Sunday 20 November 2011

Student discipline in schools - An ex-teacher's view

Without rancour or blame
When students misbehave, parents should stay rational and cooperate with teachers
Letter from Ho Kong Loon, TODAY, 18 Nov 2011

I am a retired teacher. I taught primary school children for 40 years. During the last decade of my teaching career (1993 to 2003), I was alarmed and concerned over the upward swing in pupil misconduct.

Well-meaning but overly protective and demanding parents undermine the overall mental, psychological and social growth and development of their children.

The parents unwittingly sow the seeds to the declining discipline of an increasing number of schoolchildren.

Highly emotional or agitated parents, acting in the interests of their children, hinder rather than help soothe and smoothen the process of conciliation and understanding over the children's misconduct at school.

Rule breakers of an earlier era usually came from poor families with illiterate parents. The children's lot was one of constant deprivations and harsh punishment for any acts of misconduct, whether at home or in the school.

Their contemporaries of today come from a wide cross-section of society. Their parents are much more literate, liberal and vocal. Theirs are often dual-income families.

The dual-income family brought about marked social changes. The absence of both parents for a substantial part of the day meant domestic help, grandparents or other caregivers care for the children during wakeful hours. 

Parents anxious to spend quality time with their children during their infrequent breaks from work could overcompensate, indulging them with expensive gifts and disproportionate sums of pocket money, etc.

Compounding the dilemma of errant children, present-day teachers are hemmed in by an unwieldy host of don'ts. The unrealistic expectations of unreasonable parents make it very difficult for a teacher to effectively manage a class of active, vocal and smart-alecky students, let alone to teach them effectively.

Students who shout, bully others, sleep during lessons, use abusive language, disrupt lessons frequently and defy the teachers are depriving their classmates of the right to learn in a conducive and peaceful environment.

I advise parents against writing letters of complaint directly to the Ministry of Education or the mainstream media: They set the tone for much angst, unpleasantness and misunderstanding.

It is also inadvisable to confront a teacher or threaten him/her with legal action.

Parents should cooperate with the teachers to determine the causal factors of their children's intransigence. The approach and texture of the cooperation ought to be warm, positive and sincere, in a consultative and reflective manner without the rancour of blame, witch-hunt or denigration.

A call, e-mail or even a note to the teacher seeking clarification or explanation on an issue of conduct or under-performance would encourage the teacher to be more proactive, prompt and amiable in response, only if the language used and the contents are temperate, courteous and rational.

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