We hear from a teacher at a government school who has lost count of the number of times police have been called to prevent a parent from threatening teachers.
Video above: an excerpt from 'A Teacher Changed My Life'. Watch the full story on SBS On Demand.
Back when I was a student and I misbehaved at school, I knew when I got home that I’d be in trouble again. There was a time when parents assumed that if their child got in strife at school, that their child had most likely done something to deserve whatever punishment they received. Today the opposite is true.
Today, when I need to discuss a student’s behavior with their parents, I brace myself. Increasingly, I’m told I’m the problem and the school is picking on their kid.
I prefer to email than phone parents. This way, I can logically lay out my concerns, I have a record of the conversation, and the vitriol arrives in ALL CAPS rather than verbal abuse so loud you have to hold the phone at arm’s length.
Where I work, only about 30 per cent of parents bother to attend one of the four parent-teacher evenings we hold throughout the year. The parents least likely to attend are those whose children have the most severe behavioral issues. Maybe these parents are afraid or embarrassed about what they’re likely to hear. Maybe they’ve just given up. Whatever the case, teachers cannot give up.
Of the parents who do come to formal parent-teacher interviews, around half have “perfect” kids. The other half has come to have an argument. I’ve had parents challenge me on my subject knowledge, criticize my teaching methods, allege that their child is being picked on by me, or complain that the work I’m setting is too difficult. Generally, I manage to talk them around. In other cases, they have demanded that their child change classes or have threatened to remove them from my school. Here’s a tip: if your kid has been to more than three high schools because they’ve had “problems” then maybe it’s them – or you – who is the problem.
I’m fortunate that I’ve only had a couple of encounters with parents who I thought might turn physical, most probably because I’m a 6-foot-3, 100kg bloke. Sadly, plenty of my colleagues have been verbally and physically intimidated. These encounters most often happen after their child has been reprimanded for something.
Now that every student has a mobile phone, as soon as an incident happens, students ring or message their parents with their version of events. Some parents take this as gospel and show up to the school within minutes, seeking to intervene on behalf of their child. This often includes threats of violence to staff or other students and almost always involves offensive language and behaviour. I’ve lost count of the times that the police have been called to escort a parent from the premises, or the school has been put in lockdown to prevent a parent from entering the grounds or classrooms.
Of the more well-intentioned interactions I have with parents, even these can be difficult. Especially in the early years of high school, some parents have the expectation that every teacher will get to know their child intimately, and deal with them in a highly-personalised manner. The reality is that I teach about 140 different students each year. It takes at least a term just to learn their names, let alone a great deal about them personally. Some parents can be very clingy and want regular communication about their child’s progress. While they undoubtedly mean well, my stock standard response is that “no news is good news”, and that unless they have a specific concern, then they’re best to wait for parent-teacher interviews to have a general chat about their child’s progress.
I’d like to see teachers treated by parents the same way as other professions are by their clients. If you go to see a doctor you might respectfully ask that they explain their diagnosis, but you don’t stand there in surgery telling them how to do their job. I encourage parents to be an active partner in their child’s education but accept that teachers are the experts, and that schools make decisions with their child’s best interests in mind. Allow your children to make mistakes and deal with the consequences themselves. Not every problem that your child encounters is someone else’s fault, nor do they need you to fix them.
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