Nurturing a child involves bridging the gap between home and school. At PCF Sparkletots Preschool @Tampines East Blk 261, this often means going beyond the traditional boundaries of teaching. For one teacher and parent, a close friendship and partnership has made all the difference.
Ms Adeline Koh of PCF Sparkletots @Tampines East Blk 261 is a busy woman. She is the centre's Vice Principal, but also keeps an active hand in teaching. With almost three decades of pre-school teaching under her belt, Ms Koh has seen scores of children come and go. Yet she remembers every child by name.
Her mantra, "I love every child as though the child is mine."
Parent, Mdm Ferra Hartono, has experienced this love first-hand. Two of her three sons are former students of Ms Koh's, and have blossomed under her care.
"Ms Koh has a great loving heart," said Mdm Hartono. "She never fails to get in touch with families to know more about their situations at home. She always has a smiling face, and is always lively. She loves all the kids in the centre, whether they are in her class or in other classes."
Mdm Hartono first witnessed this last year, when her second son, Jaydon, was in Ms Koh's form class. Jaydon has G6PD deficiency and is unable to eat certain types of food. During a class excursion last year, Ms Koh was vigilant in calling Mdm Hartono prior to the trip to find out what foods Jaydon was not able to eat. She even bought him a special meal for the class' outdoor lunch so that he would not feel left out.
Ms Adeline Koh with Mdm Ferra Hartono and her three children. Two of them are Ms Koh's former students.
Mdm Hartono also recalled a particularly challenging period when her youngest son, Jarrel, who has mild autism, was having trouble settling into his nursery class in a neighbouring centre. Ms Koh's centre did not offer nursery level, hence Jarrel was not enrolled in her centre. During that period, Mdm Hartono was depressed and discouraged by reports of his struggles from Jarrel's teachers. She even contemplated enrolling him and his brother in a different centre located much further away. This meant that she would have to move Jarrel's brother, Jaydon, who was in Ms Koh's centre, as well.
When Ms Koh learnt of the situation, she sat Mdm Hartono down and advised her to perserve on. She also offered advice to Mdm Hartono on helping Jarrel settle in his new school. It is always challenging for young children when they first enter pre-school, but Ms Koh assured Mdm Hartono that the teachers would support Jarrel's transition wholeheartedly. Moreover, changing centres may be disruptive for Jaydon, her older son, who was already learning and developing well under Ms Koh and his current learning environment. Mdm Hartono took Ms Koh's advice and let Jarrel stay on in his new school. Sure enough, Jarrel gradually grew comfortable with his new school and settled in nicely.
Late last year, when Jarrel was hospitalised, Ms Koh visited them in hospital, turning up with gifts for all three boys to spur the family on.
Said Mdm Hartono, "When I was worried and lost, I was really thankful and grateful to have Ms Koh. She is always encouraging me and giving me the moral support that I needed. She is not only a teacher to my boys, she is also a friend."
The personal touch Ms Koh brings to her teaching is underpinned by firm educational goals. Last year, before the children graduated to their K2 class, Ms Koh gave personalised child-sized wallets as gifts for each of the children. Ms Koh then explained to all the parents that the wallet is part of the centre's aim to teach the children how to make purchases and handle money. The children were encouraged to bring the wallets with them along on field trips. By personalising the wallets, she hoped the children would treasure and take good care of them. All the children were delighted to have wallets they could call their own.
"She has gone beyond the duty of just a teacher," adds Mdm Hartono. "The love, care and concern she has shown my three children and my family has really touched me."
A veteran early childhood teacher, Ms Koh declares with pride that her vocation at PCF Sparkletots @Tampines East is her first and will remain her only. "In 1990, I started work here after Junior College instead of going to university. I have been here ever since," she said with a laugh. At the time, her parents were not very supportive, saying that it was a "babysitting job".
But Ms Koh strongly felt otherwise. Early childhood education, she said, has always been in her blood.
"The early childhood education landscape," she added, "has changed much since she started out in the field. Early childhood teachers work hard to develop themselves professionally."
To keep abreast with change, Ms Koh enrolled in certification courses shortly after starting work at PCF Sparkletots. After that, she pursued a full-time diploma in Early Childhood in NIE. Most recently, she has completed her Bachelor's degree in Early Childhood Education at UniSIM. She is now working on her Master's degree.
Ms Koh explains that her deep love for the children is what keeps her motivated. She believes that helping parents to understand this is an important way to earn their trust. Earning parents' trust is vital, because for Ms Koh, teachers and parents are partners in education.
"When we talk to the parents, we always say 'my child' and seldom say 'my student'. Not only do I know the kids in my class, I know the kids in all the classes. Their names, their faces, even their parents."
Ms Koh added that the importance of a centre-parent partnership cannot be overstated. "It's crucial that as teachers, we know what's going on at home and the emotional well-being of the child. In pre-school, a lot of their learning is based on their emotional well-being."
Citing the example of a child who became reticent and disengaged in class, Ms Koh said it was only after they found out that the child was keeping very late nights that they got to the root of the problem, and helped the child cope better in school.
"There are many reasons why a child stops wanting to learn, or clams up. Situations like having a new baby in the house, or parents fighting, or even a death in the family."
Even after her children have moved on to primary school, they still miss the times spent with Ms Koh in pre-school.
Ms Koh with a former student, who is now a beloved colleague and friend.
"At the end of it," she says, "It's not so much about what they can learn. It is about how they learn. We want our children to take pride in their achievements. We empower them to make decisions. It's crucial that their early education will lead to lifelong learning."