[INTERVIEW] Breaking the stereotype of a male pre-school teacher

According to the Early Childhood Development Authorities (ECDA), as compared to 2014, the percentage of males joining the industry has doubled to over 8 to 10 percent in 2020. Whilst the stigma of males being pre-school teachers remains, a handful see it as an opportunity to expose the young ones to teachers of the opposite gender before transiting into primary school.

For Shahril Samri, joining the teaching industry back five years ago undoubtedly had many questions arrowed towards him, alongside the truckload of restrictions imposed as a male teacher. Below, the 32-year-old shares his journey of being in the industry, which was something he didn’t initially pursue back in school, and his opinion on people wanting to be a teacher just for its vast job openings.

 

Making the initial industry switch

Shahril (left) emceeing a program featuring the current Speaker of Parliament, Mr Tan Chuan-Jin (right).

Image: Teh Tarik SG

As polytechnics back then did not offer a vast selection of courses, it was considered a norm for most males to apply for engineering diplomas, and in Shahril’s case, it was no different. Upon obtaining a Diploma in Entertainment Electronics, he scoured for jobs in the sector. However, upon receiving countless rejected applications, he knew he had to keep his mind open to exploring other industries.

He then pursued his interest as a freelance emcee for corporate and school events — which he still does currently — but ultimately knew he had to obtain a more financially stable job. Soon after, he was offered a position to be a relief teacher, which sparked an interest in him to be a full-fledged educator.

“I wanted to challenge myself especially upon plunging into a female-dominated sector and certainly to see how I could contribute to an industry that is considered unorthodox to males,” Shahril expressed.

 

Going against all odds

Image: Shahril Samri

Undeniably, his decision on joining the teaching industry had many taken aback, including his family. “During the first three months, my family thought it was a temporary position but after a year passed, they eventually wholeheartedly supported my career switch,” Shahril shared. Whilst that motivated him to continue striving on, a few of his friends reacted otherwise. “I lost a few friends as they could not comprehend my life decision,” Shahril uttered whilst expressing his utmost gratitude to those who stood by.

“You’ll truly know if he or she is truly your friend, or simply there for your joy ride. So, in tough times, it really shows who stays and who goes,” he remarked.

Adding on, as a male teacher, Shahril has to adhere to strict laws imposed by the authorities, including not being allowed to have physical contact with his students and assisting in any routine care like showering or toilet visits. “During instances where my students need to use the bathroom, I will have to hunt for a female teacher, the cleaning aunty or perhaps the principal,” Shahril said.

“At the end of the day, everyone needs to know that regardless as a female or a male teacher, we are all carrying the same responsibility of educating a child,” Shahril mentioned.

 

Considering himself as a brother to many


Image: Shahril Samri

Today, the English and Malay language teacher is responsible for up to 20 students per class. “It feels like I’m a brother to them, and I’ll always ensure that even those not well-to-do get the same treatment like the other kids,” he shared.

“You get to see a soul develop into a child that’s ready to step into primary school. It’s rewarding especially when they still call me out on the streets when they see me,” Shahril mentioned.

With the expectations and stress-levels relatively higher as a primary or secondary school teacher, Shahril has no intentions of switching to mainstream schools as he enjoys working with younger kids. Speaking from a teacher’s point of view, Shahril uttered, “Apart from paper qualifications, you need to be passionate, caring, ambitious and resilient. Also, always know that you play a part in nurturing the community too.”

In 2018, Shahril founded Pantunism, an online group promoting traditional Malay poetry, also known as Pantun. With only a portion of the population being Malays, he aims to sustain the art form and make it accessible for youths regardless of their social backgrounds. The group has collaborated with the Language Council of Singapore, as well as community organisations around Singapore and the globe (Malaysia, Brunei, Indonesia, France).

“At over 30, I really feel it’s time I give back to the community and of course, sustain my culture for the future generation to experience,” he expressed.

 

Proving the public wrong


Even for Pantunism, Shahril went against all odds despite all the criticism and got coverage on the front cover of Berita Harian (Singapore’s Malay newspaper)

Image: Shahril Samri

If you do a quick search on Singapore’s job openings, more than 70 percent are schools looking for teachers more so towards pre-school and child care levels. With the current economy, many who struggle to find jobs relevant to their course of study end up applying to be a teacher. “It’s not an escape if you want a job. You have a responsibility to uphold to and more importantly, ask yourself if you enjoy nurturing another soul,” Shahril emphasised. He also urged those who have problems managing their anger to avoid the industry at all costs.

In general, he reiterated that being a teacher involves a lot of hard work that isn’t made known to the public. Whilst it’s the teacher’s responsibility to care for the students, Shahril mentioned: “It isn’t as easy as it looks but you have to pace yourself to prevent getting burnout easily. Ultimately, be the best version of yourself and never compare yourself to others.”

Shahril’s life quote that he hangs onto dearly: “Life’s simple, you make choices and don’t look back.”

 

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A funsize explorer with an endless adventure list, her off-days are spent travelling around the red dot with her camera. Heritage trails, quaint cafes, you name it; she'll take you on an adventure to make your weekends less mehhhh!

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