Dental Practitioner Finds Her Calling in the Early Childhood Sector
Nazreen Banu, 39-year-old former dental practitioner, took a bold leap of faith into early childhood after volunteering as a storyteller under the National Library Board’s (NLB) KidsRead programme. 7 years on, the unconditional love she received from her preschoolers and positive affirmation from their parents and grandparents continue to motivate her each day. The preschool teacher from PCF Sparkletots @ Sengkang East Blk 187B never looked back on her career switch ever since.
RECOGNISING HER INTEREST IN EARLY CHILDHOOD
For as long as she could remember, Nazreen knew that she wanted to be a teacher. Even when she was studying dentistry, she toyed with the idea of teaching dental students. It was until her volunteering stint as a storyteller to young, underprivileged children that inspired Nazreen to explore opportunities to work with young children and eventually, step foot into the early childhood sector. Beyond instilling a love for reading among young children, Nazreen found herself acquiring new skills during her 5 years volunteering in the library, such as planning activities for children, communicating with families and crafting - all of which came in handy for her role as an Early Childhood (EC) educator today.
Nazreen engaging in storytelling activities with her preschoolers
NOT A BED OF ROSES
When asked how it was like making a career transition at 32 years old, Nazreen shared that it was not all a bed of roses. She first experienced rejection after visiting a career fair due to her lack of suitable qualifications. However, that did not stop Nazreen from pursuing a relief assistant teacher role, which eventually led her to applying and clinching a full-time teaching position at PCF Sparkletots Preschool a few years later.
In her first year of teaching, Nazreen recalled finding herself clueless as to how she should support a child with special needs in her class. Without any prior experience, she would approach her fellow early childhood educators in such situations for tips and advice. She said, “I realised help is readily available as long as I am willing to ask for it.”
Many unique challenges arose last year due to the pandemic, but Nazreen and her former colleagues at PCF Sparkletots @ Tampines Changkat Blk 318, together with the rest of the preschool sector, overcame them one by one. However, an important and momentous milestone for the little ones was still greatly impacted – their preschool graduation ceremony. Nazreen and her colleagues had to come together to design and execute a meaningful yet safe virtual graduation for their students. The centre was presented with several logistical challenges, one of which is the graduation photo taking session that had to adhere to prevailing safe management measures. “We disinfected each graduation robe and took individual photos of the children instead of a group photo. As external photographers were not allowed into the preschool, our principal took the photographs while I assisted in the editing,” shared Nazreen.
Aside from her involvement in rehearsals and prop preparations, Nazreen also coordinated with parents to guide their children in practising their drama performance at home. For Nazreen, the graduation ceremony not only celebrates the completion of a four-year journey and transition to the ‘big’ school for the preschoolers. It is also a time for teachers to reflect on the precious memories and challenges faced, while preparing for the year ahead. Watching the children, teachers and parents bond over the preparation of the virtual graduation ceremony, Nazreen shared that it was a priceless experience, where everyone is able to bask in the overwhelming pride and joy for their little ones.
Nazreen and parents from the Parent Support Group discussing and preparing for the graduation ceremony via a Zoom meeting
SEEING PARENTS AS IMPORTANT STAKEHOLDERS
It was no wonder that Nazreen had a wonderful experience with the parents during the preparation for the virtual graduation ceremony. As the teacher-in-charge of PCF Sparkletots @ Tampines Changkat Blk 318’s Parent-Support Group (PSG) for the last 5 years, Nazreen established great rapport and received strong support from parents, even during the pandemic. By keeping parents updated and informed of upcoming programmes, the PSG was able to stay in touch with each other virtually and even tapped on each other’s talents such as sharing videos of yoga sessions, healthy cooking recipes, craft-making activities and even career talks.
Nazreen (front in green) together with parents from the PSG planning a Deepavali 2019 celebration in school
INSPIRED BY HER LITTLE ONES
You might also wonder, with 7 years of teaching experience under her belt, what is the secret to Nazreen’s passion as a preschool teacher, year after year? Without hesitation, she believes it is the unconditional love from the children and how they fill her days with wonderful experiences. Nazreen recalled the time when she suffered from chicken pox and was admitted to the hospital for a few weeks. “When I returned to school after my long medical leave, I was apprehensive about the scars on my face and was worried whether the children would be scared of me. But the children’s hugs were only tighter and their love stronger,” she reminisced.
On another occasion, Nazreen walked into the classroom with a band aid on her hand, only to be greeted by affection and curiosity from her preschoolers asking about her injury. The overwhelming love and care from the concerned children sparked her to pen a poem titled ‘Teacher, does it hurt?’, which was published in the June 2020 issue of the Association for Early Childhood Educators Singapore (AECES) bi-annual journal, Early Educators. Nazreen believes that “all early educators are creative writers, who have to constantly come up with instant rhymes and stories to create new experiences for the young minds we teach.” With the many appreciation she has received from her little ones, colleagues and even parents, ‘Teacher, does it hurt?’ will not be her only creative work.
Beanstalk Singapore FB post featuring Nazreen’s self-composed poem
INSPIRING OTHER PASSIONATE EDUCATORS-TO-BE
Nazreen, who now holds a diploma in Early Childhood Care and Education, highlighted that while training and experiences are essential to be a qualified EC educator, one should also possess passion and patience. “Be passionate to teach, learn and play with young children, and be patient when dealing with the challenges that come along with it,” she added. “Early childhood educators need overflowing energy and enthusiasm, and may not be everyone’s cup of tea, but if you're passionate about it, it will be a personally rewarding profession.”