Over the last nine years, Alex (not his real name) has been unfairly criticised, publicly belittled, and even threatened during the course of his work.
His occupation? A teacher at a secondary school in Singapore.
And his chief tormentors? No, not his students. And not his colleagues or superiors either.
It’s the parents.
“Most of the trouble I’ve had as a teacher stems from the parents of my students,” Alex told The Pride.
“I teach in a school that is considered to be ‘elite’, so the students generally come from families that are educated and doing well. And these students generally have parents who demand a lot from us, are self-entitled, and sometimes treat us as if we’re inferior to them.”
Unreasonable parents – the toll it takes on teachers
This problem was further highlighted in a recent Facebook post by Cak Cak Kuti, an education centre in Singapore, which shared real-life examples of teachers being bullied by students and their parents.
While the reaction to the Facebook post has generally been that of shock and outrage, Alex said he is “not surprised” to read of the disgraceful behaviour that some parents have exhibited towards their children’s teachers.
For 33-year-old Alex, his worst experience with parents happened two years ago, when he found himself harassed by his student’s mother for close to three months over a missing handphone.
“My student had lost his handphone in class, and he suspected that someone had stolen it,” recounted Alex, who teaches English and Humanities. “As you can expect, he kicked up a big fuss over his missing handphone. We tried searching for it, but to no avail.
“That did not sit well with his mother, however. She came down to the school to confront me the next day as I was her child’s form teacher. She verbally abused me loudly in front of the other teachers and students, and accused me of trying to cover up a theft so as not to damage the school’s reputation.
“I firmly, but respectfully, reminded her that us teachers were not responsible for our students’ belongings. But, that very night itself, I received a nasty text from her that accused me once again of being derelict in my duties as a form teacher.
“She would send such texts to me over the next three months. Sometimes, she would even call to scold me. Of course, she also complained about me to my Principal, who thankfully supported me in this incident.”
The mother eventually stopped her harassment, but that episode took a toll on Alex, who claimed he “lost close to five kilograms due to stress” during those traumatic three months.
Parents vs teachers – who loses in the end?
Problematic parents like the mother Alex had to deal with, as well as the kind that were highlighted in Cak Cak Kuti’s Facebook post, is something that former primary school teacher Lenny Syafawatie Binte Abdul Rahman can relate to.
Speaking to The Pride, the 34-year-old – who only left the service earlier this year – said the two types of parents that usually posed the biggest difficulty for her were the “helicopter” parents, and the “absent” parents.
“One (the helicopter parents) was too involved in the child’s learning such that they were telling teachers how to teach and how to manage the child,” explained Lenny. “And then there were the parents whom we needed to help us help the child, but there was minimal or no home support.”
Either way, however, Lenny said that the ones who are ultimately at the “losing end” are the students themselves.
“Sometimes, because of this handful of parents, teachers might become too wary when they teach that particular child,” said Lenny. “It’s not that we don’t want to see the child do better academically. But it’s more of teachers wanting to be ‘safe’ and not getting into unnecessary trouble with these unreasonable parents.
“So, the teacher might not be able to give your child the attention they need. If they do their work, good. If they don’t, then we’ll leave their parents a note or try to give them a call. And, if nothing is done after a few times, we’ll just highlight it to the level heads or head of departments (HODs), and that’s it.”
In addition, Lenny thinks that parents who openly disrespect their children’s teachers are also imparting the wrong values to their children.
“Children mirror their parents’ behaviours. So, when children see that their parents disrespect the teachers, they follow suit,” said Lenny. “Sometimes, they’ll spin tales and tell their parents a totally different story of why they were scolded or punished in school.
“And instead of asking or clarifying with the teacher, parents will shoot letters straight to the school leaders and, in some cases, to MOE (Ministry of Education). Parents nowadays are more educated, so they think they know better such that they will tell teachers how to do their jobs.”
Don’t want spoilt kids? Then discipline them
Lenny’s sentiments are echoed by private tutor Balqish Belle, who added that when overprotective parents do not discipline their child when the time calls, it can lead to many of these children growing up spoilt and self-entitled.
“It really boils down to proper upbringing. The parents need to educate their child (on how to behave properly), and if they find it too difficult to handle, then they should be open to ideas from the school when it comes to punishment,” said Belle, who has over 10 years of teaching experience.
“After all, in the real world, if you behave inappropriately, you will get punished. So, parents and the educational institutions need to address this matter by taking stringent action, and imposing stricter punishments to the students to show them what can happen to them if they break rules.
“Parents need to educate their child to understand that education is a privilege and a luxury. Their child must realise that education is ultimately their own responsibility, and that if they want a good future they must put in the effort.”
Teachers are your friends, not enemies
When all is said and done, however, Lenny insists that the best way for parents to ensure that their children get the best education is if they work together with the teachers, instead of opposing them.
“Work with teachers and you will be amazed at the lengths teachers are more than willing to go for your child. We are your friends and partners, so do not make us your enemies,” said Lenny.
“Give us the simple, mutual respect that we do know what we are doing. Teachers are not crazy. We don’t get angry over nothing and certainly will not scold your child if they did the right thing.
“That being said, we are also human, and we do make mistakes. But it is only basic courtesy for you to at least clarify with us or meet up with us and inform us, before going to our superiors.”
Belle also wishes that parents can stop having unrealistic expectations of teachers, and recognise that the teaching profession can be a demanding one.
“In this day and age, most parents expect to be able to get hold of the teacher 24/7. I find this to be very unreasonable, as teaching is a profession that requires lots of energy,” said Belle. “Teaching is a job that is both mentally and physically draining. Hence, after a day of teaching, having parents text or email you about their child’s homework can be mentally tiring and frustrating.
“I think parents need to put themselves in the teacher’s shoes and imagine how they would feel if their bosses did that to them. They need to realise that teachers and tutors alike have family and responsibilities outside the classroom.”
A little kindness can go a long way
And ultimately, Alex hopes that parents will begin to show teachers the kindness, respect and appreciation that they deserve.
“As teachers, I think it’s fair to say that we joined this profession because we wanted to mould the minds of the future,” mused Alex. “We want only the best for your child. But it is not easy being a teacher nowadays, because there are many more responsibilities that we have to bear beyond just teaching.
“Still, we’re not complaining, because most of us love teaching and find the job fulfilling. All we’re asking, though, is for you (parents) to be more understanding and patient towards us. Your support is invaluable in helping us create the best learning environment for your children.
“And, if it’s not too much to ask of you, we would love it if you can offer us words of encouragement and appreciation once in a while. You’re a key stakeholder of our jobs, and we value you greatly. We only ask that you value us just as much.”