Immigrant Teachers in Singapore Schools: Backgrounds, Integration, and Diversification , pp. 8 of 11

Integration Through Adjustment, Negotiation, and Compromise

Immigrant teachers’ experiences of value tensions in relation to sexuality education and the ways in which they dealt with such tensions can serve to illuminate their broader approaches towards professional integration. Overall, all immigrant teachers were explicit in recognizing their positions as employees of a national civil service, and correspondingly the duties and boundaries expected of them. While none of the immigrant teachers found themselves completely changing their personal beliefs about sexuality education, in work settings, some came to adjust their stance, some accepted compromise but entered into subtle negotiations with the system, yet others chose to compromise—but in a disengaging way.

Brought up and educated in an Anglophone country, John used to consider the official MOE approach on sexuality education ineffective in the early days of his teaching career in Singapore. But gradually, he realized that because of the diversity of Singaporean students’ family backgrounds and value systems, a Comprehensive Sexuality Education approach would almost unavoidably become problematic. He thus came to appreciate the ‘delicate position’ that MOE was in, and found himself more in agreement with the MOE’s approach nowadays, even though he still did not necessarily agree with the substantive values per se.

Ann equally appreciated the sensitivity of LGBT topics, especially considering the influence she possessed as a teacher. She stressed that her professional role meant that she must avoid taking a stance: 

So that’s something [LGBT] that I very quickly realized, you know, I can’t really, like, openly talk about, especially in a government school in Singapore. […] I stand at a position of authority, you know, as a teacher, so I think it’s very dangerous for me to say one thing or another when it comes to such issues, I can’t openly say “Oh you know we should respect gay people”, I also can’t say “Oh gay people are going to hell”. I can’t do either, but I think ummm, I think I am able to, if the students raise such issues, get them to think about it from both sides of the argument? […] my personal opinions may conflict with the Singapore government’s opinions, on what is ok and what is not ok, but I think as a teacher I am able to get the students to sort of think about it from all the different perspectives.

Despite making the adaptation and compromise her professional role necessitated, Ann did not entirely fold under the pressures of official expectations, but took advantage of her role to provide her students the opportunity to think through controversial issues from different perspectives. Thus, her mode of integrating into the local education system was not entirely passive assimilation, but a negotiative process.

Separately, Ann also shared that when students expressed interest or curiosity on certain issues—such as LGBT and feminism—she utilised her literature classes to explore these topics through themed literary texts. This approach allowed Ann to engage students in exploring critical issues that would otherwise be largely absent from the official curriculum. However, unsure whether this approach would be considered ‘neutral’ by her supervisor, who was reportedly more conservative, Ann maintained a low profile about her approach.

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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