The Megaphone - The Customer is Always Right
Apr 07, 2016 | The Megaphone | by guest columnist Greg Cudmore
When I began my teaching career in 1970 I could easily be forgiven for believing that the vast majority of my students were orphans. You simply had no contact with parents. No Information Evenings, Parent Teacher interviews and only rare written correspondence. Thankfully, email had not been invented but nonetheless it was clear that parents respected and trusted their children’s teachers. In an era of corporal punishment if you whacked a child they would probably cop another hiding if they dared tell their parents that they had been punished at school. Then gradually all this changed. Today the modern parent is the bane of the teaching profession. Not misbehaving kids; not school leaders who have little concept of staff pastoral care but meddling and hypercritical parents.
It is beyond the scope of this article to analyze why the pendulum has swung so wildly but the political, social and religious renaissance in Australia in the i990s is probably the best place to start. The Whitlam government, the Family Law Act, the Vietnam War and the impact of many global liberation movements radically changed Australian society. The new generation of parents were more educated and politically aware and their children were encouraged to rebel and assert their rights.
But instead of creating a new paradigm where teachers, parents and their children could build an efficacious educational partnership, the new relationship became more and more adversarial. The modern parent will not hesitate to criticize teachers if their children underachieve or are disciplined in the classroom. Poor grades are the teacher’s fault either because they are incompetent or because they hold a vendetta or are simply unwilling to ‘understand’ an often ‘gifted’ child. In an era of Schools Without Failure the blame will invariably be sheeted at teachers.
More so in the Independent sector, parents are clients and the customer is always right. School leaders cravenly support aggrieved parents and teachers quickly learn if they are to survive in the profession they must avoid at all costs upsetting parents. Give every student inflated grades and write vague harmless comments on school reports. Watch every word you say in class because students will twist and pervert what was said to incriminate the teacher. Avoid controversial topics in class. Play safe and stay under the radar.
The bottom line in schools today is not education. Rather it is the budget bottom line of maximizing enrolments and marketing a product. Schools now spend precious funds advertising and promoting their school for a market share of enrolments. This results in the customer always being right and teachers must inevitably become the scapegoats. School leaders will rarely support the teacher over the parent. After all, he who pays the piper calls the tune.
Kids are not stupid. They see how the system works. They know how to push buttons and their parents will spring into action to attack any perceived injustice. Parents mistakenly believe that good parenting means insuring that your child is never upset or disappointed. If their child does not win an award it’s the teacher’s fault. If their child is disciplined, parents will exhaust every appeal to correct a mighty injustice.
I remember once receiving a two page vitriolic email which accused me of being the most unprofessional and despicable teacher in the history of education. I had destroyed their daughter and she was suicidal and unwilling to attend school because I had humiliated her. My crime? Because of her lack of commitment and ability I had not selected her for a sporting team. They informed me that they were seeking an interview with the Headmaster and the Chairman of the Board. My response was to advise the parents that I was seeing my solicitor with the aim of suing for scurrilous defamation. I never heard from the parents again! Later I received a message from my Headmaster that I had to include the ‘suicidal child’ in the team to keep the parents happy. Is this what education has come to? For those teachers beginning their careers, welcome to the minefield that is teaching.
by Greg Cudmore
The writer has recently retired after 45 years teaching in Independent schools in Victoria and Queensland.
For more by Greg click here
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