Staffroom Blues: A Day in the Life of a Teacher

Reading Time: 8 minutes

By Loh Su Jean (19A01A), Rachel Lee (19A01D), and Kuang Shane Qi (19A13A)

Monday mornings: exhausting, tedious, dread-inducing. This isn’t unfamiliar to the frazzled, sleep-deprived Rafflesian. But this particular Monday morning doesn’t belong to your regular Rafflesian. It belongs to three faces you may have seen in lectures or glimpsed along corridors: Ms Fiona Lio, Mr Gerald Choo, and Ms Ng Mei Sze.

Before school: 0400 – 0740

4.00 AM. A phone on a bedside table comes to life with the familiar shrill of Marimba. A hand reaches out – no, not to snooze it. The blankets are flung off, track shoes laced up, and its owner is off for her morning run.

Or at least, this is what Ms Fiona Lio would like to aspire towards.

“It only happens in my dreams. It’s never happened,” she sighs.

But some days, she does get up at this ungodly hour — not to run, but to prepare for lectures and rush some marking.

5.45 AM.  Somewhere else, an alarm is unceremoniously snoozed. Monday is a reality that can be postponed till later.

5.56 AM. The second alarm rings. It is quickly snuffed out.

6.09 AM. There is no denying it this time: Monday has arrived, and it is here to stay. Mr Choo gets up.

Mr Choo is a man of precision — he is, after all, a Chemistry tutor. A solid half-minute must be spent cleaning the lenses of his spectacles, and his (magnetic) ring must be on before he leaves the house. One of the rare few who can afford to skip a morning coffee, he hits the road on his electric scooter and is gliding into school by 7.30 AM.

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Mr Choo arrives smoothly in school on his scooter

Ms Ng isn’t as lucky. “I need about three to five cups of coffee, maybe even six to get through a day,” she confesses, clutching her fourth cup of the aforementioned beverage even as she is being interviewed. “Sometimes it’s the only way to get food in on a busy day. Because you put milk in, right?”

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An alarming illustration of Ms Ng’s caffeine habits

7.20 AM. Ms Lio has hopefully finished all she needs to do. As she walks briskly to the parade square, she spends a moment contemplating how her day will pan out. “You walk walk walk and you start to pray, please God I won’t be like this again,” she says with regret, remembering previously botched attempts at last-minute lecture and tutorial plans.

Block 1: 0800 – 0850

8.00 AM. Mondays are kind to Ms Lio. During Y5 protected time, she enjoys a leisurely breakfast in the canteen before attending a staff meeting.

Block 2: 0855 – 0945

8.55 AM. The school day officially begins with Mr Choo’s Chemistry tutorial with 18S03P. He strides into class, “only for everyone to go ehhhhh” and sag slightly in their seats. It may be a Monday morning, but that doesn’t stop him. With characteristic briskness, he begins by getting students to summarise the topic, before plunging into tutorial questions.

9.30 AM. Ms Ng, on the other hand, attends one of her many meetings. This one will last up to 11 AM. Her Mondays are generally packed, and she has come to accept that they are always going to be difficult.

“I know if it’s a light day you choose not to come to school,” she quips, “but teachers can’t do that.”

Block 2: 0950 – 1040

10.15 AM. Freed from the classroom at last, Mr Choo embarks on one of his “very long breaks”. During this time, he can be spotted in the staffroom clearing admin work, marking, setting exam papers, or talking to fellow colleagues. (“I mean, discussing students in general,” he adds with a conspiratorial smile.)

If the occasion calls for it, he will make the journey to RI Boarding Chill for a waffle. His favourite flavour? Kaya and peanut butter.

Block 3: 1045 – 1135

10.45 AM. Ms Lio embarks on her first lesson of the day: an Economics tutorial with 19S06E. Rolling up her sleeves, she deftly dissects key terms and lays the groundwork for essay plans, calling on students to share their points. By the end of the lesson, the entire whiteboard is covered in indecipherable handwriting and immaculate diagrams.

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The aftermath

Block 4: 1140 – 1230

It is finally break time for Ms Ng, which she usually spends in the staffroom (“I don’t like waffles.”) During her 40-minute reprieve, she prepares lessons, checks “ten thousand” emails, and occasionally looks at some of her favourite apps and videos. Too soon, she is back in the classroom with 19A01B for a Southeast Asian History tutorial at 11.40 AM.  Ms Ng’s students agree that her tutorials are a study in intensity. Deconstructing questions with disarming ease, she gets students to frame points for different arguments before fine-tuning them for nuance and clarity. With sharp questions and banter being thrown back and forth across the classroom, her tutorials always seem to pass by in a flash.

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Ms Ng’s tutorials often cover the span of all four whiteboard panels.

11.40 AM. One down, two to go. This time, Ms Lio tackles Economics with 19A13A. As energy levels vary across classes, tutorials take on slightly different forms in each lesson. Fortunately, 19A13A is usually enthusiastic enough to tide her over.

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Ms Lio and 19A13A, smiling beatifically with their love for Economics

With all this time spent in the classroom, one might wonder if teachers try to avoid students outside of it.

Mr Choo thinks students tend to avoid him instead. “Why? Why? Why??” Ms Ng responds quizzically. She is generally quite happy to see her students.

Block 5: 1235 – 1325

12.35 PM. This is the only break that Ms Lio gets in between her three back-to-back Economics tutorials. While most would balk at the crowd that quickly descends upon the canteen, Ms Lio finds it relaxing. This is when she gets to see her colleagues from different departments and trade stories with them. Recently, the topic of Wednesday civics has been generating a lot of discussion.

“You know, sex ed.”

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Ms Lio’s radical pedagogical methods for sex ed

For the record, she has never travelled to RI Boarding for waffles. She prefers Haw’s Kitchen, where her standard order is ban mian with very little tom yum “to maximise welfare”. Mr Choo, on the other hand, is partial to the wonton mee stall.

Block 6: 1330 – 1420

1.00 PM. Ms Lio rushes off for her third and final Economics tutorial with 19S07A. The grind never ends.

1.30 PM. The two most dreaded hours in a science student’s school week: practical sessions, this time with Mr Choo teaching the Y6 Chemistry RA class. Students look at the experiment handout, he explains theory, then dispenses safety instructions so that they “don’t kill themselves accidentally.”

After school

3.00 PM. The last bell may have rung, but the day is far from over. As the teacher IC for Raffles Players, Mr Choo can often be found en route to the Theater Studies Room to supervise sessions and fix technical disasters.

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Mr Choo patiently teaching Players (for the third time) how to wrench a broken drill bit out of wood

Ms Lio spends her afternoons on consults, remedial sessions, community education, and “some other committee that reads reports”.

Ms Ng, on the other hand, deals with Scholarships, Student Counselling and Higher Education, and often spends long hours counselling Y6s about the uncertain future.

5.20 PM. When it is not Players’ production season, this is typically when Mr Choo finds himself back at home. Most days, he “vegetates” by watching mindless shows (“Do you guys know Waku Waku Japan?”) before he is forced to embark on work. Other times, he helps his mother in the kitchen.

(But would he call himself a good cook? “Well, I cooked yesterday and my family survived…”)

Not all teachers prefer the sedentary lifestyle. Like many other working Singaporeans, Ms Lio typically embarks on Monday and Tuesday evening walks for the sole purpose of clocking steps. If she successfully hits her target, she can redeem $10 vouchers “to increase her real wage”.

8.00 PM. Mr Choo and his family sit down for dinner. On most nights, the various family members talk or retreat to their rooms. After this, Mr Choo spends his time “vegetating some more”, replying intermittently to WhatsApp messages, and no surprise, preparing for the next day’s lessons. He tries to sleep by 10.30 PM.

Likewise, Ms Lio’s weekday evenings are usually quiet affairs. Too tired for a weekday social life, she watches “stupid youtube videos”, musters up the resolve to start on work, and then “crashes quite early”.

Evenings for Ms Ng are much more lively. She hangs out with friends, meets ex-students (“Sadly. Just kidding, I do this very happily.”), and grabs a bite and a drink before returning to her work.

We’ve seen what a typical day in school looks like for our teachers – but what about the one-off events that don’t happen nearly every day, yet are still part of the quintessential JC experience? Take examinations, for example, which are stressful for nearly every student but offer a different experience for teachers. Ms Lio admits that boredom is unavoidable on such occasions.

“I plan my next holiday. Or start to look at students’ pencil cases to see what they’re like. One time Tsum Tsum was trending so I started looking out for it. And, and, and, don’t forget! Clocking steps.”

(Mr Choo concurs; his record is 3000 steps.)

Ms Ng, however, prefers to view the silence of examinations as a quiet respite from scurrying to and from various consultations. It is certainly more blissful compared to the hectic pace of marking which comes after.

Or, as every frazzled subject rep has almost certainly experienced, inevitable run-ins with the photocopy lady — Mr Choo recounts having to plead with her to have a set of handouts printed by Tuesday.

And of course, to answer the question on the minds of everyone who has ever found themselves wandering (not wondering) during class:

“Teachers, by the way, know — make sure you put that inside! — it’s very obvious when someone is doing things on their computer!” – Ms Ng

“I don’t know what’s so interesting about their laps…” – Mr Choo

“It is very difficult to make sure students don’t fall asleep.” – Ms Lio

Teachers teach. But that’s not all that goes into the day in the life of a teacher — from imaginary morning runs to waffles from RI Boarding, there’s more to the school day than lectures and tutorials. We know them as our lecturers and vessels of information, but behind every set of lecture notes is someone who snoozes the alarm three times, loves tom yum ban mian, and needs five cups of coffee to get through the day. So the next time you find yourself bemoaning the start of the school week, remember that on the opposite side of the lecture theatre, your teacher is probably feeling the same way too.


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