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Are parents and teachers switching roles?

“Hi Tim, and what have you got for lunch? Just that packet of chips?”
“Yes.”
“No, fruit or sandwiches or anything? Oh, you’ve got a sandwich!”
“But I don’t like peanut butter.”
“Have you talked with your parents about this?”

In my time as a teacher, I observed a strange phenomena increasing in the relationship between school and home. An increase in the switching roles of parents and teachers.

The scenario above is a common one in schools, even in the private schools where I worked. A variety of similar scenarios with similar conversations occur regularly within schools. The reality is that an increasing amount of time is spent by teachers chasing students and their parents regarding uniforms, lunches, various forms and appointments. In the context of a lesson, exorbitant time may be spent on trying to figure out what to do about the fact that Sam doesn’t have his laptop here today, or that Sarah can’t find a single pencil, and that Sally won’t be getting a new book until next week. Not to mention that Lindsey and Louisa are no longer friends since lunchtime, Luke is sharing the latest inappropriate joke, and you’re wondering why George hasn’t shown up to class yet. Organising, comforting, counselling, supporting and nurturing may all be “part of the job”, but how much time is spent on what may be called parental responsibilities as opposed to the teaching of the curriculum, which is supposedly the main goal of teachers? While there have always been some parental responsibilities that have been taken by the teacher and some parts of the curriculum that have been taught by parents, have the proportions of the responsibilities that each group has taken on grown?

In my view, yes. I don’t think it comes as a surprise that New Zealand education results are not great, especially at the lower end of student achievement. 40 percent of the New Zealand adult population are functionally illiterate according to the New Zealand Book Council. Within schools, I have seen parents nearly lining up to have their child labeled as “learning disabled”, whether this is true or not. It seems parents are willing to do quite a bit so that their child will at least get some one-on-one time with a teacher aide, someone who can actually focus on their child’s learning. Someone who is not distracted with all the organisational things that classrooms are filled with. While more and more money is being poured into this, the recent teacher strikes highlighted that the demand for these services is vastly outstripping supply.

We have also seen the rise of after school tutors and tuition centres. Kip McGrath and other centres seem to be popping up everywhere. Thousands of New Zealand children now attend these centres. And while the negative effects of more homework and less play for children are well known, I can understand why parents still seek out these alternative ways of trying to get their children ahead in the education race.

This increase in after school tuition cuts into even more of the time that parents and children could spend with each other. What about getting to know each other and building parent and child relationships? Isn’t that what parenting is really all about? Not about constantly running around trying to find the next educational top-up to school?

So while a switching of roles between parents and teachers does seem to be occurring, can it be said that therefore children are still receiving a good education and good parenting but just from different sources? I don’t see any evidence for this being the case. Children need parenting from their parents. And if our current schooling system is causing this inversion then maybe it’s time to think outside the box when it comes to how we learn and the most effective way of going about this. Maybe instead of scrabbling for limited places in schools or taking up further time with after school tuition, we could reflect and start to carve out our own paths and build and create the life for our family that we really want.