The Brutally Honest Truth About Teaching in Public Schools
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The Brutally Honest Truth About Teaching in Public Schools

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Note: This article is part of the Broke Salaryman series. A teacher wrote the article based on her experiences and it has been edited it for style.

TWS-Teacher Balancing Side Hustles

In 2007, I quit my sales job selling science lab equipment to become a teacher.

It was a career move my younger self could never have predicted.

I had done relief-teaching in the past, so I knew teaching could be challenging.

I even told myself it was the last thing I’d do.

But three years in the private sector had left me disillusioned.

I sought purpose and a meaningful career.

That’s why I took that big pay cut.

And also why I humbled myself and went back to NIE to be a student again.

Like all teachers, I started out bright-eyed and inspired to make a difference.

Here’s what I wished I knew before taking the plunge.

Teaching Isn’t as Easy as People Make It out to Be…

TWS-changing-heads

People imagine teaching to be reading off a standard lesson plan to a class.

They could not be more wrong.

It’s more challenging than you think:

Classroom Management

Controlling a child is hard.

But try 36 to 40 of them.

Think about it.

When was the last time you stayed fully attentive in a meeting?

Children have much less resolve when it comes to staying focused.

‘One-Size-Fits-All’ Doesn’t Exist

Teachers have to differentiate their teaching to the diverse learning abilities of students — learning difficulties included.

So yes, it is easy to teach children.

But learning?

It’s a whole different ball-game.

‘Customer Service’ to Some Parents Who Treat You Like a Vendor

Even if you get along effortlessly with children, working with their parents can be trying.

Most parents are quite civil and appreciative.

But the rest can make your life unpleasant.

Be prepared to be in WhatsApp chat groups dealing with vocal, over-involved, passive-aggressive or helicopter-style parents who simply know no boundaries.

The Myth of Teachers Having ‘Lots of Time’

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School Holidays

During the March Holidays (5 days officially), teachers only get two or three days.

When it comes to the June and December Holidays (4-6 weeks officially).

Teachers get around 2 to 2.5 weeks in June.

And 4 weeks in December.

Some people will say:

  • “But why don’t teachers just give tuition during the free time?”
  • “A lot of time what… school ends so early.”
  • “Some more got school holidays, so free.”

(Side note: If you’ve said any of the above to a teacher, I’d highly recommend you to stop.)

Yes, the school timetable runs from 7am to 1pm.

But the work for teachers continues well after that.

Work-life balance is a rarity.

There are other responsibilities such as Co-Curricular Activities (CCA), enrichment and remedial lessons, as well as meetings.

And these take up a significant portion of our time.

Marking Is Another Huge Time Sink

During peak season, this can be around 70% of the job.

Especially if you teach core subjects such as English, Mathematics, and Science.

On top of that, you need to plan your lesson for the next day.

In fact, many teachers start their day before daybreak and leave school at sunset.

Even if you see teachers leaving early, they bring their work home to mark!

Finally, while there are 12 weeks of holiday each year, teachers will still be called up for duty and meetings.

Teachers have to plan the curriculum for the next semester or year before they can enjoy the holidays.

So, PLEASE, do not complain that the December holidays are too long.

The Woke Salaryman Weighs In

Primary school teachers do get paid an ok — not high, not low, just ok — salary in Singapore.

But if you look at the hours they have to put in — up to 12-13 hours a day, sometimes including weekends — then their hourly rate is far less attractive.

If you coupled this the lack of time to pursue side hustles.

It’s very possible for a teacher to get a nasty combination of burnout and broke-ness.

Especially if they don’t start financial planning early.

If You’re a Teacher, Here’s What I’d Advise You to Do…

Spend or Invest Your Bonuses Wisely

While the urge to splurge the bonuses to reward yourself for surviving a treacherous year is understandable, it is important to look beyond enjoyment.

Instead of going on an expensive holiday, invest.

Teachers might not have time to monitor the stock market, so you can choose to automate it through a robo-advisor (many these days), a trusted financial advisor, or one of the many regular saving plans offered by the banks out there.

And as for rewards for students?

You don’t have to be extravagant — they can be as simple as a handwritten card with words of encouragement.

Don’t overspend.

Avoid getting a car

Unless there are good reasons to justify getting a car (eg. family needs), however, Singapore’s public transport system is still pretty low cost and efficient.

Any car that is parked in the school compound till late afternoon is under-utilised and a waste of resources.

Not to mention, parking is no longer free for teachers since 2018.

Also, teachers still need to pay season parking (albeit a smaller fee) during the holidays.

If you stay further away from school, reach out to other teachers who stay in the same area to carpool (eg. take taxis or private hire together) to save on travel time and cost.

Self-Care Lowers the Chances of Burn Out

Teaching can be emotionally, mentally, and physically draining.

Often, teachers go the extra mile for their students to help them overcome setbacks and achieve their goals.

Despite falling ill, some teachers still report to work because there are just too many things that need to be completed.

Not to mention, inevitably feeling guilty that your colleagues have to relieve your lessons during their free periods.

However, teachers are humans, not machines.

It might seem selfish, but it’s important to take a day of rest to recuperate faster and fight the battle another day.

Because if you can’t help yourself, you can’t help your students.

Think Twice Before Throwing the Letter to Embark on Contract Teaching

I’ve noticed a trend of teachers burning out, resigning, and then returning as a contract teacher.

These contracts are short term (1 to 1.5 years), and subsequent renewal is subjected to your work performance AND school needs.

My opinion is that this particular career move needs to be considered more carefully.

Why?

  • Contract teaching does not mean that the workload is less — it is dependent on the school’s needs
  • While you may get some of the service benefits, promotion and some of the remuneration bonuses do not apply for this position
  • It also doesn’t progress your teaching career in any way. Should you decide to come back and work after, you’ll just be in the same situation all over again.

My own opinion is that I’d only consider contract or adjunct teaching once I’ve attained financial freedom or stability.

And STILL have a passion for teaching.

The more sustainable thing to do?

Set professional and personal boundaries when it comes to work (read: see the previous point).

Should You Decide to Leave, Have an Exit Plan

There are several options available to teachers after leaving the profession, including developing a specialisation.

To differentiate yourself from all the other former-teachers out there, consider upgrading yourself with skills that can help students with special needs (eg. dyslexia).

This way you have another set of specialised skills apart from just doing contract teaching in school and can supplement your income with tuition after quitting.

The Woke Salaryman Weighs In

We make the case that teachers should invest more aggressively instead of holding huge amounts of cash in their bank account because of the sheer stability of the job (though this might change in the future).

People with unstable income need more emergency funds and vice versa.

A stable job is like a safety net.

It gives you holding power.

Instead of sitting in the net, use it to reach for bigger financial goals.

Teachers can also take advantage of knowing exactly where their next paycheck will come from.

A Parting Note

TWS-Teacher-Parting-note

If you want riches and wealth, stop right there.

You’re joining the wrong profession.

A career in teaching — in the public school system, at least — requires patience, time, effort and a genuine love of children.

I’ve found it to be deeply fulfilling, but it’s definitely not a job for everyone.

Or a career that you start ‘because you didn’t know what else to do’ — as many uninformed people tend to say.

That said, if you have prudent financial habits and start early, you can accumulate a sizeable amount of savings by your 30s and 40s.

The Woke Salaryman Weighs In

And what should you do with those amount of savings?

Well, if there’s one thing we’ve learnt from running The Woke Salaryman, is that money brings opportunities — including the ability to constantly reinvent.

After all, if anyone should be subscribing to lifelong learning, it’s the educators themselves.

Stay Woke, Salaryman (and teachers and teachers-to-be).


Other Saving Tips Collected From Our Teacher Friends

1) School Canteen Food Remains One of the Main Ways Teachers Can Save Money

A friend of ours said that he used to be able to spend no more than $10 a week in school.

That’s insane by corporate warrior standards!

If you’re serious about saving money, try to cut down on food delivery.

2) Sports CCAs Can Be a Great Way for You to Keep Fit

So join one instead of depending on a gym membership.

Also, if you know a Physical Education teacher (which you will), they could help you out instead of hiring a personal trainer.

3) Teachers Are a Diverse Bunch of People With Different Interests and Expertise

And their knowledge is often related to the subject they teach!

For example, history or geography teachers might know of travel sites to visit on a holiday.

Home Economics teachers can probably recommend something nutritious and easy to cook.

Art teachers might have great interior design ideas…

You get the drift.

4) If You Have Children of Your Own

You can probably save on assessment books.

And maybe get access to more affordable tuition — if that’s needed.

P.S. we’ve omitted some shady tips such as ‘kop all the stationery from school’ or ‘make the printing aunty do your wedding props’, but we’re sure some of these will pop up in the comments section anyway!


This article first appeared on The Woke Salaryman and is part of a content syndication agreement between The Woke Salaryman and Seedly.

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For this series of comics that are related to all things personal finance, the Seedly team worked closely with The Woke Salaryman to bring you useful sh*t which you can apply to your everyday life.

The Woke Salaryman is the brainchild of a Singapore-based duo that aims to help people reach financial independence early. It is the quintessential page for people living in Singapore who earn the median salary and didn’t inherit their fortunes from their parents.

If you have any questions with regard to personal finance and retiring early, feel free to discuss them with the friendly Seedly Community!

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