From heavy metal to montessori: S’porean preschool teacher shares her unconventional path to her dream job

Ever since she was a kid, Nurhayati Binte Sani harboured one ambition:

“I always wanted to teach young children — like preschool age,” said the 32-year-old to Mothership.

“They’re more fun and when they interact they always have these creative ideas.”

Spurred by memories of her own childhood, where a particularly fierce teacher made attending school a scary experience, Yati — as her friends know her — dreamed of making the classroom a place where children were happy and motivated.

Overwhelmed by reality

However, as a fresh entrant into the working world, Yati found that the reality of being a preschool teacher was rather different than what she’d imagined.

Without any formal training or schooling in early childhood education (except for a quick course she describes as “touch and go”), Yati inevitably felt overwhelmed by the job; she found preparing the curriculum and routines particularly difficult.

But more so, and rather ironically, while she was now the teacher, she found herself afraid of her students and the sometimes chaotic nature of managing a classroom of young children.

“You don’t know them, and you don’t know how they will react to the situation,” she said, explaining that speaking to the parents of her students was another nerve-wracking experience.

Eventually after one year of struggling through the job, Yati decided it was best to leave.

“Actually I felt really upset with myself because I couldn’t overcome the challenges,” she recalled.

Making herself more brave

That sense of discontent with how she’d fared against the first major obstacle of her career saw Yati throw herself into the deep end.

Finding that her timidity had cost her in her previous job, decided to become an aviation screening officer.

“To make myself more brave,” she explained.

Here she had to search passengers for prohibited items and deal with rowdy and noncompliant travellers.

It was the start of a journey through various different jobs that Yati took up in the next few years; she worked as a makeup artist, service staff in a hotel, and even as the vocalist of an alternative rock band called Common Agony.

Yati as the front woman of Common Agony. Image courtesy of Nurhayati Binte Sani

“It’s like a calling”

But all the while Yati still felt a desire to return to teaching.

“It’s like a calling,” she said. The other jobs were okay to get by, but somehow they just didn’t feel right for her.

“I wanted to do something that I enjoy and I wanted to work in a place where I am motivated to come in every day.”

Four years on from quitting her dream job, Yati felt like she’d matured enough as a person to once again face the challenges her teenage self had found overwhelming.

Perhaps most importantly, she also received her mother’s blessing — the only person who Yati consulted about her decision to try teaching again.

“She said ‘yeah, you should do it! I think you are just like the children!’,” said Yati with a chuckle.

“So she encouraged me to go back to teaching.”

“This is where I belong”

On her first day back on the job — and in fact the first few weeks — Yati remembers herself as an anxious bundle of nerves.

All the same challenges she faced as an 18-year-old preschool teacher were still there now that she was 22.

But this time Yati was determined to be successful.

“I said to myself, this is where I belong. So whatever challenge I will face, I will try to overcome it.”

Eventually as she got to know the kids in her class better, her fears gave way to a genuine sense of love for each student.

“Maybe when I was younger I wasn’t strong enough,” she reflects.

“Maybe because at that time I lacked self-confidence.”

Another factor Yati credits with helping her the second time around is the classes she took while studying for a Diploma in Early Childhood Education.

Despite taking on the grueling schedule of working during the day and taking part-time classes at night three times a week, Yati said that being able to immediately apply what she was learning gave her a sense of accomplishment.

“When I learned more about how to manage the children, it opened my eyes. (It made me feel like) I can actually do it.”

She’s also quick to point out that her current employers, Busy Bees Asia have supplied the support needed for one to flourish.

The company, she said, had assigned her a mentor that coached and guided her in the classroom.

This was complemented by training conducted both in-house at Busy Bees Asia and from external parties.

“When in doubt, I often approach my principal and district manager for advice. Both of my leaders are approachable, kind, and most importantly good listeners.”

The most rewarding part of the job

Yati has now been a preschool teacher for more than a decade and she’s still in love with the job.

Since getting married she’s quit her hard rock band, but said that she continues to sing regularly. Except instead of performing on stage, she now uses that talent in the classroom.

“Actually every day I’ll sing songs with the children, and I’ll encourage them to make their own lyrics — to be more creative in singing.”

Image courtesy of Nurhayati Binte Sani

The activity, she said, helps to keep the kids happy and also provides a nice break during their day at the preschool; they tend to return to their study materials with renewed focus afterwards.

She’s also managed to develop further expertise, with her employers sponsoring her pursuit of an Advanced Diploma in Montessori Early Childhood Education.

Yet, the most rewarding part of the job continues to be watching each child develop and progress.

Yati remembers one particular student who arrived at the school unable to speak a word of English.

Starting from scratch, Yati taught the girl phonics and how to blend them into fully formed words.

“When she started blending that’s when I felt like ‘Wow, she can actually follow through!’”

Image courtesy of Nurhayati Binte Sani

Busy Bees Asia — known for their various preschool brands like Bright Path, Brighton Montessori, Learning Vision, Odyssey, Pat’s Schoolhouse, and Small Wonder — is holding an online symposium for aspiring and existing early childhood educators on Jul. 10, 2021.

If you, like Yati, have a passion for teaching preschool, this virtual event is the perfect way to explore a career as an early childhood educator.

There’ll be talks by various early childhood education professionals, workshops, career exhibition booths, and recruitment interviews.

Sign up to attend here.

In the course of writing this Busy Bees Asia-sponsored article, the writer listened to the melodic metal sounds of Common Agony.

Stories of Us is a series about ordinary people in Singapore and the unique ways they’re living their lives. Be it breaking away from conventions, pursuing an atypical passion, or the struggles they are facing, these stories remind us both of our individual uniqueness and our collective humanity.

Top image courtesy of Nurhayati Binte Sani.