Never mind kids who flush heads down toilets and blame the dog for eating their homework, among the biggest bugbears for today’s teachers are red tape and pushy parents.
Some parents are making life hell for teachers already working up to 60 hours a week to ensure their child does well.
Not only do they complain at the drop of the hat, some interfere in their child’s playground spats and in some cases attack other children on Facebook, forcing school staff to get involved.
Everyone seems to be an expert on education. [But this is actually] a very highly qualified and extraordinarily experienced profession.
The reality for today’s educators is plenty of priceless moments when children improve but more red tape and external pressure than ever.
As well as supervising in the classroom, most teachers:
• Attend countless out-of-hours meetings;
• Take kids on camp, working 24/7 for up to a week for no extra pay;
• Help with sport or special events such as fetes in their own time;
• Attend and in some cases organise student functions such as graduation dinners;
• In the case of senior students, deal with emails and phone calls 24/7;
• Wade through endless red tape;
• Spend many hours preparing classes and marking projects, tests and exams; and
• Write detailed but diplomatic reports heavy on description while holding back on the negativity and in some cases reality for fear of parental complaints.
But that’s not all.
After doing all that, teachers also must deal with “helicopter” and “lawn mower” parents intent on ensuring that their child, who is destined to be the next Einstein or Bradman, gets special treatment.
Jen, a NSW Teachers’ Federation member, has taught in elite and disadvantaged government schools and said both teachers and school executives faced enormous pressure due to interfering parents.
Some parents refused to accept their child being disciplined while others blamed teachers for any problem their child had and attacked other children they thought were mean to their child on Facebook.
This forced schools to intervene and did not help the children, Jen said.
“It used to be the case where you would send a letter or ring up and you might get ‘what’s my child done’,” she said. “Now … you have a parent ring up defending the behaviour or denying that it’s happening.”
Jen said parents and students now had too much power and teachers were run off their feet dealing with resulting issues, which sometimes included disputes between parents.
She said teachers spent countless extra hours recording every infraction in case they had to face parents, who often blamed them for their child’s misbehaviour.
This did not help the students, who were not developing the resilience they’d need as adults. “They’re not able to handle it in the real world,” Jen said.
Queensland Teachers’ Union president Kevin Bates said surveys showed teachers were working extraordinary hours, sometimes up to 60 a week, to deal with the demands of their job.
“While on paper teachers have 25 hours of face to face contact … they’re doing in the order of 25-30 hours a week in preparation,” he said.
Mr Bates said this was complicated by parents who disputed reports and unreasonably complained about their child’s treatment. Two in three Queensland principals even had been bullied by parents.
“Parents have a right to expect their child will get a quality education, we understand that,” he said. “What we don’t expect is that teachers are being targeted with those sorts of nuisance complaints, ‘I don’t like my child’s class’, etc etc.”
Mr Bates said some parents insisted their child was always right and everyone else was wrong, a complete 360 from the bad old days when the child “was never right”.
He said the solution was meeting in the middle with reasoned discussion and for parents to realise that much of their child’s education outcome related to their home environment.
People also needed to realise teachers were professionals and one needs to respect them like you would your doctor or lawyer.
“Everyone seems to be an expert on education,” Mr Bates said. “We need to get back to the notion that we’re dealing with a very highly qualified … and extraordinarily experienced profession.”
A Queensland high school teacher said while the “silent majority” of parents were supportive, a significant minority made life difficult.
Some refused to believe their child had done anything wrong, while others would help their child get out of an assessment such as delivering a speech in front of the class.
“If the kid says ‘I get nervous in front of the class’ the parent, instead of saying ‘suck it up you’ve got to do it’, they’ll support the student,” he said.
This teacher also documents student incidents so he has proof if a parent challenges disciplinary action. This usually shuts them up but in recent years has created even more paperwork.
“If something happens in the class or the kid says something we document it,” he said. “It’s time-consuming and it just sucks it out of you, physically and mentally.”
Sometimes things work out well. After accusing this teacher of bullying her son, a year later that parent called to apologise and admit “that stuff they told me was rubbish”.
Others are always supportive, accept any disciplinary action and help out on sports days. “They’ve got that common sense,” he said.