But my research shows parents are not helping. In fact, they are making the problem worse.
Teachers are increasingly copping abuse from parents and it’s undermining their desire to stay in the profession.
Bullying, abuse and threats
A 2020 Australian Catholic University/ Deakin University survey of more than 2,000 Australian principals found 83% had experienced bullying, the threat of physical violence or physical violence in the past 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 surveyed principals said they were spending an extra two hours a day dealing with parents.
The survey’s researchers also recommended having recorded, online parent/ teacher interviews to minimise exposure to “offensive behaviour”.
This has not escaped the attention of policymakers. From term 3, the Victorian government introduced powers to ban parents from school grounds for threatening behaviour and bullying towards staff. Western Australia has a similar ban in place.
I have interviewed more than 80 teachers across four different studies over the past ten years.
This includes studies with teachers from government and independent schools, and both primary and secondary schools. It also includes early career teachers and teachers in remote and rural communities.
Out of these, three consistent themes arise: teachers are passionate about teaching, the job is incredibly stressful and does not come with enough support and the profession is increasingly disrespected by the community. This includes media reporting about schools, comments from political leaders, as well as parents’ behaviour towards teachers.
Teachers are expected to be parents
The teachers I interviewed talked about their commitment to the emotional, intellectual and physical wellbeing of students in their classrooms.
Some teachers spoke of being like a parent to their students. As Annelise told me:
My year 12s always say to me, ‘You’re like our school mum’ because it’s such a safe environment. I think that’s where you do become like their other mum because they come to you for advice or they come to you all scared, or they just need a bit of boost.
But while teachers are very caring and protective of their students, they are sometimes taken advantage of by parents who outsource parenting, discipline and child-minding. Ross, a teacher in a private school spoke of always being in demand.
Look, they’re [parents] paying A$20,000-plus [per year] and some of them want to get their money’s worth. So yeah, we are very accountable to the parents […] they’ve paid their money and they want you to sort of parent them as well.
Many parents think teachers just work from 8.30am to 3.00pm. The reality is they have to create lessons, have staff and parent meetings, mark work, complete administration and respond to emails outside of these hours.
As Jacinta explains:
I’m 0.6 but I’m there full-time. I spent three hours just answering emails to parents instead of doing what I went in to do on my day off.
Teachers’ time and work is not valued
Teachers spoke of not being respected or valued by parents. This includes waiting for hours for parents to pick up their children. As Krystal said:
I’ve had to wait until 1am [for] parents to pick up their kids after an evening excursion or rehearsal. This is not just a once off either […]
It also involves parents not believing teachers’ accounts of what happens in the classroom, as Jackson told me:
I told one student off in class for smearing banana all over the carpet behind his desk and I made him clean it up. Within five minutes of the class ending […] I’ve got the kid’s parents on the phone complaining that it wasn’t their son […]
Bella, a drama teacher, told me “the most challenging thing” about being a new teacher “is the parents”.
I had a student in year 11 whose parents emailed my head of department and basically said, ‘The drama teacher, who I don’t know, I don’t think she knows what she’s doing because my child got a B and she’s an A student.’
Going beyond disrespect
But it goes behind simple disrespect. Teachers I interviewed reported regular incidents of violence and threatening behaviour. As Kelly told me:
We had to lock down the entire school one day because a parent went ballistic at the principal. Then they did burnouts out the front of the school until the police arrived.
This also involves verbal abuse, as Max highlights:
The kids have their trauma and issues, but nine times out of ten it’s the parents. They phone you up during lunch and yell at you that you’re useless, their child should have got an A and that you don’t know what you’re doing. It’s very stressful.
Chloe, an independent primary school teacher, summed up the situation like this:
What’s the best thing about teaching? The kids. And the worst thing about teaching is the parents!
The worst thing about teaching
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 be mindful that a school is also someone else’s workplace. Teachers are already working overtime (literally) to educate their children – they don’t need abuse from parents on top of this.