Have you wondered what contributes to the high turnover rate of teachers in Singapore? Have a chat with educators who have left the service (or those still in service willing to speak the truth) and some of the following reasons come to mind.
Fast forward 3 years... and very little has changed. Work-life balance for teachers is by and large still not a priority and therefore virtually non-existent. Granted, working in Singapore is stressful regardless of the occupation. However, no other job besides the teaching profession requires one individual to play as many roles (refer to my earlier posts here and here).
How is a teaching career regarded in Singapore? Refer to the Jan 2013 speech from the Singapore Prime Minister on meritocracy here. Let me quote the interesting bits for you.
I did a complete post on workplace bullying in schools, here. Suffice to say, the school may not be as nurturing an environment (for teachers) as you think. After all, most employees leave their managers, not their jobs. A teaching career is not any different. Encounter a really mean boss (ie P, VP or HOD) and you may pack your bags sooner than you think.
#5. Communicating with HQ
Communicating with HQ is a pain. When the organization is so huge, the middle management is so thick and the turnover rate of the ground level staff at HQ is so high, communication will invariably break down at some point. Of course, since what I have stated above is not the "right news", you will not find such politically incorrect information in the MSM (even if it is true). Internally, the Ministry conducts an organization-wide survey known as the School Climate Survey every 2 years - and I'm not surprised that they score poorly when it comes to communication with the ground and with schools. Before the Internet Brigade begin their rampage at this point, let me clarify that I do not expect the organization to be perfect, but I do draw the line when I hear the Ministry calling themselves 'world class'. Give me a break.
My personal encounters with HQ have yielded the following observations - the average waiting time to speak to a Customer Service Officer from the MOE hotline is 20 minutes, an email enquiry sent to the generic email address never gets a reply unless it is sent through the P/VP and the MOE HR staff who worked directly with me has changed 3 times in 2 years. A good friend of mine who has been in service for more than 20 years spent 4 years of that time in a HQ posting - She described her HQ posting as the darkest years of her life. Of course, to each his own and I don't deny that all of my personal bad encounters could be mere coincidences.
#6. A Culture of Mediocrity (?)
Every teacher's Current Estimated Potential (CEP) is assessed by her Principal from his/her first year in service. For teachers who do not wish to take up leadership positions but remain in the teaching track, you will reach your CEP in 15 to 20 years - what this means is that you will not be promoted further beyond that. Couple this with the following realities of teaching in Singapore: (1) promotion is slow but sure, (2) good work is rewarded with more work, (3) young/unmarried teachers or teachers without children are given more work and Voila! What you have is a class of mediocre, relatively senior teachers sailing along, doing the bare minimum and avoiding duties like a plague. I once encountered a teacher who refused to be involved in any school activities that fell on a Saturday - when queried, she retorted that 'surely there were younger teachers who could do it' and 'she had kids so she should be exempted'. What kind of logic is that? The most infuriating fact was not her statement but that her HOD agreed and assigned a younger, unmarried colleague for all subsequent Saturday duties instead. Seriously??
Most teachers in their late twenties/early thirties (across several schools of different levels) whom I have spoken to agree that schools generally condone mediocrity in their senior staff and school leaders assess them using a different yardstick. In our observations, this practice is especially prevalent in the civil service. Of course, this point is admittedly very subjective and open for debate. I'm sure such a situation is not unique to the teaching profession. (I welcome constructive comments and personal stories, and would not mind being proven wrong.)
#7. Under the Media Limelight
This point does not require much elaboration, given how educators in general have come under heavy scrutiny and criticism from MSM and social media in the last couple of years. Noteworthy examples include:
- Police report filed against Secondary School Teacher who cut student's hair. A similar incident happened in May 2013 in the UK and the offending teacher was fired.
- Singaporean female teacher jailed for sex with student
- Primary School Principal jailed for underage sex scandal
- Teacher in alleged childcare abuse suspended and dismissed, after much social media backlash
- The sudden development of a new code of conduct for teachers in 2013
At the end of the day...
Go into your teaching job (or any job for that matter) with both your eyes open. Be prepared to take the bitter with the better. The Ministry and its recruitment officers will only sell you the merits of the profession, often with touching stories and catchy phrases (eg "Teachers make a difference. What do you make?"). It takes an actual practitioner to cut through the propaganda and present the true merits and downsides of the profession.
What are my reasons for writing this, you ask? Especially since I am no longer in the profession? The reason is simple: The teaching profession, which is key to nation building and sustainability, is often misunderstood. I have encountered too many Singaporeans of the following types:
- current students vehemently against the profession without good reason
- students who want to be teachers in the future because they are inspired by their teachers but do not have clear idea on what the job truly entails / only see the 'fun' side of the job
- teaching scholars who have broken their bond with MOE / thinking of breaking their bond to MOE even before they begin the profession... why??
- beginning teachers burnt out/resigning after teaching for less than a year due to incompatibility of the job with personal expectations
- a general group of ignorant public who think that teachers have a fantastic deal in their jobs, especially with regards to school holidays
- another group of ignorant public who think that teachers are essentially fools /'winners of consolation prizes' for choosing to teach
- Parents/social media/students being reactive and quick to criticize teachers
Anyway, feel free to drop your comments!