Saturday, 1 June 2013

What my students think I do

I had an interesting conversation with a group of students recently.  The group consisted of a bunch of Sec 4s and they were discussing about the careers they may want to consider in the future. As they shared their aspirations and dreams, one particular student remarked that she would rather be unemployed than to be a teacher. The rest of the group readily concurred.

I was intrigued - what made them think so? Was teaching such a bad job from a students' point of view? I should mention that I have been interacting with this group of students for a number of years so they were not afraid to be open and honest with me. The rest of the conversation on this topic revealed a typical student's perspective on what a teaching job entails. So, that's what they think we do. Let me summarize the details.

Aspect of Job
What students think teachers do
What ordinary teachers really do
Handling Students
Have to babysit classes / relief teach when other teachers are absent.

Have to deal with students’ problems.
·     Interact with and try to remember all the names of the students
·     Yes, cover classes and duties when other teachers are absent
·     Identify students with special learning needs and cater to their learning
·     Identify students with problematic behavior and deal with it
·     Manage classes full of individuals with diverse abilities, attention-span and interest level all day, every day
·     Do part-time counseling for selected students with psychological and family issues
·     Send students home/to clinic/ to hospital when they fall sick
·     Chaperone excursions, learning journeys, overseas schools trips and manage all the drama accordingly
Handling parents
Have to entertain demanding and unreasonable parents.
·     Call and meet parents when students are underperforming/absent from classes etc
·     Entertain parents’ calls and emails
·     Issue letters to parents regularly to let them know what is happening in the school
·     Pray hard every now and then, not to get called into Principal’s office because of parent’s complaint letters to MP/MOE/Principal etc for some grievous crime
Teaching Workload
“A lot of marking.”

Need to stand in front of the class and deliver content many times a day, year after year. Rather repetitive and boring.

Need to conduct ‘a lot of’ extra lessons’ like remedial and consultations
·     A lot more marking than students think.
·     Set exam papers and quizzes and worksheets and revision papers and enrichment exercises and…
·     Prepare for each and every lesson – videos, powerpoint, books etc
·     Mentor students’ projects
·     Supervise students’ experiments and pray they don’t explode
·     Conduct lessons for character education/CME/class contact time
·     Check students’ subject files at least once a year
·     Conduct regular remedial for weak students
·     Conduct supplementary lessons for graduating classes
·     Provide consultations, even at unearthly hours
Admin Workload
Mark attendance and collect consent forms
·     Write testimonials
·     Grade students’ conduct
·     Mark attendance daily
·     Issue, chase for and collect all admin forms for form class
·     Supervise classroom cleanliness
·     Conduct CCA at least once a week
·     Plan and implement Community Involvement Programmes for students
·     Participate in school’s ‘corporate social responsibility’ activities
·     Plan for and implement school sports day, parent-teacher meetings, Chinese new year celebrations, national day celebrations, school fundraisers, teachers’ day celebration, open house, founder’s day, graduation ceremony… basically plan for and implement all school events
·     Attend meetings – staff contact time, department meetings, level meetings, CCA meeting, committee meeting, events meeting etc…
Relationship with other teachers
Very friendly to each other because we are all teachers.
·     90% of teachers face some form of workplace bullying from students, parents and colleagues
·     Interaction with colleagues outside the same department is relatively limited
Content Knowledge and Upgrading
Studied a lot – ‘know all about the content subject already’

Teachers don’t need to study anymore.
·     Most teachers are graduates with a degree majoring in a relevant subject – it’s becoming the norm these days. Note that most of us don't know all about the content subject, especially teachers teaching arts and humanities subjects. We know enough to teach at that level but occasionally get stumped by students' questions as well
·     Attend courses and skills upgrading – MOE recommends for every teacher to complete 100 hours of training every year. I have never met this target before
·     Be involved in other professional development, such as sharing during school meetings
·     Many teachers go on to further their studies after a few years
Exam / Test setting
Teachers can be ‘sadistic’ and set papers to fail students with difficult questions, maybe to prove our ‘superior’ knowledge.
·     Ensure test paper is aligned to Scheme of Work with all major exam papers vetted by the HOD/VP to ensure fairness
·     Source for ‘original’ questions (sometimes this can backfire) and ensure questions have varying levels of difficulty

Assessment  and evaluation of a teachers’ performance
Evaluated based on students’ results and ‘how well they can teach’
·     School leaders assess a teacher’s potential using unknown/confidential factors
·     Promotion of teachers happen based on time and performance and how much a teacher is willing to do more ‘extra’ school-based work than required
·     Teachers have to set targets for all aspects of their work every year (including the target mean subject grade for every class taught) and attend work review for their HOD to assess their targets and performance, twice a year
Salary and leave benefits
Salary should be quite low, since Prime Minister said teaching was a ‘consolation prize’ compared to doctors and lawyers. For the heavy workload, very poor pay-to-work ratio.

School holiday leave is ‘quite shiok’ for teachers
·     Salary is average in the market
·     Unlike in the private sector, teachers can only take leave during the school holidays (except for emergencies and medical reasons) – we are not entitled to annual leave or off-in-lieu
·     MOE’s benefits package is not at all competitive compared to the private sector and independent schools– nobody says this but we all know it
·     School holidays are ‘shiok’ at times but are not entirely protected, as they also used to conduct supplementary lessons, CCA camps and staff meetings.

I'm sure I have missed out some points in the rightmost column - it's just impossible to list everything. Unlike in the private sector, teachers (in Singapore, at least) are not given any Job Description (JD) in our contract. The teaching job has become so complex and multi-faceted with times, that MOE has coined a more appropriate title for us - we are in fact called Education Officers, not simply teachers. Hmm, the colloquial term chapalang or pao-ga-liao comes to mind.

A typical day at work.

If you are reading this post and have thoughts on becoming a teacher in the future, I hope I haven't discouraged you. In fact, I think I have done you a favour by providing a balanced point of view, although nothing can replace genuine hands-on experience.

If you are reading this post as an existing teacher, do you concur with my observations? Is the reality similar in your school? Feel free to share.

- A


  1. I understand that you are not going to be a teacher in Melbourne. What will you be doing there then?

    1. She'll be doing some admin job. They pay as well as teaching jobs anyway, sans "satisfaction", sans headache!


  2. Hello, thanks for this article! I found it very informative : ) do you guys know anything about the working hours for a teacher in Singapore? Are they reasonable? Whats your personal experience like? (if I may ask)

  3. Hi I am a teacher too with the same idea. By any chance, I happen to know you?