Over the weekend, a Facebook post about the unseen bullying that Singaporean teachers face went viral. It featured Instagram replies from teachers about the physical, mental, and emotional abuse they take on from parents and students.
As if the post wasn’t shocking enough, the comments section also appeared to comprise teachers who chimed in to express the similar experiences they faced.
In light of the culture of bullying that happens to teachers, the following is written from the perspective of a new teacher, and is based on actual events that were shared with the author.
I am the former.
Fresh out of JC, I fell for the heartwarming Facebook videos that the Ministry of Education uses to promote teaching as a career and not a jail sentence. The ads follow a tried-and-tested formula used in Thai insurance commercials: weepy background music, melodramatic storyline, and a gullible audience.
MOE enjoys the trope of magnanimous teacher helping delinquent student turn over a new leaf in school, especially if said student becomes a teacher in the end. In reality, teachers are constantly bombarded by administrative work from their management and messages in WhatsApp group chats with their students’ parents that they’d barely have time to breathe, let alone teach.
Yet the glossy narrative continues to work. Every year, hundreds apply for the MOE scholarship, hoping to “mould the minds of the next generation” and “make a difference”. They are unaware that the biggest difference they’ll make is to their belief about what a teacher does.
For once, I’d like to see an ad portraying the frustrations we face daily, such as parents who think they know our syllabus better than we do, parents who don’t know how to discipline their children, and parents who relentlessly spam our parent-teacher WhatsApp chat groups demanding updates about their children.
And have I mentioned parents?
A recent Reddit thread revealed a few of these monsters that teachers have to deal with, such as parents who question what we know since we’re ‘just’ teachers and parents who tell their child not to be teachers because we don’t earn a lot.
To be fair, the latter is not wrong.
Most interestingly, one Redditor said there are apparently parents who are civil servants themselves who resort to using their work emails to write to schools to complain about their child’s teachers.
I am secretly impressed by their unwavering commitment to being a civil servant. After all, some would say the core pillars of the civil service include passive-aggressiveness, not confronting problems directly, and writing 500-word emails for every minuscule issue that can be better resolved by speaking on the phone.
Unfortunately, the parents I meet are no better; they leave me worried for our younger generation. On a regular day, my colleagues and I receive about 50 WhatsApp messages from parents … of one child … by 12 noon.
Hand to heart, here are some of the actual texts we’ve gotten:
“Can help me see my son is drinking enough water? Thks.”
“What u teaching today?”
“Possible to transfer my daughter to another cca? Pls thks.”
“Can help my son w tuition hmwk?”
Then there was the time that a mother asked whether I could give her son less homework because it ate into his tuition time. When I politely said I could not entertain her request, she asked me whether I would be willing to take responsibility if he flunked his studies.
Ma’am, I’d informed her, that is literally my job.
That day, it took everything in me not to question if her son was attending tuition because he possessed the same reasoning skills she had.
There’s also the father whose daughter was perpetually late to school. During the Parent-Teacher Meeting last month, I discovered the reason was that he could never wake up on time to send her to school. In response, I quoted Minister Ong Ye Kung: moral values should be best taught at home.
Thankfully, the father was apologetic. The next day, his daughter was only 15 minutes late.
Finally, there’s the couple who would discuss their personal problems in the same group chat, leaving me privy to their skeletons in the closet. After a few months, I still had no idea why their daughter couldn’t pay attention in class or complete her homework, but I knew the wife’s boss’s least favourite colleague’s irritating work habits.
I am no longer just a teacher, but also a time-keeper, admin assistant, and therapist.
Unfortunately, we are restricted from speaking to the media or posting our frustrations online. In the primary school where I teach, for example, I can’t quite speak up about parents who cross boundaries without appearing ungrateful or murderous. As a result of having to cope with the expectations of around 80 parents per class, and having been added to 40 different WhatsApp group chats with my students’ parents in the last month, I jump every time my phone screen lights up.
In response to my deteriorating mental health, my principal has simply advised me to “mute the chats”.
A school’s teachers are at the mercy of parents unless the principal has a backbone. So I was initially miffed that he didn’t have my back, after all the effort my colleagues and I put in to improve our school’s ranking by turning PE lessons into English and Math lessons.
But I admit his advice left me reconsidering my career aspirations: it would be a dream to get paid for being just as useless one day.
Of course, there are moments when I forget about every burst blood vessel and anxiety attack. Yesterday, for the first time in months, my phone was silent for two whole hours that I thought my students’ parents had died.
Turns out, it was just Mother’s Day.
If all else fails, there’s a rumour that the Institute of Mental Health has a ward reserved for teachers. But after being a teacher for a year, I have reason to believe that is a lie.
One ward wouldn’t be enough.