Stressed out kindergarten teachers hope for early retirement

By Thanh Hang, Duong Tam   January 11, 2021 | 11:00 pm PT
Stressed out kindergarten teachers hope for early retirement
A kindergarten teacher in HCMC's Go Vap District prepares to check body temperature and disinfect hands of her student to prevent Covid-19 spread, May 2020. Photo by VnExpress/Manh Tung.
Having to work 10 hours plus a day and faced with demanding parents, many stressed out kindergarten teachers hope to retire early.

The Government Office earlier this month requested the Ministry of Labor, Invalids and Social Affairs to look into a proposal by Vietnam General Confederation of Labor to classify kindergarten teachers as practitioners of arduous and dangerous labor. If approved, male and female teachers may retire at 57 and 55, respectively, five years earlier than usual.

Expressing her delight with the proposal, Diu Thi Quyen, 41, a kindergarten teacher in Dong Van District of Ha Giang Province said: "I think it's quite evident how particularly arduous preschool teaching can be."

With nearly 14 years' experience, Quyen, of Yi ethnicity typically arrives at school before 7 a.m. daily to prepare for her class 15 minutes later. This means she has to leave home between 5:30 a.m. to 6 a.m.

Quyen said teachers are also on duty at noon to watch over sleeping students. Only after 5 p.m., when parents have collected their children, could they return home in the absence of other administrative tasks. On average, teachers work 10 hours or more per day.

Teaching dozens of under-fives each day is "extremely hard," Quyen said. At home, parents care for two to three children at most, but in class, it takes at least two teachers to handle 30 or even 40 students.

In recent years, kindergartens in Dong Van have been required to incorporate technology into classes. Used to creating materials by hand, and with limited Internet access, Quyen and her economically-strained colleagues are struggling to cope.

"In addition to early retirement, we also insist on better government treatment for this profession. Though teacher salaries in upland areas are a bit better in the delta, living costs are high, weather conditions severe and travel difficult. We need more support to do our jobs professionally," said Quyen.

Pham Thi Ngoc Lan, 52, a teacher at Can Thanh Kindergarten in Can Gio District, around 50 kilometers from downtown HCMC, also agreed with the proposal that preschool teachers should retire early.

"Everyone thinks this job is all fun and games, but it's really tough," the teacher with 27 years' experience said.

Lan usually receives her first class at around 6:30 a.m. and leaves the school at 5 p.m. daily. She only has 30 minutes for an afternoon nap.

Compared to her younger colleagues, physical school activities are proving increasingly strenuous for Lan.

"My husband always helps me with daily chores, so I could rest when I come home from work. Many of my colleagues still have to cook and clean their homes at night," she noted.

A couple of years back, Lan's voice suddenly gave in due to excessive shouting in class.

"Hoarseness is normal. I'm fortunate to have avoided minor surgery on the larynx, opposed to many peers."

More pressure from parents

Lan admits dealing with demanding parents can be an intense and often threatening experience, especially in the case of minor injury during class.

Do to the physical risk, many young teachers have confided they are unsure whether they could stick to the profession until retirement.

"Having done this job for nearly 30 years, I just want to rest. I hope the proposal would be implemented soon," Lan said.

A kindergarten teacher in Ha Nam, soon-to-retire Hong, 55, hopes the proposal could benefit her younger colleagues if approved.

Hong has been teaching since 1996. After 25 years in the profession, she admits her greatest fear remains "excitable parents."

"They just get angry and shout, without enquiring as to the cause of a problem," she explained, affirming this to be a major factor affecting preschool teacher morale.

Nguyen Ba Minh, head of preschool education department under the Ministry of Education and Training, agrees it is appropriate to include kindergarten teaching on the list of heavy and arduous occupations.

Preschool teachers endure longer working hours than many other professionals but receive a low income.

"Small children are very different from higher level students. Teachers have to do everything to help them," Minh said.

Vietnam’s education is facing a long-standing kindergarten teacher shortage, with 45,000 currently missing from its workforce, Minister of Education and Training Phung Xuan Nha told a meeting last month. In 2018, the country lacked over 43,700 kindergarten teachers, according to the ministry.

Around three million workers in the country are employed in around 1,800 jobs and fields considered arduous, hazardous and dangerous, including oil and gas operators, athletes and chemists. Those who have worked for 15 years in said jobs may retire no more than five years earlier than usual.

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