Jaslyn accidentally cut a hole in her skirt. Doe-eyed Nabisah yelled at the top of her voice after another kid pulled her hair. Kenko smiled sheepishly after he had just wet himself.
“BEEP! BEEP! BEEP!” the RED ALERT lights flashed for 26-year-old Miss Tan, a preschool teacher at The Little Skool-House By-the-Vista.
Walking into the classroom with a quick scan of the situation, Miss Tan was swift on her feet. She dashed towards Jaslyn, who was now waving a pair of scissors in the air like an F-16 Falcon fighter jet soaring through the skies, seemingly looking for the next target to gnaw its teeth of blades.
Grabbing hold of the scissors, Miss Tan called out for the Centre attendant to bring a mop to wipe the puddle of freshly passed urine and change Kenko’s drenched uniform.
Miss Tan then made a somersault-like swing towards Nabisah and stretched out a ‘Care-Bear’ hug hoping to soothe the pain from the tug of her hair. Miraculously, that ‘Care-Bear’ hug did wonders and Nabisah was soon beaming with pleasure.
“Ok, all three cases settled”, Miss Tan muttered under her breath. She turned around and found me in the corner of the classroom, with my eyeballs enlarged and jaws visibly apart.
I was so mesmerised by her deft movements that I imagined myself to be in the world of superheroes!
Without skipping a beat, Miss Tan walked towards me and introduced herself.
Trying to compose myself from the shock, I could barely remember her name. Instead the moniker ‘Wonder Woman’ swirled repeatedly in my mind.
“Yes, Hi, Won…der… Wo…, I mean Miss Tan, nice to meet you. I would like to have a quick chat with you, if possible, as I am doing a story on a pre-school superhero…errh educator.” I stammered. Glancing at her watch, she nodded with an enchanting smile.
Miss Tan led me into an empty classroom. There, I gingerly laid my weight onto the seemingly fragile kid-sized stool and got ready to dive into the exciting world of preschool teachers.
Nina: Were there any memorable kids and encounters over the years?
Miss Tan: There certainly were quite a few of them. I particularly remember a pair of ‘special’ twins. One of them had a strange obsession. He would pick up strands of hairs from the floor and placed them into his mouth. His twin brother, on the other hand, was hyper-active and moved around the classroom during lessons.
After noticing their congenital conditions, I suggested to their parents that they needed professional help. We later discovered that the kids were kinesthetic learners who thrived better in a different childcare environment, with music and movement.
Let me share another heart-warming incident which touched me greatly.
One of my 6-year-old girls was caught by her mother in the toilet at home, snipping off her hair.
This girl had long, nice and beautiful tresses. Her mum was shocked with her actions and reprimanded her.
The girl then revealed that she was cutting her hair as she wanted to look like me.
Naturally, I was greatly touched by her gesture. However, this incident also reminds me that I am continually being looked upon by the kids as a role model. Thus I have to be mindful of my words and actions.
Nina: What are some of the challenges that you face daily as a preschool teacher?
Miss Tan: It is really challenging to handle a class of young children. Every child would have his or her own unique personality and temperament. As teachers, we need to manage that diversity.
A classroom could also be noisy and chaotic. Not everyone is able to remain composed under such stressful environments.
Beyond catering to each and every child’s needs and looking after them, we need to equip them with good social skills. Helping them to develop basic language and communication skills can also be a challenging task.
Nina: How do you overcome challenges when they arise?
Miss Tan: We believe that each child should be allowed to develop according to his or her ability. There will be times when our goals for them could not be met. When this occurs, I have to lower my expectations and accept the temporary failures which occur when the children cannot keep up.
For instance, when we conduct shape-cutting exercises, there will be kids who cannot get the exact shape out from the use of scissors. When this occurs, I would not get angry. Instead, I would try to help the child adapt and learn. I will do so by holding his hands and guiding him in his motor skills development.
Nina: What words of advice or motivational messages would you give to encourage other preschool teachers?
Miss Tan: First, I’ll advise them to persevere in what they do. We will not be able to see the immediate results coming to fruition but we must still persist. Every child is a unique gem with his or her own characteristics, be they out-going and boisterous or shy and reserved. Teachers typically have a group size of average 25 children. We have to try to do our best to treat all equally and to give equal attention to every child.
Though a day’s work may be tough, I have always persevered on. In fact, this is the most rewarding job that I have worked in. To me, the innocence and high energy levels of the young kids keep me motivated and going.
At that point, a little girl peered over the door with her pillow in her arm. Seeing this, Miss Tan reached out to her and resumed her role of a superhero once again.
As I bid farewell to Miss Tan, I could not help but admire the patience, grit and tolerance she has. What won me over was the passion which she exuded when she spoke of the joy and fulfilment as well as the frustrations and challenges she faced in her job.
I left the Centre brimming with a new found inspiration, assured that the message of ‘Equal Head Start’ was deeply ingrained in our pre-school philosophy.