As See Weng Hong, then 43, pulled up towards the pre-school, he could hear the voices of children. Some were even crying.
Thoughts of self-doubt entered his mind – “Sure or not? Maybe let’s just call this off.”
But another voice in his head told him, “It’s ok, I’m a man. Let’s have some guts. These are just children – how bad could it be?”
Wiping off his cold sweat, he walked into the pre-school, and was met with a warm welcome from the centre principal. As he stepped into the classroom, his “world suddenly stopped”.
“The boys and girls looked at me, eyes wide open. They were just so adorable. When they wished me a good morning, they melted my heart,” he recalls.
At that moment, he made a commitment to create opportunities for these kids to start life on a proper footing.
The turning point
That was Weng Hong’s first day of school as a pre-school trainee teacher.
It all started in early 2019, when Weng Hong noticed his son was having learning difficulties in school, and conflicts with his teachers and friends.
Realising that he had neglected his son and family in favour of building up his career, the father-of two decided that priorities needed to be changed and he left his shipping job – a career he had purposefully built up for 20 years.
After 6 months spent rebuilding their relationship, Weng Hong felt that his son was more self-regulated in his behaviour, and he felt it was perhaps time for him to return to the workforce.
Weng Hong and his family
But something in him had changed – “During these months, I realised that I never really understood him as a child. I thought to myself, it’s time to learn something more – perhaps something related to children.”
Weng Hong visited an e2i career fair at Bedok, “without any expectations”. That’s where he saw a banner for a career in early childhood.
I was reluctant, but my wife, who is a primary school teacher reminded me, “You said you wanted to know more about children. There is no better place to learn as this is where it starts for every child.”
Opportunities in the Early Childhood sector
Overcoming fears and stereotypes
Switching industries at a later stage in life made Weng Hong feel self-conscious at times. He laughs, “I was 43 and I thought, I was an old dog, how do I learn new tricks?”
In addition, joining a sector that was predominantly female meant that he had to deal with others’ preconceptions and stereotypes.
“I had friends who were stunned when they heard I was teaching in a pre-school. Some wouldn’t believe I could last,” chuckles Weng Hong. “I don’t blame them – it’s a stereotype that has been built up for a long time.”
He says that what he brings to the table is nothing unusual. “Either gender can do a job. And we should model it to the children in a genuine way. Show them that in life, we shouldn’t be undermined by stereotypes.”
Misconceptions about the sector is something that Early Childhood (EC) educators have had to deal with.
Pauline Neo, centre principal of PCF Sparkletots@Eunos Blk 134 says that people assume that the work of EC educators is easy – that they are there only to “play games and sing songs with children”.
In truth, she notes, EC educators play an important part of the holistic development of the children. For instance, the lesson plans they create support the various aspects of the child’s development, such as physical, social, emotional and cognitive.
Besides conducting lessons, another important aspect of the work that EC educators do is to work together with parents, so there’s a “strong partnership with the families to ensure that children are getting the most out of learning, both at school and at home,” adds Pauline.
Purpose, passion, and patience
Today, Weng Hong teaches at a PCF Sparkletots pre-school in Joo Chiat and says he is more fulfilled than ever. “My rewards are seeing the children in school, being confident in what they do,” he says.
He says that he has also learnt to be more humble, patient and non-judgemental – traits that have enabled him to further improve his relationship with his son .
“I’ve learnt to be more respectful to him son and to be responsive to his needs. Now he would approach me to talk to me, ask me how are you. This was impossible one year ago,” he says.
Skills upgrading and career progression tracks
For those looking for career advancement and skills upgrading opportunities, the EC sector would not disappoint. Mum-of-4 and principal of Agape Little Uni at Cecil Street Mariayati Jayos can certainly attest to that.
She started her career as an assistant teacher some 18 years ago with “zero knowledge of Early Childhood Education.”
“I remember on my first day, I went in, was told, there’s the shower, and had to shower 20 over children. At the end of the day my whole body was aching,” she chuckles. These days, there is proper mentoring and coaching, and a skills framework you need to adhere to.
“All teachers should progress, but you need the right mindset, she adds.In the course of her career, Mariayati completed two certification courses, diplomas in pre-school teaching and leadership, followed by a bachelor's degree and, most recently, a master's degree.
Balancing full-time work with her studies and raising her family wasn’t easy. Mariayati recalls that when her kids were younger, she would return from work, spend time with them till they are asleep, then I would start doing my work. “Time management was crucial. I really had to prioritise my work well.”
Mariayati and her family
But she says it has been an extremely rewarding journey. “To be able to go from an assistant teacher to a teacher, to a senior teacher to a VP and to a principal now. When there’s a will, there’s a way.”
Mariayati encourages those looking to join the sector to explore courses that would make them more confident and competent in the course. Another tip would be to consider applying to join as a relief or assistant teacher first.
“These are stepping stones that can help you gain insight into the industry, and help you to be more prepared.” she says.
For more information on the job situation in the Early Childhood sector: https://www.mom.gov.sg/newsroom/press-releases/2020/1102-jobs-situation-report-12th-edition