Immigrant Teachers in Singapore Schools: Backgrounds, Integration, and Diversification , pp. 6 of 11

The difficulties raised by MT immigrant teachers typically revolved around the disproportionate time required for lesson preparation and their diminished capacities to engage students in an unfamiliar language. For example, Mei (female, 46), a naturalized citizen from mainland China, shared that even after spending five hours preparing for a single CCE lesson, she was still unable to ‘give the students the best’ because she lacked the ability to provide any enriching material beyond the standardized resources. Thus, she retrospectively characterized her CCE teaching as a ‘loss’ for the students’ values education. Other immigrant MT (Chinese) teachers were consistent in corroborating Mei’s experience, where despite the significant amount of time spent on CCE lesson preparation, the lesson delivery typically consisted of ‘just following and reading off the PowerPoint slides’.

Interestingly, despite their difficulties with English, MT immigrant teachers also often appeared to be the strongest advocates for CCE. Mei expressed the enthusiasm and frustration that she simultaneously experienced with regard to CCE:

Actually, I really like talking to students about these views on life, or share my experiences […] I can talk non-stop; I like sharing, but I just can’t share! English is the largest obstacle.

Indeed, a similar enthusiasm can be found among other MT immigrant teachers who perceived themselves as vessels of cultural values, something thought to be under-fulfilled by other local teachers, teaching MT or otherwise. Xia (female, 47), also a naturalized citizen from mainland China, opined that her Chinese background meant that her experience was culturally ‘broader’ and ‘deeper’ (compared to the local teachers), and that her capacity to preserve and impart such values constituted a ‘natural responsibility’ of an MT teacher. However, when pressed to provide details about the unique ways their cultural strengths contributed to the system, most MT immigrant teachers from China revealed that their impact in schools remained minimal. Ling (female, 49), who works in the same department as Xia,  concurred with her colleague on the relative depth of their knowledge in Chinese culture, but elaborated that students would ‘shut down’ the moment they realize ‘Oh, this bears no relation to the exams’. As such, utilization of MT immigrant teachers’ cultural strengths typically does not go beyond occasional festivities (such as the preparation of ethnic food or decorating for festivals).

School leaders who participated in this study’s FGDs shared that they were cognizant of the difficulties MT immigrant teachers faced and made sure that a local teacher would always be deployed alongside the immigrant teacher. This allowed the local-immigrant pair to manage the CCE teaching duties more flexibly, whereby the local teacher played to their strengths (i.e. local background and knowledge) while the immigrant teacher compensated by focusing on tasks that were less language-demanding (e.g. administration or classroom management).

3b. Non-MT/non-mainstream immigrant Teachers: Value Tensions in Sexuality Education

For non-MT and ethnically ‘Other’ immigrant teachers who were characterised by notably more diverse and sometimes more cosmopolitan backgrounds, challenges in the professional settings manifested rather differently, often revolving around having differences, sometimes disagreements, with dominant schooling values and practices in Singapore.

Sexuality education is a case in point. Reflecting official government stance and mainstream societal mores on sexuality in Singapore, sexuality education in Singapore schools promotes abstinence and upholds the view that family based on heterosexual marriage constitutes the basic unit of society (Liew 2014). About this, a few non-mainstream background immigrant teachers had things to say.

An Inspiring Quote

"[Open-mindedness] includes an active desire to listen to more sides than one; to give heed to facts from whatever source they come; to give full attention to alternative possibilities; to recognize the possibility of error even in the beliefs that are dearest to us."

~ John Dewey, How We Think

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