When educators go over the edge: We need to reflect as a sector on contributing factors and not just focus on condemning the mistakes or ill-conduct
July 9, 2013, 12:56 am
Filed under: By Rachel Zeng, Early Childhood Education, Singapore

blocksThe week ended with a shocking and heart-wrenching news of a 3 year old child being mishandled by his teacher, resulting in a hairline fracture. A video clip taken by the child’s parents while the surveillance footage was shown to them ended up widely circulated on the internet and all of a sudden, the early childhood education (ECE) sector was under the scrutiny of the general public.

Internally of course, many discussions were happening all at the same time. Many fellow educators expressed anger and sadness about our counterpart who was involved in the case and over her actions. Reading the comments written by fellow colleagues in the sector as well as the general public affected me as much as this incident truly saddened me so here I am, sharing my thoughts about this whole incident and the reaction that follows.

Initial thoughts

In this case, a child was harmed in the process of being disciplined. Now this SHOULD NOT have happened because as early childhood educators, we are well aware that our actions and reactions have a great impact on young children. Commenting on this case in particular, the violence displayed can easily affect the child mentally and emotionally, on top of his physical injury. Sure, I was furious initially. 

However while I was fuming over it, a part of me was also trying to understand how and why such a horrible incident could have happened – what led to it – and the solutions that we need to put in place in order to prevent such incidents from ever happening again because all children deserve a safe environment to develop, learn and explore in. Then, I went through all the opinions that were expressed online, trying to find somewhere to begin… and the first thought that came to my mind was “Why do we only focus on the deed, waste time on labeling the educator involved rather than explore the whys and hows?”

The general experience of working as an early childhood educator

Working with young children is a joy because they are such intriguing creatures with amazing thoughts and imagination. Due to our understanding of how experiences and exposure in early childhood equip children with the necessary life-skills and attitudes that they will bring forth into their contributions towards the society of the future, we are well aware that we are touching the future as we facilitate their learning and development. Being a participant in the process of molding the future, is an amazing experience – for most of us anyway.

It should be entirely so, shouldn’t it? Well no, let me show you the reality.

Where on one hand we are filled with so much passion and joy, the amount of frustrations and stress early childhood educators face can get overwhelming too, especially when our working conditions can sometimes be really appalling and demotivating. Being an early childhood educator can be a physically and emotionally demanding profession. We are not only responsible for the well-being, development and learning of our students, we are also filled with numerous non-teaching related workload that can sometimes be carried out by cleaners and office administrators. As the cost of living goes up, we see our salaries becoming gradually insufficient. This is especially so for those with families to support. In addition, many of us are still not empowered to advocate for our students but are required by the management of our centres to fulfill the demands of parents… which at times, may be unreasonable (towards their children, and towards us).  There is also a lack of recognition of the importance of our role and while I am not blaming society at large for this, I think at the very least we should not be insulted with the label “high class nannies” and childcare centres should not be seen as a place for parents to “park” their children (people DO say things like that to us).

Indeed by plain descriptions, these may not seem like anything at all and unless one experiences it on a daily basis, the reality of how demotivated and frustrated we feel at times, may not be truly understood. It is also true that working conditions in some centres may be better than others but generally, things cannot remain stagnant in exploitation of our passion for our work. I am aware that the leaders of the sector are looking into ways to improve our working conditions but we need to speed things up as a sector… before the lack of early childhood educators becomes a crisis and this will actually come to aggravate the negativity because it simply means that our already heavy workload will have to increase again.

Let’s reflect and re-examine

Science informs us that actions of human beings derive from internal (well-being of self – psychologically, emotionally and mentally) and external (environment, working culture, expectations from and attitudes of society at large) factors. The level of resilience towards stress and frustrations varies from person to person. We cannot judge the whole ECE sector just by the actions of one or few teachers. This is why we need to talk about implementing holistic solutions that will work to prevent such an incident from happening again.

It saddens me that when such an issue pops up, people seem to only focus on the deed but not the other contributing factors that seriously need to be reflected upon and re-examined, in order to come up with preventive solutions for the well-being of children, teachers and parents.

No doubt as an educator, I condemn the action because the implications on the child can be seriously damaging. However, I can empathise with the educator while at the same time my heart goes out to the child and his family. Empathy with an individual though, is not the same as being supportive of her mistake. Nor am I saying that she should not shoulder her part of the responsibility and face the consequences. She should, and she needs help as well (counseling, anger management, medical attention if necessary).

A lot of reflections are needed here, rather than more hurtful words which aren’t really helping. We are gifted with the ability to think, reflect and problem solve. Pure condemnation without a series of thought processes is simply a lazy and non-productive way to utilise our brain cells and the intellectual abilities we are gifted with. I think we are all better than that.

An appeal

I would personally like to appeal to the general public not to judge the whole lot of us just because of one grave mistake or mistakes of one or a few educators. Early childhood educators are professionals who are well educated in child development, education and to a substantial extent, child psychology. We did not become educators to make life difficult for your children. In fact, I think most parents are quite aware that their children mean the world to us.

Nobody can and should deny that as human beings, all of us do get angry from time to time. That often does not lead to physical violence, but I do understand how easy it is for one to simply be pushed over the edge – for both parents and educators alike. To be completely honest, I do not know of any educator who has never had at least one angry moment in their entire teaching career so far (I am talking about years of teaching) but many of them have dealt with their negative emotions successfully without causing physical injury towards any child under their guidance.

And for the last point, while I understand that insecurities may sometimes cause short-cut solutions and thoughtless suggestions, I think it is very important to bring one of the most common suggestion up. Please do not use this incident to call for preschools and childcare centres to install CCTVs in their premises because:

a. implication on the ECE sector – this will only deepen the fallacy that all early childhood educators cannot be trusted;

b. possible implication on families/ school community – this will cause misunderstandings between parents whose children are involved in classroom conflicts (e.g., “Your child bit mine first, why can’t my child retaliate?”);

c. possible implication on parent-educator relations – this will cause misunderstandings between parents and educators if parents feel that their children are not being treated fairly (e.g., “My child was punched, and the other child just got a time-out and some questioning?”);

d. implication on society – this normalises surveillance in a country where surveillance is already almost everywhere;

e. implication on personal entitlement – educators NEED their right to privacy as well;

f. possible implication on personal entitlement of both students and educators – if we install CCTVs in classrooms now, are we sure that CCTVs will not be installed in the bath and toileting areas too?


P.S: Oh and by the way, I realised that many people have been using this opportunity to slam NTUC as an organisation. Come on, it is out of point and grossly opportunistic. Now let me just say this: Wrong battle here, and grow up. 


8 Comments so far
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It’s more a societal problem than sector problem although you have made some observations on society at large, e.g. attitude if parents? It’s an irony that the government is pushing for TFR but not societal conditions?

Comment by sbksim

You are right, it is a societal problem but it is also a sector problem. I cannot and do not want to blame society at large if they are not even aware of the importance of early childhood experiences and exposure. They are not even aware of the fact that we talk about brain development by looking at neuroscience. When I was doing my Bachelors, some people I know were surprised, asking “You need a Bachelors to take care of children?” or “Wah study what, how to wash backside more effectively ah?” I mean… we know what engineers, architects, doctors, political scientists etc learn in their training but who cares, when it comes to early childhood educators? (It has been so, for many years)

In fact, for so long, the government and media have been telling everyone that childcare centres are here to help parents with their load. The problem began from there and the problem gets further entrenched when many educators are not empowered or empowering themselves to advocate otherwise. We need to understand that in order to change perceptions, we need to change ourselves – from fitting into societal perception, to educating them about who we really are.

Comment by rachelabsinthe

I guess the roles of parents & childcare centres have been overly fudged and muddled then?

Comment by sbksim

Hi Rachel.

Great article on the whole episode about the reactionary response to the abuse but asking is there something fundamentally wrong with the expectation that with the puny resources given to the childcare industry as a whole, they are expected to work miracles, long hours, deal with sky high expectations of parents etc while being literally paid peanuts.

Saw your reply about about people questioning why you need will need a bachelor’s degree while you are in the childhood educator line and this embodies the chasm in expectations versus the role that you play.

Society expects childhood educators to do well without thinking that it needs effort, professionalism and education to do all of that.

Comment by Ruo Hui

Btw, I have cleaned at least 2 bottoms gor more than a year. It’s not that easy. It’s a skill in itself. Those people making such a cynical comment (most likely never cleaned one in their entire lifetime) should pray that they never get into a situation, where they need someone to clean their bottoms for them ever. It’s only then that they know that cleaning bottoms isn’t as simple as they think it is.

Comment by sbksim

[…] Knee-jerk responses? Out of proportion hysteria?  Maybe so and in response to these, Rachel Zeng on her blog has spoken out for teachers in the earlychildhood industry by addressing these condemnations and asked that we look at the teacher’s action against the backdrop of information and an understanding of the daily experiences that a teacher working with young children, has to go through.  Rachel also called on the public to not look at the actions of one early childhood educator and generalise all early childhood educators as the same.  Condemnation of the teacher in question without taking any factor into consideration and at teachers as a whole in the early childhood industry might have detrimental implications for all stakeholders, either directly linked to the centre or within the early childhood field (https://rachelzeng.wordpress.com/2013/07/09/when-educators-gets-pushed-over-the-edge-we-need-to-refle…). […]

Pingback by An Abuse That Almost Wasn’t | I Am A Human Being Too

Rachel, the early childhood field is so much richer with a person of your calibre, character, and spirit. Whichever centre you are working in (I am assuming that you are still working in one), should be the envy of all the others.

Comment by roni63

Thank you, and yes, I have been working in my current centre for the past 4 years – the longest I’ve ever been with one. That says a lot about the working culture here – the teamwork, the parent-teacher community, the appreciation (well, not monetary lol), the friendship… these are the reasons why I’ve been with them for so long.

Comment by rachelabsinthe

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