Gimme a break

Gimme a break

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angela ho
Illustration: Angela Ho

Some parents demand too much from teachers, creating unnecessary stress, writes Wong Yat-hei

Education reforms and drug abuse at school are not the only things bothering teachers these days. Parents are causing more than their fair share of headaches.

They bother teachers at all hours, holiday or term time, with all sorts of unreasonable and annoying requests, earning them the nickname 'Monster Parents'.

These parents are over-protective of their children. They think the school is there to serve their children and them, and they ignore the rights of teachers and other students.

Chris Chan, an English teacher at a secondary school in Po Lam, says he constantly receive phone calls from the mums of his Form one students.

'There's this lady who calls about three times a month to tell me how I should teach her son. She likes making suggestions that I think are totally out of the question. She asks me to use story books and exercises that she thinks are beneficial. Why does she think she can demand the teacher or even the school use teaching materials she likes?'

He adds there was one time when this parent went to a book sale and rang to ask him which English story book she should buy for her son. 'I appreciate her effort in taking care of her son's education, but that's a little too much in my opinion.'

Chan says the woman only thinks about her son's interests and seems to be unaware that her son is in a school with hundreds of other students.

'She told me her son tends to be attention-seeking and asked me to pay more attention to him. What about my other students? I will not sacrifice the benefit of the entire class for any student in particular. What a ridiculous demand!'

Dr Lee Man Yuk-ching, an assistant professor from the department of special education and counselling at the Hong Kong Institute of Education, thinks monster parents are not yet a pressing issue in local schools, but they tend to be more common among prestigious and direct subsidy schools where the parents are well-off and educated.

Lee explains that parents are becoming more demanding because of a shift in social values and environment.

'Hong Kong is an 'economy comes first' society. Parents see themselves as customers purchasing a service when they send their children to school. They want to get what they want. Education now reaches every class in society with plenty of schools and institutes to choose from. There is a shortage of students rather than shortages of schools, which makes parents feel they have more say,' Lee says.

Another reason is that school is no longer a safe place.

'Since the introduction of nine-year compulsory education in 1978, troubled students no longer drop out of school early. This means more chances for education but, at the same time, these black sheep bring violence, drugs and crime into schools,' she says.

Communication is the key to resolving conflict between teachers and parents, Lee says.

During orientation, it is important to inform parents about the education philosophy of the school. The message should be reinforced through parent- teacher activities such as seminars, field trips, newsletters and the school intranet.

Meeting parents or calling them is also a good way to sort things out. 'When teachers talk to parents about their children's problems, they should be specific and objective. This will help parents understand the situation and support the teacher,' she says.

She adds that parents should not just focus on students' weaknesses - they should point out the positive and put in some words of encouragement.

Lee also calls for schools to be more transparent with teaching polices.

'Some schools have started inviting parents to sit in on lessons, and the government has required a parent representative to be on the school board of directors,' she says.

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