Tuesday 18 September 2012

Teachers cheered by call to be firm with pushy parents

Minister's remarks seen as 'moral support' in face of growing demands
By Kezia Toh, The Straits Times, 17 Sep 2012

SOME parents expect one-on-one tutoring for their children after school. Others want a guarantee that teachers will not raise their voices or scold them in front of their classmates.

Principals and teachers say they were cheered by the Education Minister's call last week to handle parents' unreasonable demands with a firm hand.

Many say they have already begun to do it, as they encounter more such demands in the course of their work.

Such demands do not faze principal Jenny Yeo of South View Primary - not any more.

"More parents are trying to assert their 'rights'... Some parents treat the teachers as though they only have one child to teach, which is a little self-centred."

Worst is when parents threaten to go to the Education Ministry if they do not get their way, said the principal of almost 20 years.

When that happens, "we tell them nicely that you can go ahead, and the school will explain our side of the story".

At Ang Mo Kio Secondary, principal Abdul Mannan says parents usually complain when their children are taught by relief teachers - which sometimes happens when a form teacher has to go on maternity leave, for example.

He said the situation has not reached the point "where parents come to bang on the table", but they will insist that the relief teacher be rotated across all classes - so that their children are not at a disadvantage.

In a speech during the ministry's Work Plan Seminar last week, Education Minister Heng Swee Keat called for "a firm stand against unreasonable demands".

Citing the recent case of a mother who complained to the police about a teacher cutting her son's hair, he said such incidents are the reason teachers "often feel anxious about dealing with demanding parents".

Teachers The Straits Times spoke to said that when they encounter such unreasonable parents, they generally avoid notifying the principal in case it is seen as a sign of weakness.

"They may think we cannot handle problems and put the blame on us," said a primary school teacher of more than 20 years, who asked not to be named as she was not authorised by her school to speak to the press.

Instead, she tries to cultivate good relations with parents by calling them to introduce herself when the school term starts. "I have to win them over, then I can start to teach properly... Teachers must also do networking."

Educators cheered Mr Heng's remarks as "moral support". They said it was a cue for schools to stand their ground against parents' unreasonable demands.

Parents interviewed, however, countered that it was not that they did not want to engage the teacher or the school, but that sometimes, the schools do not respond quickly enough to their needs.

Lodging a police report is not a ploy to threaten the school, but a reminder that "every situation is not to be taken lightly", said housewife Saliza Ramilan, 45.

Her son, who is in Primary 6 at Park View Primary, made the news in July after he was electrocuted at school while plugging in a laptop.

Ms Saliza said she did not call the police, but a report was made at the hospital where her son was warded.

She added: "I would not bypass the school to go to the police, unless the school did not take action."

Mr Mohamed Ariffin, 53, filed a police report in May when a teacher told his seven-year-old daughter: "I don't want to see your face." He, too, disagreed with the minister's remarks.

"It is not that parents are too fussy. Mr Heng should look at the steps to take when employing and training every teacher," said Mr Ariffin. "They are dealing with young minds, and should be mindful not to abuse them."

These cases may happen as parents are now more concerned about their child's emotional well-being, said senior executive Annie Sng, 39, who has two children in primary school.

She said she appreciates schools' efforts in engaging parents, such as when they hold meet-the-parents sessions and holiday workshops on parenting.

It is then that she gets to meet the teachers of her two children in Pei Hwa Presbyterian Primary.

"I would probe my child first before jumping to any conclusions to accuse teachers or anything - There must be mutual respect," Ms Sng said.

'My kid's not there, so don't teach the others'

My teachers spend a lot of extra time on pupils, even on Saturdays. But some parents don't want their child to spend time on a Saturday coming to school for extra classes. So they tell the teacher not to come back to teach the rest of the class. They do not want their child's classmates to benefit.
- Principal Jenny Yeo of South View Primary

Vulgarities and threats
Years back, a parent told me: 'You're not fit to be a teacher; you're fit to be a cleaner.' I also got scolded with vulgarities such as the F-word... Maybe these parents were having a bad day, but there is nothing I can do but wait for them to calm down and be reasonable.

Some children will also tell me: 'Don't touch me, or I will complain to MOE.' How would children know how to say this, if not for their parents?
- A teacher of 18 years from a primary school in the north

Haircut boy's mother responds
By Kezia Toh, The Straits Times, 17 Sep 2012

THE mother at the centre of a row over a teacher cutting her son's hair has said she is disappointed that the case was highlighted by Education Minister Heng Swee Keat.

In his annual Work Plan Seminar speech last week, Mr Heng cited Madam Serene Ong's complaint to the police about a teacher who cut her son's hair as a reason teachers "often feel anxious about dealing with demanding parents".

Responding, the 39-year-old sales manager told The Straits Times: "Mr Heng didn't even speak to me to understand the entire situation."

While it is fine to be criticised by netizens, it is not so when the minister does it, she said.

Madam Ong said her focus is now on her son, who will take his PSLE examinations at the end of the month. "This is a very bad time. It is not about who is right or wrong. So long as my family and friends know who I am and what the real situation is."

Unity Primary principal Jasmail Singh Gill said that the teacher, Ms Belinda Cheng, "had the right intentions" as she wanted the boy to look neat.

Ms Cheng has since been told of "more appropriate ways of handling such student matters", the principal said. Ms Cheng declined to comment.

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