Male early childhood educators bring on different perspectives and strengths in their work with young children. Mr Derek On, the vice-principal of MY World Preschool @ Punggol Edge, shares his positive experience as a male centre leader in the Early Childhood Sector.
Mr Derek On, Vice-Principal, MY World @Punggol Edge
To Mr Derek On, Vice-Principal of MY World @ Punggol Edge, men who want to become Early Childhood (EC) educators and make a difference in children’s futures should readily pursue their passion and join the early childhood sector.
“Regardless of gender, early childhood educators join the sector because they are passionate about their work with young children and want to make an impact in children’s lives and. I think that men, just like women, can be great EC educators. Male educators can bring a different perspective to the EC sector, and such diversity is valuable to the field,” he said.
A former employee of technology giant IBM’s marketing communications and customer service department, Mr On made a career switch to become an EC educator in 2010, when he was 40 years old.
While Mr On enjoyed his time at IBM, he had always felt a calling to work with children and nurture them. With no prior teaching experience except for brief tutoring stints when he was younger, he took up a place-and-train programme at Singapore Polytechnic to pursue an Advanced Diploma in Kindergarten Education Teaching (ADKET). The accelerated course is for people with diplomas/degrees in other fields, but are interested in making a mid-career switch into the EC sector.
Mr On also completed a Workforce Skills Qualifications (WSQ) course, offered by Workforce Singapore (WSG), to attain a WSQ Specialist Diploma in Early Childhood Care and Education – a leadership postgraduate diploma – before joining MY World @ Punggol Edge in February 2017 as its Vice-Principal.
While some parents initially had doubts about entrusting their children to a male EC educator, Mr On endeavoured to earn their trust through hard work and dedication. He said:“A positive mind-set and zealous attitude make all the difference. If you are a good EC educator, the children will tell their parents. Parents can also sense if their children’s educator is sincere in helping their children learn. Over time, these parents will trust you.”
In fact, in 2015, a group of parents presented him with a ‘Best Teacher Award – Most Passionate Teacher’ trophy at the end of the school year.“Their gesture and kind thoughts brought tears to my eyes,”he recalled with a smile.
Since working as an EC educator, he has become a strong advocate of other men who are interested in joining the field. While the industry comprises mostly women, Mr On observed that more men are entering the sector recently.
"Young children need positive male role models in their lives. Men and women have different styles of caring, playing and teaching, which collectively can benefit children in many ways,” noted Mr On.
“When you have both male and female educators in a pre-school, children can observe positive relationships between men and women. Male EC educators could inspire children not to be bound by social stereotypes. Male educators also introduce more active movements in the way they interact with young children during curriculum time,” he said.
While men working in the EC sector face some level of social resistance, Mr On advised them to be patient, passionate and sincere about their work. And to let the results speak for themselves.
“Friends and fellow male colleagues share that not many men are willing to go into the EC sector for fear of being criticised by friends, family and even colleagues,” he said.
“Teaching is an altruistic vocation. Gender should not be an obstacle if one genuinely wants to enrich a child’s life. As a male EC educator, you will need to have a lot of patience. Strong support from fellow colleagues, the principal and the management definitely helps. And as an educator, continual engagement with the children’s parents is a must. Over time, mutual trust will develop all around,” he added.
As Vice-Principal of MY World @ Punggol Edge, his responsibilities encompass both curriculum and administrative matters. He not only plans the daily curriculum with his EC Educators, but also needs to pay attention to the children’s learning environment. As a leader, he mentors and guides his teaching staff on curriculum matters and classroom learning environment. Mr On also assists his principal in administration work and schedules the weekly staff rosters.
“During a typical work day, I greet and welcome both the parents and children with a smile when they arrive at the centre. This allows me to get to know the parents and build a stronger and more positive relationship with them. I’ve always believed that it takes a whole village to raise a child,” he said. He also interacts with the children throughout the day.
Mr On always makes an attempt to understand the stresses that his teaching staff encounter and tries his best to help them overcome their challenges and streamline their workload. He believes that the provision of aides and classroom assistants would ease his educators’ work load and improve their overall emotional and mental well-being.
“My greatest challenge is actually the amount of administrative matters and paperwork that educators need to manage, on top of their teaching duties. Each class has about 15 to 25 children on average, and that’s not easy for the educators to manage. Some educators also need to manage children with mild developmental needs in their classes,” Mr On said.
Despite the workload, he has no regrets seven years after his career switch.
“I work with our little champions in the EC sector with passion and sincerity. I want to inject fun and excitement into their learning,” he said.
“The handwritten compliments and positive feedback from parents have also kept me going. They have further motivated me to give my best to the children under my care, knowing that all my efforts are appreciated.”