The Main Reason I Quit Teaching – by ElmiZulkarnain Osman, PhD

January means class notice boards, CCA recruitment, name tags, a new form class and everything else about going back-to-school! After 25 years of starting January in a classroom, as a student or teacher, I decided to take a break in 2013. I taught for 10 years all over Singapore, and it was not an easy decision to resign from teaching.

I joined the National Community Leadership Institute (NACLI) in 2014. It was one the best decision I have made in life. I found great bosses who mentored me and gave me many opportunities to grow in my career and as a person.

So why did I leave teaching? Clearly, it means a lot to me to be a teacher. People assume that maybe the students were too much, or the parents were a lot, or the pay was too low for the kind crap the system throws at you, or any number of reasons that have been trivialised on memes and complained about on social media. Resigning from teaching didn’t have anything to do with any of those reasons.

Children are the best part of teaching; they are hilarious, spirited, adventuresome, silly, loving and grateful! Teaching a child something and when you see them put it all together to take ownership of the learning, is incredible. It’s more than just seeing they understand how to write compositions, it’s witnessing the confidence they gain from knowing they CAN do it. They learn something about themselves, that is what’s important.

The parents in my classes have been very supportive. In my experience, I have seen that all parents love their children. They demonstrate this in different ways and giving them the room to be able to do that is important as a teacher. Parents need to know that you care about their child as an individual, a learner and the little person that they are becoming.

The solitary reason that I chose to leave teaching has to do with the politicised environment of education. People may wonder what politics have to do with teaching, and the answer is everything. When policies are made, the impacts come into our lives and change them drastically. This include policies of assigning principalships to school leaders who lack the leadership skills to lead. Over the past few years, there has been widespread “educational reform.”  These reforms have increased the importance of spreadsheets, columns of data, evaluations by inexperienced observers, and the accounting of data in every teacher’s life.

The focus has gone away from people; students, parents, teachers, staff, volunteers, and onto data. The most important elements of teaching cannot be quantified onto a spreadsheet and put into a power point. When data is given importance above all else, time and resources are directed as such.

We are in a people business, not a numbers business. It is not that teachers do not value data and information systems. We absolutely do, so that we can know where each child is in their mastery of the concepts that we have taught. Record keeping, evaluation of scores, and calibration of lessons based on the data are important parts of being a teacher. Data is just not the entirety of what it means to be a teacher. The school leaders even use these data to rank the teachers. Teaching and learning are about more than test scores. There are so many more verbs that describe good teachers other than data collection. However, this piece of our profession is now emphasised above all other traits and qualities. It is more important to value the child, work with the family and teach at a pace that makes sense for the learners than it is for teachers to know yet another way to compare data on spreadsheets. Current teachers are doing all of this and it is too much, and too unnecessary. The only educational reform that should be considered should be designed by experts; our experienced teachers, parents, community leaders and students.

Helping a child, all children, should be the overriding goal of education. Sadly, that is not what is happening right now. Teachers like me and many others are leaving the profession. I’m not a unique teacher or a special teacher. Every school I have taught in has been filled with teachers taking extra efforts to advocate and support their students. We cannot endorse something we don’t agree with by participating in it. Teachers shouldn’t be leaving the profession because they care too much about children.

What can be done? Speak up. Find an audience that will listen. Have a conversation with a friend. Talk to the superintendent of your school. Volunteer.  Write a letter to your local member of parliament. Post your opinion as your next status update. Speak up at a staff meeting. Email someone.  Tweet it. Stand up, keep standing up.

About the Contributor

Dr ElmiZulkarnain Osman received many awards and recognitions throughout his career in the Singapore Government service (as a teacher and a lecturer) such as the Outstanding Youth in Education Award (OYEA), Anugerah Guru ArifBudiman Award (AGAB), Lenovo Innovation Award, Outstanding Contribution Award for Staff (OCAS), Excellent Service Award (EXSA – Star) and the People’s Association (PA) Merit Award.

Dr ElmiZulkarnain is the current CEO of Elemantra Training and Event Consultancy (Singapore). He graduated from Trident University International with a PhD in Educational Leadership. He is currently a leading motivational speaker in Singapore. His audience affectionally remember him as The One Who Inspires Using Humour.

Dr Elmi is also a well sought-after International Corporate Trainer and a Malay Language Coach and he consistently works with private companies, government agencies, PA grassroots organisations and individuals. He is also a very popular programme and event emcee in Singapore who is effectively bilingual in English and Malay Language.

Feel free to contact Dr ElmiZulkarnain Osman direct via email at

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