I hated being in this job, I just want to share my experience with aspiring teachers so they could think twice before signing on the dotted line. To teachers who are still in service, you definitely have my respect. May your passion never dies, and continue to serve you well ahead.
I did not grow up to love teaching, I joined teaching because I thought it was an iron bowl and a stable career with minimal politics, not knowing I will grow to hate it so much 7 years later.
During my years in NIE, my classmates (most of whom have left the service) and I had an awesome time together. We were so young, and so passionate about the job and thrilled by the differences we are able to make upon graduation. During our teaching practicum, it was apparent that teaching was one of the most fulfilling and rewarding job. I happened to take over this P4 Foundation Chinese Class for 10 weeks. It was 10 long weeks but one of the fondest memory I have of teaching. The class was made up of children who were struggling with Chinese Language and some of the students have special needs. I was originally deterred by the class profile and was not confident that I could manage them well. My mentor was very patient with me and she shared with me so many teaching methodologies which helped me in my later years. I remembered this kid came up to me and gave me a hand- drawn card after my practicum, she couldn't grasp the pen very well due to her medical condition, but I could see the effort she put in to piece the wordings together. Along with her card, I received several other cards detailing their heart- felt words and pictures of me drawn all over. It was one of the most heart- warming moment of my life. I miss these kids, who probably don't remember me anymore, even till today.
Good things doesn't last, they say.
The truth about teaching is, as soon as you are posted to a school, impressionable principals take less than 15 minutes to scrutinize you and your CV, and push you to classes they want you to take on without considering your options. Well, for an organisation this big, it is almost impossible to ensure proper handing over of duties and careful allocation of work. I was handed 39 periods a week, and given tasks and responsibilities they deemed fit for a teacher who is now bonded and at the mercy of their hands.
Needless to say, the overwhelming experience and lack of guidance caught me off guard. I was a young 22 years old who was still holding on to cards made by ex students and had practically no idea who to turn to for help. The choices were clear, either I worked hard to be noticed or I lay low to avoid unnecessary trashing.
As if it wasn't tough enough, I failed my first teaching observation lesson with the VP who hated me to the core because I cried when she listed what I didn't do well enough during the lesson. Fast forward 5 years, I saw her again in another school when she came as a parent, she didn't even came to talk to me. Anyways, I was so badly criticized that she even went on to say how Singaporean Chinese do not speak or use Chinese well enough to teach it, and that I was too young to teach. She ended her conversation, asking me if I should switch to teaching English instead. That was the breaking point, I cried and I cried even when I went to the staff meeting later. Everyone was looking at me, yet no one offered words of consolation to the girl who badly needed them. 1 or 2 teachers came forward, patted me on my shoulder and walked away. The rest of the teachers were indifferent. Whoever said teachers are good people should go kill themselves.
The principal however, was a gentle and patient lady. She told the VP off for her insensitive remarks, and made sure I went through a second observation without pressure from the VP. Apparently, the VP was notorious for being a bully. She eventually resigned within 6 months of my posting and I was so glad! Apparently, she is one weirdo herself. The rest of the 3.5 yrs in the same school was just busy, busy and busy. I was happy however, because I had many opportunities.
I decided to transfer to another school however, because the workload of thge previous school was just too overwhelming. I had simply too much to do and too little time to do them.
My next school, was a terror. I was posted to a Future School in the Bukit Panjang area. The principal was a tyrant and a psychopathic bitch. Long story short, I complained about how some of the systems were not preparing the kids adequately, she called me to her office and shouted at me for a good 45 minutes. Previously, I had a brief chat with her and she seemed all right. The second time I went in, she started shouting at me and hurling all kinds of verbal accusations at me. She said I was an ill- bred and said I was arrogant and that I should not talk about my old school now that I am posted to a future school. She went on to shout like a lunatic and reminded me that her job is to make sure that I do my job well. And she is here to tell me off, because I have the ridiculous audacity to be rude to her (Hello, who's shouting?). She added that she heard I wasn't doing my job well (I really have no idea where she got that from), and she wanted me to know that she will be 'watching' me.
First and foremost, there were 2 other teachers who suffered depression and they are both under medication now. One of the teacher was shouted at by this principal in the hall. The other committed suicide and went to the hospital; she never came back.
I didn't want to be the third statistic and seeing that we couldn't communicate LIKE ADULTS DO, I went straight to Education Minister Heng Swee Keat and the superintendent. A subsequent meeting was held, the principal was adamant and carried that stuck- up face throughout the meeting. I said my piece and left. At that point, I knew I won and I knew I never want to come back to the service again.
In the third school that I went to (this time, a famous school based in Clementi), I had a very pleasant experience with the school leaders and the workload was manageable. I was pregnant and the school had been very accommodating because I was taking MC every week (wanted to quit anyway). What made me left however, were unreasonable parents who told me to wipe their son's ass after they have shitted (literally), that their daughter cannot be scolded in class, homework assigned was too much/ little, your bulging tummy is too distracting... etc
I was going to leave the service anyway so many times, comments like this never bothered me. During my 7th year of teaching (the year I left), I feel so drained but so free. It was probably the best decision I made. Having said that, there is a fair share of teachers who are still passionate and extremely enthusiastic about their job. I just hope to shed some lights for those intending to teach. If you eventually want to come in for the money, you are better off somewhere else. Come, because you genuinely want to make a difference and do not mind meandering through an office of politics as you do so. The worst kind of people are not people who stab you in the front, but people whom you think are nice but leaves you bleeding from the back.
This was reproduced with permission from editors of The Real Singapore.
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