The harsh realities of being a teacher in Singapore

This email is written with regards to the recent news about MOE considering whether to start charging teachers for parking. While the public remains divided about this issue, and many are quick to point out that teachers had a pay rise last year, none of the forums point out the following realities for teachers in MOE schools:

1) When there are a recession about 6 to 7 years ago, salary increments were frozen for MOE’s teachers. Teachers did not get any wage increments that year.

2) In many schools, it is not uncommon for teachers to often fork out their own cash several times a year to pay for things for their students.

These can range from meals to treat their form class and subject classes several times a year (e.g. Children’s Day, Youth Day, Graduation Farewell Presents, end of CCA season, school year farewell makan session for kids to celebrate them graduating to the next level and a new form class, year-end CCA bonding Camps etc) to helping students who are already on financial assistance schemes pay for stationary, enrichment books etc. Some teachers even make it a point to sometimes bring extra servings of lunch or breakfast for students whom they know are at risk and somehow don’t know how to help themselves. They’ll eat with the student during break and use that opportunity to offer a listening ear and voice of reassurance alongside a hot meal.

Teachers are generally not a calculative bunch, not to mention filing the paperwork is quite daunting when making claims, as such they seldom come forth to obtain compensation.

Teachers may also have to fetch recalcitrant students (with many previous instances of truancy) to school, and these transport costs typically go unclaimed. Similarly, when kids fall ill in school, or during camping sessions etc, it’s not uncommon for teachers to once again send the students home or take them to see a doctor. Whoever owns a car and happens to be available, will just chip in and help out.

Similarly, when teachers rush from school to HQ or to other schools to attend briefings in the afternoon, very few of them claim transport costs or that for parking at HQ (which is very costly).

In schools e.g. teachers also spend their own money to buy stationary (marking pens, files, notebooks etc) for their own use as teaching resources as schools don’t provide these. Schools will provide photocopying paper and whiteboard markers but if you’re a teacher organizing your notes etc for teaching, you pay for your own stationery.

3) It’s also not uncommon for senior management in schools like department heads, subject heads, level heads, school leaders etc to contribute money out of their own pockets to buy gifts as appreciative gestures for their various departmental teams and staff e.g. treating them to dinner, contributing financially to the annual staff dinner, buying staff gifts during teachers’ day, various celebratory days in the year etc .

Unlike in the private sector, there are no expense accounts for these things.

A chat with ordinary teachers from heartland schools will reveal a lot about the extent to which teachers use their own money to help their students and fellow colleagues.

All these add up to hundreds of dollars, sometimes much more, a year, but teachers do all this to help and encourage their students and fellow teachers, so does the decision to charge teachers for parking in schools make any sense? We seek to forge a society with empathy, yet do we actually walk the talk?

This article was first published over at TR Emeritus on 12 January 2016. It is reproduced with permission.


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