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That Mama (and Papa): Saying Thank You to Our Teacher Heroes in Singapore

singapore teachers superheroes distance learning circuit breaker
LearnPost Category - LearnLearnFamily LifePost Category - Family LifeFamily Life - Post Category - That MamaThat Mama

Eight Singapore teachers reflect on the dual challenge of managing distance learning as educators AND parents during the Circuit Breaker

As we head into a new school year filled with all sorts of new safety precautions and social distancing measures, we also want to reflect on the tremendous educational challenges that we all faced during the Circuit Breaker. Distance learning was not easy for anyone — students, who missed out on social interaction; parents, who had to simultaneously monitor online schooling (and offline schoolwork) while working from home; and teachers, who had to quickly master new modes of digital instruction while also maintaining individual connections with their students. Imagine the stress of having to combine those last two! 

When lockdown began, parents around the world expressed their tremendous gratitude to teachers, with a new appreciation for exactly how hard it is to teach kids. There were memes about paying them billion dollar salaries, and jokes about drinking on the job.

Here at Sassy Mama, we are simply in awe of teachers! To say thank you, we wanted to spotlight Singapore teachers from international schools and preschools across the island who amazingly managed to balance distance learning with their own parenting duties during the Circuit Breaker. We owe a tremendous debt of gratitude to these educators AND their families, who so generously shared their parents with their lucky students. Read on to learn more about these resilient families!

Rachel Seow, Blue House International Preschool
Jennifer and Jason Jenson, Chatsworth International School
Principal Eugene Low, The Grange Institution
Shiza Rajgarhia, Invictus International School
Sara Ngooi, The Perse School Singapore
Huang Yuqing Laoshi, Shaws Preschool
Charlotte Clancy, The Swiss School in Singapore

singapore teachers rachel seow blue house

Rachel Seow, Blue House International Preschool

Nationality: Singaporean
Ages of your kids
: 7 and 11

How did your own kids’ experience with distance learning impact your approach to teaching your students remotely?
My children are both in elementary school, so they had formal lessons, homework, and so forth, which meant, unavoidably, sitting in front of the computer at set times, on a daily basis. I knew that especially with preschool-age children, we wanted to avoid that style of learning as much as possible, and instead tried to offer open-ended experiences that could be interpreted by the children in their own unique way, and carried out without time constraints. We also emphasised that the children were free to participate as much or as little as they wanted — though we often found they were excited by their work and eager to share what they had done, with the educators and their peers. 

How did you take breaks for yourself?
I’ve always taken my breaks after the children are in bed at night, and so the Circuit Breaker didn’t change this. However, I loved taking short walks in the neighbourhood with my children, to get us all out of the house for some fresh air. When we’d been cooped up inside for too long, this felt like a break, for me.    

What was the most memorable activity you did with your kids?
Each time we went for a walk, my children and I would try heading out in a different direction. One day, we took a side lane we’d previously seen but had yet to venture down. It was a pedestrian-only path with heavy jungle foliage on both sides. At one point, we saw a small clearing off to one side and decided to explore. When we reached the middle of the clearing and glanced around, in every direction there was only grass, trees, blue sky, and these beautiful red-headed woodpeckers flitting overhead. The only sounds we could hear were birds and insects. It felt like we were in another world–a magical moment just for us.

What was the aspect of ‘normal’ school that you missed the most and were happiest to return to?
Our class of three educators and sixteen children is like one big family and it was impossible to capture the warmth and cohesion of that through Google Meet calls. Even one-on-one video calls lacked the intimacy of actually crouching down before a child and listening to them tell you something that has tickled them, seeing the changing nuances in their face, making eye contact, and having a good laugh together. 

Were there any surprising benefits from distance learning that you will incorporate into your teaching going forward?
Having their works published on Google Classroom was a point of pride for many of the children in my class. They loved sharing what they had done and then reading feedback from their teachers and friends, as well as writing comments of their own. Although our school makes a point of documenting the children’s work in a variety of media, having the children and their parents become actively involved in sharing their work was something new and meaningful.  

What was the greatest lesson that your children took away from the Circuit Breaker? What about from the ongoing COVID situation in Singapore?
I think it was certainly a lesson in resilience. For my children, who are both natural worriers, this was their first real encounter with something completely out of our control. Although I did my best to be reassuring, there was no way to sugarcoat the situation when our lives were so drastically affected. I’m sure there were times my children felt they could have happily stayed barricaded within our home forever. However, the short walks we took together were a small way they could confront their fears and find little moments of respite from the psychological toll of our isolation. And when their schools reopened, I know their first morning back was one filled with dread. However, they have been openly sharing their feelings with me, trying their best to process them, as we go through this uncertain time together. As the days pass and we incrementally drift back toward normalcy, we relish each reclaimed moment: a visit to the library, trying out a new ice cream shop, seeing Grandma again. I hope my children look back on this year and feel proud of themselves.

singapore teachers jennifer jason jenson chatsworth international school

Jennifer & Jason Jenson, Chatsworth International School

Nationality: British (Jason) and American (Jennifer)
Ages of your kids: 10 and 12

What was the #1 challenge for YOU when it came to balancing remote teaching with your own kids’ distance learning during the Circuit Breaker?
Issues of space, first and foremost. With two teachers and two students in the same household, sometimes simultaneously either taking or teaching class, we learned pretty early on that rooms needed to be assigned beforehand to prevent a last-minute musical chairs-type scenario, especially since some rooms had better work spaces and/or WiFi than others. This quickly led to us converting our daughter’s bedroom into a dedicated office for the duration. Other than that, having a class of students to take care of made it logistically difficult to “monitor” our own children’s learning whilst simultaneously teaching. Fortunately, our children are both of an age that they are fairly good at self-regulating and are comfortable with the technological challenges of home-based learning.

How did your own kids’ experience with distance learning impact your approach to teaching your students remotely?
It gave us insight into what they would likely be doing once the teacher had allowed them time to work alone with the tempting distraction of the world wide web – or games – just a click away. It also allowed us to see how much “chat” was occurring between students, whilst they were being taught. In addition, it cemented the value of personal check-ins with students, which were vital to keep them on task, to iron out any confusion, and to provide assistance when students were required to do individual work.

Seeing our own children’s joy at being able to connect with peers again during lockdown also reinforced the importance of HBL lessons as a source of comfort and normalcy for students. As a result, the social-emotional aspects of learning took a higher priority, and we actively worked to incorporate more opportunities for informal discussion, small group activities, and pair work into HBL lessons to allow for more social connection.

Finally, observing our children’s lifestyle changes brought about by sitting on laptops for so many hours also helped us take stock of the total workload we gave to our students. I think seeing HBL through the parental lens helped us be more realistic about what students could reasonably accomplish whilst still maintaining a balanced life.

How did you take breaks for yourself?
As part of our children’s virtual PE lessons they were required to log their daily exercise. This led to us using Strava GPS Cycling and Running App, which became a fun way for the whole family to chart their exercise. After a full day of teaching we were generally all eager to leave our home and get moving after being cooped up indoors.

The occasional grocery run during lunch break also helped to break up the routine when we really needed some alone time to decompress during the day.

What was the most memorable activity you did with your kids?
Ironically, we have all been exercising far more during the circuit breaker than before it began. Jason cycled over 2000 kilometers, Jennifer polished off 500km, and our children Kiva and Mandalay have pitched in with a cheeky 250km of cycling during those eight weeks. Another memorable activity was helping our daughter bake and decorate a multi-tiered fondant cake for her birthday, as one of many time-consuming cooking projects we embarked on together to fuel up for cycling!

Were there any surprising benefits from distance learning that you will incorporate into your teaching going forward?
Some of the more introverted students really found their voice in the relatively low-pressure atmosphere of the online classroom, where they could participate and share their ideas in written rather than oral form. Knowing this, we will definitely include more opportunities for students to participate in this way even when they are back in the classroom.

What was the greatest lesson that your children took away from the Circuit Breaker? What about from the ongoing COVID situation in Singapore?
They realized that every situation has its own silver lining. Our own children were really keen to return to school to see their friends when on-campus learning resumed, but they did appreciate the flexibility they had during home-based learning. No commute meant sleeping in an hour later and more free time after school, too.

Our kids have not been overly worried about the coronavirus, but they understood the reasons behind the Circuit Breaker. They also spent some time tracking and graphing the rate of increase of COVID cases in various countries (because that’s what a teacher’s kid gets given as an option when he suggests he is bored)!

singapore teachers eugene low grange institution principal with son

Principal Eugene Low, The Grange Institution

Nationality: Singaporean
Ages of your kids
: Aden (4+ years); Zephan (1 year)

What was the #1 challenge for YOU when it came to balancing remote teaching with your own kids’ distance learning during the Circuit Breaker?
The greatest challenge for me, probably not unlike most parents, was that due to my own Work-from-Home arrangements and the demands of my role at school, and also due to the clash in timings of my own school’s e-lessons and my son Aden’s, I was usually unable to accompany him during his synchronous e-learning sessions.

How did your own kids’ experience with distance learning impact your approach to teaching your students remotely?
Being a parent myself, having to juggle my own work and my son’s e-learning allowed me to empathise with the challenges and frustrations that parents at my school would face. It also influenced my decision-making as a Principal when implementing arrangements for home-based learning for my school teachers and students.

How did you take breaks for yourself?
Initially I surrounded myself with snacks and drinks and realised because everything was within reach, I ended up not having deliberate (and decent) breaks for myself. It soon evolved to me leaving my desk and walking to my son and hugging him, or rummaging through the fridge as a way to take a mental break from work. Once we got into routine, my son Aden and I started a really precious routine of squeezing in a 20-minute nap at lunchtime. We cuddled in bed and snoozed away!

What was the most memorable activity you did with your kids?
Our favourite were the kitchen/science experiments that Aden’s teachers had designed to promote home learning opportunities between parents and students.

Were there any surprising benefits from distance learning that you will incorporate into your teaching going forward?
Unlike a typical classroom setting where the use of computers and electronic devices can sometimes feel like they indirectly and unintentionally create distancing, the use of devices and technology during HBL felt the opposite — I felt it truly forced educators to select methods and formats, and carefully design their lessons, to centre on creating opportunities for collaboration and sharing, and cut out any frivolous activities.

What was the greatest lesson that your children took away from the Circuit Breaker? What about from the ongoing COVID situation in Singapore?
I still want to believe that schools provide a unique social interaction experience that, while it can be mimicked, cannot be replaced by “seeing” each other on the computer screen. For students in the elementary age group, the human connection is evidently important, unlike higher-level education contexts. Distance learning also reminds us of those important 21st century skills that are way more important than mere memorisation and factual knowledge recall.

The COVID-19 situation in Singapore teaches every adult and student about Caring, Respect, Empathy, Compassion, Resilience, Interdependence and Self-discipline. These are the more important lessons in life, after all.

singapore teachers shiza Rajgarhia invictus international school

Shiza Rajgarhia, Invictus International School

Nationality: Indian
Ages of your kids: 8.5 years and 5 years

What was the #1 challenge for YOU when it came to balancing remote teaching with your own kids’ distance learning during the Circuit Breaker?
The number 1 challenge for me as a teacher and a parent was to be available for my own kids whenever they needed me. My older child is 8+ and very independent with her schoolwork, however, there were times when I was not able to upload her assignments on time or help her with an elaborate project. My younger child needed an adult to be with him for Zoom lessons and other online activities, which was impossible, hence I excused ourselves from the online lessons, and instead created his own schedule that allowed me to be on my job.

How did your own kids’ experience with distance learning impact your approach to teaching your students remotely?
It gave me a very good perspective on what parents were dealing with. I completely understood how hard and almost impossible it may be for so many working parents or stay-at-home parents with more than one child to help out, especially if their children are in lower primary school. As a result, I made sure I included live lessons for the class to teach new concepts and go over assignments. I also organized small groups for students who may need extra assistance. I tried to stay connected with the parents who found it challenging, and we came up with a plan that best suited their specific family situation and needs. 

How did you take breaks for yourself?
For breaks, I religiously went biking in the evenings.

What was the most memorable activity you did with your kids?
Walks to the Botanic Gardens, imagining we were in a secret garden with mysteries to solve. With regular visits to the gardens, we started to pay attention to the flora and fauna there, took pictures and sometimes came back and sketched them. That is something I hope to continue to do. 

What was the aspect of ‘normal’ school that you missed the most and were happiest to return to?
I missed the Aha! moments that you experience in class. I missed impromptu activities that take shape during lessons and take a life of their own. It was also hard to give one-on-one time to the students. I missed chatting with students during snack time and circle time — socialising on Google Meet as a class was not the same. Many students mused about how doing the same activities as a class in the classroom always seemed way easier and much more fun than doing it remotely.

Were there any surprising benefits from distance learning that you will incorporate into your teaching going forward?
Absolutely! I realised how some students did so well when given an opportunity to learn at their own pace with pre-recorded lessons. I would like to incorporate this aspect into my teaching. This provides the flexibility to be able to go back to the lesson and take their time to understand a concept or practice a skill in their own time. Distance learning also helped students build independence. They needed to be organised and think about and record the questions they wanted to clarify as they could no longer rely on a teacher being constantly available to immediately clarify their doubts. While they initially struggled with this new limitation, with practice and taught strategies they soon learned how to cope and became more independent in their learning. While they initially struggled with the limitation imposed on the reliance on instant gratification and an adult being available all the time to answer their questions, with practice and strategies they learned how to cope with it.

What was the greatest lesson that your children took away from the Circuit Breaker? What about from the ongoing COVID situation in Singapore?
On the very last day of ‘normal’ school my students and I talked about COVID-19 and what was happening around us. I could tell how nervous and anxious they were, especially about distance learning. We acknowledged that there was a big problem out there and at this point people are still at the stage where they are trying their best to find a solution. No one has given up and no one will give up just because it is such a big problem and is overwhelming. It is these skills that you have to focus on. Our mantra throughout the distance learning was to try our best, to ask for help when we feel overwhelmed, and we do not need to excel at anything but our attitude towards problems that we will face.

singapore teachers sara ngooi perse school

Sara Ngooi, The Perse School Singapore

Nationality: Malaysian
Ages of your kids: 5 and 1

What was the #1 challenge for YOU when it came to balancing remote teaching with your own kids’ distance learning during the Circuit Breaker?
Ensuring my 5-year-old stayed in front of her laptop during her zoom lessons as well as ensuring that she completed her daily assignments to be presented at the end of every school day in between my teaching schedule. The ultimate challenge was having both my teaching and my daughter’s lesson happening at the same time! As she is only 5 she needs supervision to focus during her lessons. There were times I had to guiltily let go of her lessons.

How did your own kids’ experience with distance learning impact your approach to teaching your students remotely?
I always kept parents in mind during my lesson planning as I struggled myself to keep up with my daughter’s HBL. I would consciously plan for my lessons to encourage independent learning from the students and not require too much parental involvement as they too need to work or cater to everyone’s needs.

How did you take breaks for yourself?
It was hard to take breaks with a 5 and 1-year-old constantly looking for me knowing that I am home. The most effective break was to lock the room door or avoid having my 1-year-old spot me at home. I tried to watch a short episode of cartoon with my girls, giving them a lot of hugs, to hopefully have them be less clingy for a while.

What was the most memorable activity you did with your kids?
I came up with little cooking and baking projects to keep my 5-year-old busy at home. It was fun (although I am really bad at baking!), and it helped us reconnect as I’d been busy since having a newborn and struggled to have quality time with my older child.

What was the greatest lesson that your children took away from the Circuit Breaker? What about from the ongoing COVID situation in Singapore?
My daughter definitely missed school so much that she was counting down the days to return, but sadly the summer break started after only 3 weeks back in school. I think she learned that Mummy is not as sweet as her school teacher — nagging her to no end with her work. Reading about the many victims of the virus from all around the world, we learned to be thankful to remain safe each day with a healthy body.

singapore teachers huang laoshi shaws preschool son

Huang Yuqing Laoshi, Shaws Preschool @ Lorong Chuan

Nationality: Chinese
Ages of your kids: 6, 5 and 1

What was the #1 challenge for YOU when it came to balancing remote teaching with your own kids’ distance learning during the Circuit Breaker?
As a teacher, I had to conduct the HBL from home. My children didn’t understand that although I was at home, I was working. I had to lock myself in my room to conduct my lessons. From the outside, they wondered who I was “talking” to as I conducted the lessons with the children. So after the first couple of days, I let them in and they watched me do my lessons and I involved them in what I was doing. They slowly started to understand that I was teaching children who were in their homes, from my home.

My own children had their HBL; my middle child is at Shaws so I could see the teacher’s teaching method as an outsider and also learned from them.

What was the aspect of ‘normal’ school that you missed the most and were happiest to return to?
During HBL I tried my hardest to not to just teach the children but to make a connection with them. But I really missed them being physically close to me — the hugs, the cuddles, the little glances. The raised eyebrows when they were confused, the rolling around the floor in laughter. The children were great during HBL but it still is wonderful to have them in the classroom, asking all their millions of questions. I am so happy to have them back! Although we have safe distancing in place, I am so happy to have them close by in the classroom.

What was the greatest lesson that your children took away from the Circuit Breaker?
Despite all the limitations and challenges, the children were so resilient. They learnt so quickly how to adapt to online classes. And also when they returned they adapted so well to the safe distancing rules. I am so proud of how the children coped and are coping.

singapore teachers charlotte clancy swiss school

Charlotte Clancy, The Swiss School in Singapore

Nationality: Swiss
Ages of your kids: Two daughters (6 and 7)

What was the #1 challenge for YOU when it came to balancing remote teaching with your own kids’ distance learning during the Circuit Breaker?
Often my teaching lessons collided with my children’s. So I could not assist my children a lot on how to get used to the hangout meets. I didn’t have much time to cater for my own children’s needs for their homework, as I was highly occupied with individual lesions, feedback, planning and organising, along with catering for many different parents of various backgrounds in both German and in English.

For me, the most challenging time of day was preparing videos with instructions for the children and parents. As we had a full house in a tiny flat – husband, kids, dog and cat – it was not easy to find a quiet spot, time, light, background, silence to create these films.

How did you take breaks for yourself?
Hahaha… is that a joke? 😉 Saturday late afternoon a walk or cycle around the block just by myself felt like a holiday. There was little to no free time, as planning lessons and weekly schedules ahead from home with very little equipment was a challenging situation.

What was the most memorable activity you did with your kids?
The most mundane tasks like walking the dog or cycling to the baker, but it was just a priceless experience, the most beautiful time. I truly enjoyed every minute of it.

What was the aspect of ‘normal’ school that you missed the most and were happiest to return to?
The closeness to the children. I could reach them much better; it’s not always easy to get their attention and focus over the screen. Just to walk around the schoolyard and see them play and interact again. Despite the masks and distancing rules, it felt like a piece of normality coming back.

Were there any surprising benefits from distance learning that you will incorporate into your teaching going forward?
Parent talks were much easier, as most parents got a real insight on their children’s learning attitude. Parents were more involved, they were able to share their points well, and we mostly saw eye to eye.

What was the greatest lesson that your children took away from the Circuit Breaker? What about from the ongoing COVID situation in Singapore?
That life can be unpredictable but still good, as we can be happy and content with very little.

Another big THANK YOU to all of these teachers, and to EVERY teacher in Singapore who help our children learn and grow!

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