It's not just the teacher's job

Parents have been dropping in unexpectedly this week at the childcare centre in Katong where she works.

Most of them are discreet in their spot-checks, says the preschool teacher who wants to be known only as Madam Ang.

"Some of them just peek in through the windows but it can still be quite unnerving," says the slightly plump woman who has been teaching at the centre for nearly 12 years.

"But okay lah, I can understand why they are doing that."

Since the story of a three-yearold boy who was allegedly abused by a 51-year-old part-time teacher broke last week, parents have been coming out with their own stories of alleged abuse.

A principal was accused of yelling at a primary school boy, slapping him and pushing him against a wall. The boy was also allegedly made to stand in a corner with a cardboard box covering his head for more than three hours.

A Primary 6 pupil was allegedly dragged into a classroom by a teacher. The teacher was then said to have grabbed him by the neck and pinned him down on a table.

The boy managed to wriggle free and run out of the classroom but the teacher allegedly chased and caught him and pinned him down again.

Such reports add to some parents' fears and worries, says Madam Ang, 50.

As this Heartland Auntie went about her regular jaunts on Wednesday and Friday, I heard many similar accounts.

It has been a challenging week, say all 50 preschool teachers approached in different parts of Singapore. They agree that nothing has changed in their routine.

Says Ms Aisyah Yusof, 47, who has been teaching for 17 years: "I think as teachers, we will continue with what we are doing right now, that is, to nurture the children who have been put into our care.

"It's important that we don't allow these isolated incidents to affect how we work. Only then will we be able to convince the parents that their young ones are safe in our hands."

But Miss Lynn Neo, 33, a teacher with three years' experience, feels that preschool teachers should be given more support and appreciation.

"Unless you have a passion for working with young children, the job isn't all that attractive.

"Other than long hours and low pay, there are also whiny and demanding parents that we have to deal with. Not to mention that many of them think that their children are angels and cannot even be scolded."

Childcare centre teachers are generally paid between $1,950 and $2,350 a month. The higher pay scale comes only with experience.

Part-time teachers sometimes earn as little as $1,000 a month.

Most teachers say they are aware of the pay before they take the plunge.

"If you don't have the passion to teach, you cannot last long in this line," says a 43-year-old teacher who wants to be known only as Anita.

"I am still teaching after 23 years because I love what I am doing."

But she laments that many of them get little respect in their vocation.

"Unless you are in a school-type environment. Teachers like me, who work in day-care centres, are often labelled as 'high-class baby-sitters'."

But not all parents and grandparents are out to condemn the teachers, going by the 30 parents who spoke to us.

While they admit that the alleged child abuse cases, particularly the first, have drawn some concern, they don't think their children or grandchildren are at risk of being abused.

Indeed, says Mr Oei Yick Seng, a grandfather of six: "I won't even use the word 'abuse' for that teacher who was sacked.

"We don't know the full story of what has happened, but I don't think it'd be right for us to condemn her, or start to think that teachers can't wait to hurt the kids."

His friend, Mr Peter Toh, a retiree, nods his head vigorously in agreement and says: "No lah, even if a teacher loses her temper with the child, I don't think anyone will want to intentionally harm the child."

Mr Toh, 66, who has three grandchildren, one of whom is diagnosed as mildly hyperactive, speaks of how he is upset with his daughter-in-law who "has happily given permission" to the teachers to discipline the four-year-old boy.

"So I have the teachers who are telling us, 'No, no, we cannot punish or cane the boy', and my daughter-in-law is saying, 'Can, can'."

While Mr Toh's account of his situation may seem somewhat ironic or somewhat hilarious to his friends, the real question is "When does disciplining run the risk of crossing the line into abuse?".

My children are now teenagers, but I can still remember the first day when I sent my younger child, the girl, to pre-school. To put it nicely, she is tougher than her brother but I was worried about her.

Not that she would be bullied or abused, but more that her temper tantrums could land her in trouble.

So this mother told the teachers: "Feel free to discipline my daughter."

Thankfully, there was never an occasion for that.

I have several close friends and a sibling, who among them, have at least 100 years of experience with children. And from their occasional accounts, I can tell you one thing: I'd not have lasted beyond a week as a preschool teacher.

It takes immense patience and intense passion, I feel, to work with young children, who can be mischievous and over-active.

Add in over-protective parents or demanding, unreasonable ones, and you have more than a handful to handle.

Yes, I'd have gone ballistic too if a teacher hurt my children, intentionally or accidentally.

But the onus is on us, too, as parents to ensure that we teach our children the do's and dont's before we pack them off to school.

We should work with the teachers - and not treat them like they are working FOR us - on our children's growth.

As parents, we should take the same effort to reciprocate and act accordingly when we get feedback from the teachers, and not just dismiss it as I know some parents do.

In communication, it takes two hands to clap, so both sides can set the path for the kids, right?

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