By Marcus Goh and Adrian Kuek
Grade Expectations is a weekly feature on education in Singapore. Expect fun activities, useful tips and insightful news on learning. It’s not just about your child’s grades – it’s about raising a great child!
The recent media report of West Spring Primary School’s “no texts and emails after 5pm” rule has cast a spotlight on the prevailing attitude towards teachers nowadays, which is that parents are paying teachers for a service. The idea is that parents pay teachers via taxes for the service of having their kids taught.
Compare this to attitudes in the past, when parents deferred to teachers in terms of teaching and disciplining their children. It’s clear that teachers have been relegated to being vendors in learning, rather than being partners.
Perhaps this might be an unforeseen consequence of how the school system is structured, seeing how schools do actually engage vendors for enrichment and other courses.
Teachers as your child’s learning partners
Nevertheless, treating teachers as vendors rather than partners is harmful for a child’s education. It reduces the learning process to a purely transactional one — put in tax money (or parent volunteer hours or other forms of “payment”) to get good grades for your child.
An education is so much more than just scoring high marks. It is about loving the subjects that you learn and taking the initiative to know more. A good teacher imparts his or her love of the subject into each class that is taught, and the hallmark of a good education is a student who seeks more knowledge in the subject out of curiosity and passion.
Working towards being learning partners
So here are five ways that parents can treat teachers as learning partners, instead of vendors.
1. Respect their boundaries when it comes to communication
Many teachers fear giving their mobile numbers to students and parents precisely because it becomes used and abused as an ad hoc form of communication. This is why West Spring Primary School’s principal, Jacintha Lim, should be lauded for having implemented her rule regarding communications.
Imagine if your boss incessantly sends WhatsApp messages after working hours (though for many of us, that might be a reality). That’s the same feeling teachers get when having to contend with after-hours communication. It’s not to say that parents are the ‘boss’ of their child’s teachers, but that a sense of responsibility is what drives parents to answer such messages.
2. Allow teachers to discipline your child, if necessary
If it hasn’t been made abundantly clear by now, the Ministry of Education and all schools have guidelines and limits for punishment that take into account physical and emotional safety. So when a teacher is forced to discipline a student, that disciplining takes into account the child’s safety. Punishment is never the first option; rather, it is often the last recourse that the teacher has when it comes to teaching.
So give your child’s teacher the respect and autonomy to administer punishment where necessary. It’s not just about your child, but also about how his or her classmates view and learn from the incident as well. Negative reinforcement is sometimes required for better behaviour and learning — that’s why we have laws and fines for adults, right?
3. Talk to the teacher directly if you have any issues
For a teacher to be effective, he or she needs authority over the students in class. If nobody listens to the teacher, then how will learning take place? For that reason, don’t undermine your child’s teacher’s authority by criticising them in front of your child. If a child’s parents don’t respect the teacher, then it’s likely that the child will have the same attitude.
Take it up directly with the teacher if you have any doubts. It is better to have direct communication, rather than a “broken telephone” style of complaints through your child that is not going to improve anything. It will also be more reassuring when the teacher explains the rationale for certain actions that you might disagree with.
4. Be understanding when teachers make mistakes
In the heat of battle – which is what teaching a rowdy class of students can be like – mistakes can be made. Remember that teachers are working adults, and working adults can make mistakes at work, too.
Be understanding when that happens. If it’s a minor mistake or one that can be cleared up with a simple phone call, then let it go. If it’s not severe or frequent, then treat it for what it is — a one-off incident.
5. Yes, you can complain — but go through proper channels
As with all industries, the teaching profession also has some bad eggs. If after talking to a teacher directly and considering all other avenues, you are not satisfied with the resolution, then it might be necessary to provide feedback to higher authorities. That is perfectly normal.
However, blowing up the issue over social media does nobody any good. In fact, Internet shaming is fast becoming a problem not just in education, but for most industries. You might attract attention to the behaviour of the teacher in question, but your child, the class, the school and even you might be the victims of unintended fallout.
This applies to students, too.
Marcus Goh runs Write-Handed, a creative writing studio. At the same time, he teaches Secondary English at The Write Connection. He has been a specialist tutor for English and Literature (Secondary) since 2005.
Adrian Kuek runs Joyous Learning, an enrichment centre that specialises in English, Mathematics, Science and Creative Writing for Primary. He previously served as the academic director of one of Singapore’s largest enrichment centre chains for over seven years.