Nabila Alkaff is currently a Year 1 FASS student at NUS.
Read part two of her interview here: https://aiesec.org.sg/1266-2/
Take me through your decision-making process for the year you took off to teach in a kindergarten.
When I started poly, even way back when I was in late primary school, I already decided that I wanted to be a teacher for kids because I saw my brother’s growing up process and I wanted to do that as well. Then when I went to poly, it was like, no question. Direct admission as well, so there was no other choices. And then the three years in poly made me realise that this is what I want to do. I want to work with kids, and so why not just go ahead and do it right after poly? So I took two years off to teach.
So how was the experience?
It was good. It was great. You’re thrown into the industry, so you learn a lot of things while on the job. A lot more than when you are, you know, it’s different in practice than in theory. People skills improve, and I enjoyed it.
Would you say that that was the most challenging experience throughout the year?
I think my most challenging experience is due to my age. Because I am quite young and the parents can tell. As much as I try to look older, they can tell that I am on the younger side, so they hesitate to trust someone to watch over or educate their child. So that would be my issue because I had quite a few times when I was teaching, especially with the older kids who were going to Primary 1 the following year. I got a few complains saying that they would prefer the other teachers to teach their children. But because I am more qualified than quite a few people there, I would have like to teach the older aged groups. Under the law you need to have a diploma — you cannot be a Level 2 teacher without a diploma. A lot of the teachers couldn’t take that class, so I had to teach it. And I was also in a higher end school which catered to the upper class. They had really high standards so in the beginning, it was tough because they didn’t trust me enough yet. But gradually I earned their trust.
So how did you gain their trust?
I think it’s just acknowledging it. Yes, I am new. Yes I am young. Keep a good kinship with the parents. And I constantly update them to make sure they know what is going on in class. And maybe form a relationship with their children. Because when their children talk about you to their parents, that’s the best thing.
How was teaching the children?
Oh, it was great. I love it! And now that I am not doing it I miss it.
Do you think that the experience has helped you in University in any way?
I think the knowledge gained because I could relate what I am learning in school to my experience as a kindergarten teacher. Also, having the edge over those who go to work straight from uni because they are new to the working world; people skills, working with colleagues, understanding different viewpoints and maybe being a little more mature thanks to my interaction with the parents of my students.
How were your feelings on your first day of internship and your first class you ever took?
I think very nervous but very happy as well. Because it depends, like the children, they are very curious. They ask you questions, they make sure you are involved, and they will tell you things like this where we do that etc., so it’s quite fun. I think for internship we don’t know what to do because the teachers they don’t introduce you to the parents so they will be like who is this person following my children and stuff like that.
Nabila Alkaff is currently a Year 1 FASS student at NUS. Read part one of her interview here: https://aiesec.org.sg/1262-2/
What advice would you give to someone who is thinking of doing something like you?
I think passion is essential. You can’t love every kid, it’s not possible, and I learnt that.
When I saw this kid, I was thinking, I just can’t love you, but I will do my best to provide you with what you need to learn. So I think you just need to have passion, open-mindedness. It’s not an easy job. When I was in polytechnic, a lot of my friends will ask me what are you learning? Are you learning to change diapers?
What you need to educate a child is a lot more. There is physical, emotional, intellectual and social. And especially when I was teaching the 18-months, I felt like, what was I doing. I was thinking in the form of a parent. Maybe it’s just my self-esteem. Because I was thinking that I wouldn’t put my kids in this expensive programme, under my care, for 3–4 hours. I wouldn’t put them in school like through this programme.
After the whole thing, I realised that I actually did an okay job. I saw the kids improve and everything. So I think you need to be open-minded. There are a lot of aspects. Not just about teaching them how to count etc. Children go to school for different reasons, I think you need to be aware and open to that.
Has it changed your perspective on anything?
I guess I have always believed that children should have fun; learn through play, that kind of thing, and not just brute learning. So I think this experience reinforces that what I thought, what I believe was right. These children grow up to be happy, and they learn.
Would you attempt to do it with children who speak a different language and of a different culture?
Yes, I think it would be interesting. It would be a new challenge. But if you’re talking about kids then it won’t be much of a language barrier because you can understand them through different ways. Different materials that you put out. They will be more open to compared to older children.
Do you have anything memorable from the time?
Yeah. Quite a few. I mean, I made a lot of good friends, like like-minded people in the industry, but I think like memories… Once, because I was teaching the 18-months, and it was my first class. So it was my first time ever being in-charge of a group of children and liaising with their parents. So I was with this 18-month division, and it was time to go home. So what I used to do was that when it was 5–10 minutes before going back, we would sing the goodbye song and I would get them to sit at the table.
They’re sitting so you can go see if their parents were there, then you can send them off. So we were doing that, and it was a bit chaotic, and this child, he kept running around. So I got him and pushed him in with the chair, so I could walk off and attend to someone else. And then he would be off the chair again. So I was like, oh my gosh. And I went and I did the same thing, and the minute I turn around — I was walking off — I heard a scream. A bang and a big scream. And it was really sharp. Like I haven’t heard him scream that bad since. I turned around and he was on the floor, and the chair had fallen backwards. And I was like, oh my gosh. So I ran and I picked him up, calmed myself down and passed him to my laoshi, so I could look at the other children. And she said, you need to go down. You need to call the senior teacher and the boss. Cause, she showed me his head, and there was a cut. It was bleeding. So I was like, oh my gosh. So I ran down, and I called them up. And there was a big hoo-ha, while we were figuring out what to do, checking the CCTV.
He was meant to be on the school bus and I didn’t put him on the bus, I made sure he didn’t sleep, cause of all the things we didn’t want it to be a concussion. So there was a scratch. Cause when he fell, we watched the CCTV, there was a shelf behind. Everything was child-proofed, but the side wasn’t. So when he fell, he hit the part that was sticking out. And there was blood.
When his parents came, they were very nice. They were very kind parents. So I think for this kind of thing to happen when I was with understanding people, for whom this was not their first child, they looked at it they touched it and then they just brought him home. I asked “is everything okay?” and the mum just replied, “ I just want to know what happened so that I can teach what not to do next time, so it was an unforgettable experience. Because of how traumatizing the incident was. If it were anybody else that that happened to, I would like probably lose my job or something.