Early childhood education provides children a sound foundation for life. As the education landscape evolves, early childhood teachers like Glory Janessa Puvaneswari Kumaran have found that constant skills upgrading is of utmost importance to provide the best care to their young charges.
In a class of 20 children, each with various needs and interests, it is easy for the quiet ones to be eclipsed by those who are more vocal. Understanding this, 32-year-old Ms Glory Janessa Puvaneswari Kumaran - or Teacher Janess as she is better known - always makes an extra effort to involve the shy children, giving care and attention to each and every child.
This has helped Mdm Sugirdha V's son, Karan, break out of his shell. When Karan first started school, he was shy and reserved. But in 2014, within just a few months of entering Teacher Janessa's class, Mdm Sugirdha observed with delight tat her son's personality seemed to be changing - he was ready to talk and tell stories!
The turning point was when the family was deciding where to go for dinner one evening.
"He asked if we could invite Teacher Janessa for pizza with us! That was really alot from my son. He is the kind of person who would usually say there's no need to invite anyone, and he'll do it himself - so I knew he really liked her," Mdm Sugirdha said with a laugh.
Teacher Janess, who is now a senior teacher at PCF Sengkang Central Blk 292B, started her career in early childhood education at the tender age of 17, fresh from taking her O Level examinations. A year into her career, she embarked on a one-year course to attain her Certificate in Preschool Teaching (CPT course). Right after that, she went on to take a Diploma in Early Childhood Education - Teaching (DECCE-T). Throughout her 15 years in the field, she has attended various professional development courses, covering a range of topics from "how to use art and creativity to build social and emotional skills in young children" to "Mentoring for success".
This constant upgrading of skills, Teacher Janessa said, is necessary to provide a good start for every child. Teachers need to have a good understanding of the current early childhood education landscape.
"Especially for people who have been in the job for so long, we need to keep ourselves updated," she added.
As an example, she recounted her first experiences in teaching. The pre-school curriculum then was based on workbooks and worksheets. Today, however, the emphasis has shifted to learning through play. Early childhood teachers are expected to create interactive materials for the children and set up learning corners to keep them engaged.
Teacher Janessa has always been professional in her work, ever since her Kindergarten Principal, Ms Yeo Kian Mui, first met her back in 2003.
Recalling a time when one of the kindergarten children was undergoing therapy for speech delay, Ms Yeo shared, "Teacher Janessa monitored the child's behaviour closely and made effort to find out what went on in his home. This enabled her to better help him when he was in class."
She added, "There were also periods when timelines were tight and we needed parents' support urgently. When speaking to the parents, however hard-pressed for time, Janessa would first check if they faced any challenges. She really puts herself into the shoes of the parents to encourage them to work with her."
Mrs Ally Foo is one of many parents impressed by Teacher Janessa's ability to connect with parents and children alike. Her son, Aedus, is currently in Teacher Janessa's class. When Mrs Foo's mother picked up Aedus from school one day, she was pleasantly surprised to hear Teacher Janessa using Mandarin to communicate wit the Chinese Language Teachers.
Mrs Foo was also appreciative of Teacher Janessa's detailed account of her son's behaviour during parent-teacher meetings. It helped her understand her child better and manage him better at home.
Aedus is a confident and vocal child, she explained, he often gets his way around other adults easily. The challenge, however, is that he thinks he can get away with it when he behaves inappropriately. But as his form teacher, Teacher Janessa never lets his behaviour slide.
Said Mrs Foo, "She talks to him only after he has calmed down. She tells him the appropriate way to do things, and explains why he shouldn't behave like that. We can see that now he admits his mistakes and understands he can't always have it his way. Teacher Janessa also shares with us what she has done in school, so we can do the same at home."
Another time, Teacher Janessa showed Mrs Foo a video of Aedus doing a presentation on current affairs in class. "I saw that he could articulate well. He was sharing with the class what the article was all about - engaging the class almost like a teacher. These are the little things he learnt from [Teacher Janessa]," Mrs Foo said.
As a senior teacher, Teacher Janessa has taken on additional responsibilities such as organising meetings and managing parent support groups. With each added responsibility, she has demonstrated a growing potential to lead.
In January 2016, Teacher Janessa embarked on a new journey with the Advanced Diploma for Early Childhood Leadership Programme (ADECL). The course was developed to prepare senior pre-school teachers for centre leadership. Ms Yeo is confident that ADECL will enhance Teacher Janessa's existing skillset and allow her to contribute even more to the sector. This training will enhance a senior teacher's ability to evaluate issues and practices in early childhood services, establish strategic partnerships with stakeholders and manage centre operations. It will also equip them with skills to lead in the development and implementation of curriculum for supporting children's holistic development. To complement the course, Ms Yeo suggested for pre-schools to constantly provide teachers with platforms to practise what they have learnt and opportunities to gain further hands-on experience.
For a mother of two holding a full-time job, the journey is a tough one. But thankfully, Teacher Janessa has the SkillsFuture Study Award to support her professional development efforts. As a recipient of the SkillsFuture Study Awards for the Early Childhood Sector, she will receive a monetary award of $5,000 to defray out-of-pocket expenses on top of existing Government course fee subsidies.
Teacher Janessa recognises that balancing family responsibilities, work and professional development will be a challenge, but she is truly excited about the new skills that ADECL will equip her with.
"You will get to meet other people from the industry, to share ideas and experiences and to learn. At the end of the day, all of us are here for the kids," she said.
As a recipient of the SkillsFuture Study Awards, Teacher Janessa was mentioned by Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong in his 2016 National Day Rally speech. Hear from Teacher Janessa how the SkillsFuture Study Awards for the Early Childhood Sector has supported her in her professional development journey!