We know teachers are under a lot of pressure. The shortage of teachers, the increasing workload as well as the demands of complex work mean that many teachers are stressed.
But my research shows that parents don’t help. In fact, they make the problem worse.
Teachers increasingly face abuse from parents and this undermines their desire to stay in the profession.
Intimidation, abuse and threats
A 2020 survey by Australian Catholic University and Deakin University of more than 2,000 Australian school principals found that 83% had experienced bullying, threat of physical violence or physical violence during of the last 12 months.
The survey did not specify where the abuse came from, but it did report a significant increase in parental engagement due to the pandemic. About 28% of school principals surveyed said they spent two more hours a day caring for parents.
Survey researchers also recommended recording parent/teacher interviews online to minimize exposure to “offensive behavior.”
This has not escaped the attention of policy makers. From term three, the Victorian Government introduced powers to ban parents from school in cases of threatening behavior and bullying of staff. Western Australia has a similar ban in place.
I have interviewed over 80 teachers across four different studies over the past ten years.
This includes studies with teachers from public and independent schools, as well as primary and secondary schools. It also includes early career teachers and teachers from remote and rural communities.
Among these, three recurring themes emerge: teachers are passionate about teaching, the job is incredibly stressful and not accompanied by sufficient support, and the profession is increasingly looked down upon by the community. This includes media reports about schools, comments from political leaders, as well as parents’ behavior towards teachers.
Read more: ‘It’s like banging your head against the wall’: Why a move to outsource lesson planning is driving NSW teachers crazy
Teachers are supposed to be parents
The teachers I interviewed spoke of their commitment to the emotional, intellectual, and physical well-being of students in their classrooms.
Some teachers said they were like parents to their students. As Annelise told me:
My 12th graders always tell me, “You’re like our school mom” because it’s such a safe environment. I think that’s where you become like their other mom because they come to you for advice or they come to you all scared, or they just need a push.
But while teachers are very caring and protective of their students, they are sometimes exploited by parents who outsource parenting, discipline and childcare. Ross, a teacher at a private school, said he is always in demand.
look they are [parents] pay more than A$20,000 [per year] and some of them want to get their money’s worth. So yes, we are very responsible to parents […] they paid their money and they want you to raise them too.
Many parents think that teachers only work from 8:30 a.m. to 3:00 p.m. The reality is that they have to create lessons, arrange staff and parent meetings, grade work, complete administration, and respond to emails outside of these hours.
As Jacinthe explains:
I’m 0.6 but I’m here full time. I spent three hours answering emails to parents instead of doing what I was going to do on my day off.
Teachers’ time and work are not valued
Teachers said they were not respected or valued by parents. This includes waiting hours for parents to pick up their children. As Kristal said:
I had to wait until 1am [for] parents to pick up their children after an excursion or an evening rehearsal. It’s not just once either […]
It also implies that parents don’t believe teachers’ accounts of what happens in the classroom, as Jackson told me:
I scolded a student in class for smearing bananas on the carpet behind his desk and made him clean up. Within five minutes of the end of class […] Got the kid’s parents on the phone complaining it wasn’t their son […]
Bella, a drama teacher, told me that “the hardest thing” about being a new teacher “is the parents.”
I had a student in grade 11 whose parents emailed my department head and basically said, “The drama teacher, who I don’t know, I don’t think she knows what which she does because my child got a B and she is an A student.’
But that goes through a simple lack of respect. The teachers I interviewed reported regular incidents of violence and threatening behavior. As Kelly told me:
We had to close the whole school one day because a parent got mad at the principal. Then they burned the front of the school until the police arrived.
It also involves verbal abuse, as Max points out:
Children have their traumas and their problems, but nine times out of ten it is the parents. They phone you over lunch and yell at you that you’re useless, that their kid should get an A, and that you don’t know what you’re doing. It’s very stressful.
Chloe, a freelance teacher, summed it up like this:
What’s the best thing about teaching? Children. And the worst in education are the parents!
The worst in education
Of course, parents care deeply about their children and have the right to approach the school to ask questions or raise concerns.
But parents should also keep in mind that a school is also someone else’s workplace. Teachers are already working overtime (literally) to educate their children – they don’t need parental abuse on top of that.
Read more: Australia’s teacher shortage won’t be solved until we treat teaching as a profession, not a trade