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With less than 1 percent of pre-school teachers in Singapore being men, those in the sector may have to work hard to prove themselves and gain acceptance.
Early Childhood Education Kindergarten Teacher
SINGAPORE: Fit and athletic, 44-year-old Lorbert Tay has pictures in his office of his international triathlon achievements.
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But for every photo of him competing in a triathlon or posing with a medal, there are others that show his love for children and his passion for shaping young minds.
In Vienna, he leads a group of children walking around in colorful ponchos. In another, he’s in a mall, holding a fish and letting the kids touch it.
You can see that he is in his element when he is with the children. And the same for them.
Shouting “Master Lorbert!” fill the air while attending kindergarten. They run to him with bright faces, some try to climb on his back, and others seek to embrace him.
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The boy pulls his face away. Tay smiles and earns a giggle. Some of the children, he said later, even call him “Daddy” or “Papa.”
Tay, head of the Carpe Diem Preschool Network, is one of about 150 male preschool teachers in Singapore. They make up less than 1 percent of all early childhood educators.
As a man in a female-dominated environment who works with young children on a daily basis, Tay is well aware that his presence can make parents suspicious.
He remembers the first time he went to a course alone. It was 2010 and he was working at PAP Community Foundation (PCF) Sparkletots, Singapore’s largest preschool.
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“A lot of parents were very skeptical… What is this guy doing here?” he says. “Their imaginations went wild and they thought I was some kind of freak or sick person coming into the industry and trying to be a predator.
It was a sad moment for him. However, he also remembers how the director encouraged them not to give up and convinced their parents to give them a chance.
His first year in the industry was the most difficult. “My parents were worried, so every little thing…even a scratch or a mosquito bite was my fault,” he says. “I had to explain what my intentions were from start to finish and build trust with them.
“There were sleepless nights,” he says. “I felt like I had to work hard to prove myself, so I went to all the different YouTube videos and looked for interesting things that I hadn’t seen other teachers do.
Early Childhood Education In Singapore
“The rest of the year I had so much fun with the kids that they didn’t want the day to end. By the end of the year, even parents from other classes wanted to ask to be transferred to my class.”
As a male caregiver, he does not perform routine care such as showering or changing diapers. He also has some unspoken rules, such as not going into the children’s bathroom unnecessarily, lest he see a child undressed.
He also limits physical contact with children, and over the years has developed guidelines for himself and any teacher who might join the center. For example, she uses only one arm to hug her children – and that hug is limited to a pat on the back.
When he first joined the sector, he had no specific guidelines that defined what he could and could not do as a male educator. He decided to create his own to protect not only the children, but also himself.
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“I was under a lot of stress,” he says. “I had to watch my back to make sure I wasn’t doing things that would make my parents feel uncomfortable or upset.
He remembers how once, at the beginning of his career, he forgot about himself and hugged a child tightly. “When I turned around, my father was watching me like a hawk,” he recalls. “That’s when I realized… no, I made the mistake I told myself I shouldn’t.”
For parents like Elise Cheng, whose younger daughter attends the Tay Center, it’s clear that he tries to minimize contact with his children.
“With two girls, I will always be afraid of physical contact,” she says. “We will always be concerned about pedophiles or predators… especially when you read the news about people waiting outside schools to prey on girls.
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“But as time went on, when I saw (Tay) work, my confidence grew and now I’m very comfortable with him being with my two girls.
Following his instructions can be difficult, even sad at times, but he knows there are limits he cannot cross. “As much as I want to shower them with my love, I have to control myself,” he says.
After completing his studies in information technology, even after trying various jobs from IT to operations to sales, he would without a doubt apply to work in the Ministry of Education (MoE) as a primary school teacher.
“My friends believed I had a gift for touching children’s hearts,” he says. “They noticed that even their children, who do not interact well with strangers, would just enjoy my company, even when they saw me for the first time.
Early Childhood Education
There was no response from the Ministry of Agriculture for 10 years. But the opportunity to realize his dream came in 2009 when he came across the PCF stand at a job fair.
“There was a man standing there who asked me if I wanted to become a teacher,” she recalls. “I told him I wanted to … shape (the children’s) characters, and the best time to do that is when they’re young.”
“I didn’t even bring my credentials or anything, and I didn’t even apply for a real job,” Tay says with a laugh. He later found out that the man he met was the head of the PCF.
He joined Sparkletots in 2010, juggling his work at the center with a master’s degree in early childhood education. Despite the 50 percent cut in pay, hard work and challenges along the way, he was happy.
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Tay worked his way up, joining various operators before taking on an administrative role at Carpe Diem, ensuring his center ran smoothly.
He still enjoys the time he spends with his children and greets them by name every morning.
“They appreciate these small gestures … and they will feel happy and proud,” he explains. – I noticed that if they are happy to come, they will be happy all day.
According to the Early Childhood Development Agency (ECDA), male educators are valued because they can “help bring different strengths and perspectives to the sector”.
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However, the share of male teachers in the sector has been less than 1 percent for the past three years.
“Some early childhood educators have stated that there may be a perception that the early childhood education sector is more suitable for women, which may discourage men from joining it,” ECDA said in an email. by email to CNA Insider.
Muhammad Hadi Kamal realized that he was a “rose among thorns” when in 2010 entered Temasek Polytechnic and completed the Early Childhood Diploma course: of the 60 students in the cohort, five were male.
And for three out of five, their first choice was not a course, but psychology. “There are overlaps with psychology in early childhood,” explains Hadi, 25, now a teacher at NTUC First Campus – My First Skool.
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Although he had always wanted to join the sector since he was a teenager, another teacher, Darius Ng, 23, admits he left early because his O-level results in psychology weren’t the best. But, he says, he has since fallen in love with the job.
They were “the center of attention” at school, but Hadi shares how things were different after graduation: while his pre-school colleagues invited colleagues to visit the center or for interviews, eight out of 10 times he didn’t get a response to job applications. .
Today, however, Hadi is confident that the situation has improved. “The mindset has changed,” he says. “Many centers welcome male teachers, especially mid-career changers.”
According to ECDA, the proportion of full-time students enrolled in pre-employment graduate courses has doubled from around 4 per cent in 2014. to 8 percent in 2017 and remained stable last year.
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PCF Sparkletots and NTUC First Campus, both government-appointed leaders, said their centers welcome male educators.
“Feedback from parents and fellow PCF Sparkletots educators has been positive so far, as male preschool educators.
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