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Categories: Opinion
| On 6 months ago

Let Teachers in Singapore Rest or Give Them Hazard Pay Too

From the title, you would have probably guessed that this article is about teachers and the varying degrees of sacrifices they’ve had to make during the Circuit Breaker so that your precious children don’t suddenly turn dumb overnight at home. They, if I dare say, deserve to stand shoulder to shoulder with nurses and frontline healthcare staff and have an 8 pm slot dedicated to them where we sing Semoga Bahagia at our windows for them, lead by a group of racially diverse local singers on television.

I spent a good part of my day yesterday reading the Facebook comments left on a post by MOE Singapore about bringing forward school holidays to May. And the biggest gripe, some left by brave teachers themselves, seems to be the lack of rest for teachers who were only given two paltry weeks of mandatory break in May. Two weeks. Let that sink in. These teachers give their heart and soul to an education system that rewards their hard work on weekdays, weekends, morning, afternoon, and night, with fourteen insufficient days of break.

I have such strong feelings about this because some parents treat them like educators who should be sacrificing their life and answer the call to shaping young minds with passion and fervour. Nothing else is as important as their calling to be a teacher. Did you forget that teachers are humans too?

There’s never been a day during HBL when I didn’t have to call up a student or a parent.

My subtle read does not come lightly. I have spoken to several teachers who were more than eager to share their side of the stories that some of you ungrateful parents don’t see. We’re talking about teachers who only finish their day at 11 pm because they have marking to finish up after a whole day of classes, attending to their own Primary One child’s HBL, and in between all of this, try to take a breather.

Yes, their teaching day ends at a leisurely 2.30 pm, you say, empathy lacking. But you’re not the one starting your day at 7.30 am and spending a good 30 minutes calling up your students who are not yet awake, to attend lessons. When that fails, teachers have to resort to calling up parents who themselves might not even be up. Like a friend said, “There’s never been a day during HBL when I didn’t have to call up a student or a parent.”

Teachers haven’t had a break since January. Their precious March holidays were spent in preparation of this new Home-based Learning (HBL) system that was suddenly thrust into their face the same way Work-From-Home is thrust into yours. What used to be a token one-day-a-semester e-learning exercise (to, you know, show that the school encourages technology in teaching) is now a full-blown necessity.

They’re just like you, yet they are forced to live up to expectations that are not humanly possible by parents such as yourself.

The situation is not helped by the fact that teachers are not fully equipped to digitise a full three months of curriculum planning using computing systems and telecommunicating software they’ve only heard of the day before Circuit Breaker was announced. Some of the older teachers are also at a loss with utilising technology with no one by their side to help them get through this hurdle.

Oh, you whine all day about being stuck at home with your kids? So do Teachers. You have to take care of your kids all day? So do they. They’re just like you, yet they are forced to live up to expectations that are not humanly possible by parents such as yourself.

The MOE teachers are highly paid and yet some of them are complaining about lack of breaks.

I recently found out that some of my teacher friends now don full-face shields to teach while wearing a face mask underneath all that protection. Do you know what this reminds me? Nurses. Doctors. Healthcare professionals. The people you stood by the window to clap for. But when it comes to educators, passion would suffice, thank you very much. “They are already paid a lot, what?” some of you entitled arses cry out.

Just take a look at some of these comments left behind by teachers who want a break to refresh and tend to their families. Look, teachers are not asking to be treated like kings and queens. They’re not even asking for more pay. They are merely asking to be treated like human beings who deserve rest and time with their families.

That the Facebook user above complains with zero empathy about teachers quitting if they’re not happy in the education line reeks heavily of classism. As if teaching is 100% about servitude, because, honey, servitude don’t pay the bills.

Now, with school holidays being brought forward to May, teachers will be putting in close to 16 weeks of teaching from mid-May to September, inclusive of remedial lesson for the graduating students who started coming back to school on 19th May. If this was to happen in a normal corporate job, you’ll either be reporting burnout to HR or demanding higher pay for the extra hours put in.

There’s nothing someone like me in a publication like this can do to make things better for our selfless educators. But, if there’s one thing we all can do right now is to drop a message to a teacher friend of ours and ask how they are coping. Maybe send some food their way, some cakes to brighten their day. Show them that someone cares for their well-being even if it seems like the Ministry doesn’t.

It’s not much, but that’s the least we can do. And like all things, this pandemic too will pass. When it does, are we going to forget the months when teachers stepped up because some parents can’t? Are we about to ignore our teacher’s mental well-being because a handful of parents are simply inadequate?

When we, non-educators take leave, we defend it staunchly as work-life balance. But when teachers complain about doing work during June holidays, suddenly they’re entitled. Where’s the fairness? It’s a thankless job, really being a teacher. Which probably explains why some leave the service to become full-time tutors because the nature of that career is so much more transactional. “You pay me money; I make sure your kid passes his exam.”

The Singapore Teachers’ pledge states that:

We will be true to our mission to bring out the best in our students.
We will be exemplary in the discharge of our duties and responsibilities.
We will guide our students to be good and useful citizens of Singapore.
We will continue to learn and pass on the love of learning to our students.
We will win the trust, support and co-operation of parents and the community so as to enable us to achieve our mission.

Nowhere in the pledge does it say that teachers will be made to work under a harsh pandemic-like situation. Nowhere does it mention teachers risking their lives just so the school-going children of Singapore can have a semblance of opportunity to excel in their national exams. Nowhere does it say that teachers should be on duty 24/7 for parents to bother them until late at night.

Maybe if more teachers left the service for tuition centres, MOE and schools will finally realise the sacred value of rest and allow teachers to be able to do absolutely nothing during their mandatory break. And perhaps parents can finally take a more active role in parenting their child instead of thinking that it’s the job of educators to parent. Singapore wants our teaching fraternity to be overflowing with passion and purpose. But to what end? And what are we truly sacrificing on our way there?


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Vera Leng

Why do we call them toppings if they sink to the bottom?

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