Early childhood educators are role models to children and trusted partners to parents. At the annual ECDA Scholarships and Training Awards Presentation Ceremony held on 6 Nov 2019, Minister for Social and Family Development Desmond Lee highlighted the critical role that early childhood educators play in shaping young minds and reaffirmed the government’s commitment to support their aspirations at every stage of their career.
During the Ceremony, Minister Lee presented the ECDA Scholarship to three passionate educators who believe in honing their skills and knowledge to become better teachers for the children under their care. Read on as they share more about their journeys from being a rookie educator to working towards professional mastery.
Why did you choose to be an early childhood educator?
Jasclyn (J): I had wanted to be a teacher since young. My uncle, who was a lecturer, would often share with me about his teaching experiences and they inspired me. My first experience with teaching was giving tuition to lower primary students when I was fourteen. I remember feeling a deep sense of satisfaction whenever my students achieved their goals. Thereafter, I worked in the petrochemical industry for some time, but eventually decided to answer my true calling and enter the early childhood sector as a preschool teacher.
Siu Suan (S): I took up a Polytechnic Diploma in Medicinal Chemistry, but my childhood dream was really to be a teacher. During one of the school holidays, I had an opportunity to teach at a kindergarten as a relief teacher. My Centre Leader assigned me to a class of K1 children and supported me in my role since I had no prior experience or knowledge in teaching children. Despite my lack of experience, the children’s parents gave me positive feedback about my work and that encouraged me to pursue my dream in teaching.
Aizat (A): For me, I would say that becoming an early childhood educator was somewhat “by chance”. After graduating with a degree in Mechanical Engineering, I was looking for a job as a secondary school teacher, teaching either Mathematics or Physics. However, I was not successful in my application. As days passed and I was still jobless, I saw a newspaper advertisement for a “Place-and-Train” programme with My First Skool. Without knowing what I was getting myself into, I gave it a try. Since then, it was no turning back for me.
What were some of the challenges you faced as an early childhood educator? How did you overcome them?
J: Being a working mother, I was trying to juggle between motherhood and my career. While I enjoyed being with the children in school and witnessing their growth as they learnt new skills, I had two young daughters who kept falling sick when I first started out in the sector. There were days when I had to miss work because my children were unwell and I needed to take care of them. Given the tough circumstances at that point in time, I made the difficult decision to resign from my job. However, my passion for teaching never ceased. As soon as the situation at home improved, I returned to preschool teaching in 2014.
Jasclyn (right) with her husband and three daughters, who have been her pillar of support.
S: I recall having a challenging time with a boy whose behavioral issues were quite hard to manage. I worked very closely with his parents and our centre to ensure that he was well supported in school and received professional help outside school. It was hard work and there were times when I felt like giving up. But I held fast to my belief that every child is a unique gift. When behavioural issues arise, more often than not, children are trying to communicate their feelings and needs. It is then our role, as teachers, to understand the underlying reasons behind each child’s behaviour and help them express themselves in the best ways possible.
A: Being a male in this industry, I was questioned a lot because many viewed early childhood educator as a woman’s job. I had my doubts too, but I stayed on because it is a truly rewarding job. As an educator, I find it really challenging to advocate “Play” to be the primary learning mode for young children. In a largely academically-driven educational landscape, many Singapore parents are still very used to rote-learning and using worksheets to ensure the school-readiness of children. However, I am confident that it is possible for our children to have a fun childhood learning through play, without compromising learning goals and school-readiness. Through deliberate and mindful planning of the play-based curriculum, our children can still learn all the necessary skillsets required for starting primary school. While worksheets cannot be totally eradicated, it may be used as a form of summative assessment or as a concluding activity to demonstrate children’s learning.
Aizat (left) with the children in his centre
Share with us one memorable experience working with your colleagues/supervisors.
J: Having the opportunity and support to become a Principal at Sweetlands Childcare was a significant moment to me. When I returned to the sector in 2014, I resumed my role as a teacher. Over time, my Senior Principal, Ms Noordiana Binte Ma’arof, gave me exposure to larger job roles and opportunities such as contributing to curriculum development and mentoring of staff. This allowed me to take up the leadership role at my centre. I am still learning greatly from Ms Noordiana on matters such as centre operations and staff relations.
I am also deeply appreciative of my supervisors and colleagues who have shown much support while I am pursuing my Bachelor in Early Childhood Education.
Jasclyn (right) with her Senior Principal, Ms Noordiana (middle)
S: I took up part-time Diploma in Early Childhood Care and Education when I started working at my centre. The experience was definitely not easy, but I had a lot of support from my Centre Principal and my mentor. One memorable experience would definitely be the day I turned up late for work. As it was a field trip day and the children would report to school at a later time, I thought I could go to work later as well.I stayed home to finish my assignment, which I could not complete despite burning midnight oil the night before.
On my way to work, I cried because I was so disappointed with myself. As I was still a newbie in the centre, my mentor was very patient and understanding towards me. She did not scold me for being late, but reminded me to be punctual for work. Since then, I have learnt my lesson to work on my assignments early and seek help whenever I need to.
My mentor continues to guide and support me whenever I look for her, even until now. Together with my Centre Principal’s support, I have been able to try out the new ideas I learnt during my course at the centre. Without their encouragement and the opportunities provided, I would not have been the person I am today.
Siu Suan (middle) with her Principal, Ms Yeo Kian Mui (left) and mentor, Ms Serene (right)
A: It is not a moment per se, but the encouragement and guidance from my Centre Principal and fellow teachers that have helped me overcome the challenges I faced as a beginner educator. Through the years, many individuals have also inspired me to be a better teacher, a better leader and a better person. I appreciate that I am able to work with my fellow colleagues to enrich the children’s learning experiences together.
Aizat (second from left) with his fellow teachers in Mosaic Kindergarten
What does taking up the ECDA Scholarship mean to you?
J: I feel very privileged to be an ECDA Scholarship recipient. I am proud that ECDA has identified me as someone who can contribute to the sector and make a difference. Although academically it can be stressful, the constant “stress” reminds me that I need to put in my best in my undertakings. It also helps me to become a better person.
S: Being awarded the ECDA Scholarship assured me that I am on the right path to shape the future generation. The award motivates me to achieve even more and contribute to the sector. I hope to use the knowledge gained from the Degree to implement new ideas and improve the centre.
A: The ECDA Scholarship provides me with the opportunity to pursue a Master’s degree where I am able to develop myself professionally as an early childhood educator. Ultimately, I hope to share the knowledge I gain through the programme with future educators so that we can become better educators for our children.
What are some of your hopes and aspirations as an early childhood educator?
J: I look forward to completing my degree and becoming a better educator to the children; and a better leader and colleague to my teachers. I want to support other early childhood educators to improve their wellbeing. As children’s development largely depends on the quality of the teachers they interact with, ensuring that our educators are healthy physically, mentally and emotionally is important.
S:I just started my studies in the Bachelor of Early Childhood Education. Upon graduation, I aspire to be a role model to new educators, to guide and mentor them. I want to be an inspiration to educators in this meaningful sector, just like my mentor and Centre Principal.
As provisions for inclusive preschools are limited at this point and not all preschool teachers are trained to support children with special needs, I hope to contribute in this area to make curriculum more inclusive for these children.
Siu Suan engaging in dramatic play with the children in her centre
A: In the years ahead, I aim to build myself up as an academic in the field and eventually guide the next generations of early childhood educators. I also hope to contribute to changing society’s perception of early childhood educators. While the term ‘nannies’ were acceptable and loosely used for early childhood educators decades ago, the landscape and professionalism of the sector have since changed. Many early childhood educators now are highly educated and qualified, demonstrating high levels of professionalism and service. With better recognition and appreciation for this industry, I am positive that the standards of our early childhood educators in Singapore will continue to rise.
Please share a word of encouragement to other early childhood educators.
J: I would like to encourage fellow educators to never give up on their dreams and aspirations, and persevere on, despite the challenges they face in their daily lives. I would also like to share that it is important to practise self-care as teachers, so that we can be effective in nurturing the children.
S: To our juniors, I would like to share a quote from Shauna Niequist, “When life is sweet, say thank you and celebrate. When life is bitter, say thank you and grow.” To fellow educators, I hope to encourage them to embrace challenges, as they are important to help us grow and become better educators. I believe that every little action we do for the children will eventually pay off and shape the young lives positively.
A: Being an early childhood educator is really ‘heart’ work. I would like to thank all my mentors who have helped me through my journey thus far. Your invaluable guidance and wisdom have allowed me to be where I am today. To all my fellow early childhood educators out there, you all are the real MVPs [i.e. most valuable players] and unsung heroes! Keep your heads up and continue to inspire and change lives, one child at a time!
To find out how you can benefit from the support available in your early childhood journeys, check out the infographic below: