TL;DR – Losing one good teacher is one too many
The report on Oct 3 about 5,000 teachers leaving the profession over the last five years has generated a lot of discussion about the role of teachers. We have contributed to that discussion. We wrote about what we think MOE should stop doing so that they can improve the retention rate of teachers. We also wrote about how being taken for granted adds to teachers’ frustrations.
We are heartened that there are many voices who speak up for greater support and respect for teachers.
Teachers are mentors, not vendors
Mr William Wan, the general secretary of the Singapore Kindness Movement, wrote a letter to Straits Times Forum expressing his view that teachers should not be viewed as mere vendors. Instead, teachers should be viewed as mentors.
Why is this important?
Mr Wan explained it as such. If students and parents are treated as customers, and teachers are merely vendors, then the balance of power shifts unhealthily to parents and students. He cites discipline as a particular issue where this shift in power will create problems. It is not common nor easy for vendors to discipline their customers.
Also, if students are customers and teachers are merely vendors, then the relationship would likely become transactional. And that would be detrimental to our nation. Because, as Mr Wan put it, great teachers aren’t transactional. They are transformational. They don’t just teach. They mentor. They listen. They guide. They walk by the side of their students on their journey of personal growth.
It takes a village
But as dedicated as teachers are, they cannot do the job alone. As Mr Wan pointed out, it takes a whole village to educate a child. He reminded us that parents and the extended family have the prime responsibility of bringing up the child. That includes playing an active role in the child’s education. Especially in areas of general knowledge and, most importantly, values.
This is a point made by Mr Mike Thiruman, President of the Singapore Teachers’ Union (STU), in a letter to Straits Times. He said:
“(A) teacher’s work cannot be the sole determinant of a child’s development. Parents need to work in partnership with teachers in the education of their children. Parents play a crucial role in creating a healthy learning environment and the resources that a child requires to flourish and grow. It is to the child’s detriment if parents hold the view that teachers have the sole purview of such matters and cease their regular involvement at the other end.”
Respect and support teachers
And part of what the village can do in educating our children is to respect teachers. As Mr Thiruman reminded us, Singapore has an education system that is admired throughout the world, an education system we can be proud of. Teachers form the backbone of this education. But teachers are also human. They also need rest. They also need the respect they deserve.
Teachers also need as much support as they can get. That’s why Mr Thiruman encouraged that we, as a society, should do our part to strengthen the teaching profession by boosting our support of and for teachers. He emphasised that the STU will continually partner and engage MOE in discussions on how to improve the work conditions for teachers, as well as explore ways to retain experienced teachers. This is important. Because, as Mr Thiruman put it:
“Losing even one good teacher is one too many.”