Parents on notice as teachers cite bad behaviour as one of the worst aspects of job
Dealing with badly behaved parents with ever-increasing demands is what teachers and school leaders dislike most about their jobs.
A new survey has found that for 47 per cent of teachers, dealing with parents is the least satisfying part of their job.
Education reporter Adam Carey moderating a panel discussion at The Age Schools Summit on Thursday.Credit:Justin McManus
The report, which received responses from 270 teachers from 103 independent schools, also found that parents had caused harm to teacher mental health and wellbeing and become increasingly demanding, with school management pandering to parents – to the detriment of teachers.
Speaking at The Age Schools Summit on Thursday, opposition education spokesman Matthew Bach said he wasn’t surprised.
“As a new parent myself, I know that we just love our kids in the most irrational way,” Bach said.
“That can lead to some really abhorrent interactions with teachers and school leadership. So, I’m not entirely sure if these issues are necessarily on the rise, but teachers have to know that in the parliament, in the union movement, in the department – we’ve got their backs.”
Research by Monash University’s Dr Fiona Longmuir into Australian teachers’ perceptions of their work in 2022 found one in four felt unsafe at work, while 6 per cent of about 7500 teachers surveyed said parent-related pressures were a downside to their work.
Some of those teachers reported that parents were verbally abusive, threatened to take staff to the department and constantly told teachers they were recording them or threatened physical violence.
“The ways they talked about them were in pretty negative ways, the level of demand, the level of the threatening behaviour they experienced and at times full-on aggressive and abusive behaviour,” she told the summit.
The Victorian government last year increased powers for principals to issue School Community Safety Orders to help bolster the agency of schools.
Haileybury chief executive and principal Derek Scott.Credit:Eddie Jim
However, Bach said further adjustments were needed, and likely legislative changes.
Haileybury chief executive and principal Derek Scott said teachers were dealing with increasing rates of disruption and challenging student behaviour, but it was also difficult if parents weren’t supportive of schools when they stepped in to help regulate student behaviour.
Scott said teachers needed to know they had the support of those around them.
“Some of these things get very complex and they can be quite nasty … we’ve got to take that away from teachers to a different level … go on with the management and teaching in the classroom,” he said.
Scott said principals needed to reflect on whether school leadership facilitated unreasonable expectations from parents.
“We’ve got to be able to show those to parents, to say this is actually what you’re signing up to when you’re sending … your kids to the school, Catholic school, private school, whatever it is, and you’ve got to support that, if you can’t support that, we’re not going to be able to get that progress with your son,” he said.
Yvonne Harvey, principal of Werribee’s Heathdale Christian College, said parents were also quicker to go to lawyers than they once were.
“Legal companies are citing an increase in parents contacting them about suspensions, detentions and expulsions … and their right of reply if the parent believes their child would not have done what the school believes they have done,” she said.
Australian Education Union state branch president Meredith Peace said some members’ careers were damaged by bullying and harassment online, including comments on social media pages.
“Occasionally, there are cases when parents, I think, overstep the line, perhaps if you could put it that way, or don’t deal with an issue in a constructive way with their child,” she said.
Peace said teachers and support staff needed to be backed by school leadership and have access to mediation support from the education department.
The Independent Schools Victoria report contained a lesson for parents that teachers deserve more respect.
“The lesson for parents is to temper their expectations and to recognise the professionalism of teachers,” chief executive Michelle Green wrote in her introduction to the survey report.
“Principals can assist in this by setting clear boundaries for parents on what’s reasonable, and what’s not, in their engagement with teachers.”
Gail McHardy, chief executive of Parents Victoria, which works with Victorian government schools and parents, said it was critical that there was a strong “narrative about what schools and families are having to deal with in regards to fractured relationships, what’s realistic and constructive when incidents and conflict occurs”.
She said these difficult discussions often happened after an incident and not before.
“This is where building respectful relationships with students and their families is crucial, the first step to enable cultural change in schools, everyone has a responsibility,” she said.
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