The thing about teachers – and everyone surely has a view of them whether it is the fierce disciplinarian or the nurturing role model – is that too many are simply leaving what is a vital profession (according to the Straits Times, 5,000 have left in the last 5 years). The question is why?
As you listen to their stories, it’s easy to point to some obvious culprits.
For one, there are long work hours (often 12 hours a day) that consume even weekends with school activities and leadership responsibilities. Then there is the time after hours spent marking homework and tests. Three month holidays may not even make up for going back to a nine month regimen of that. And in many cases, the more passionate a teacher is, the worse the burnout – a tragic paradox.
Or one may point at administrative responsibilities – the bane of every organisation’s existence (at least for the one in charge of whipping all the forms, rules, and procedures into shape, and avoiding a tsunami of paperwork). If you think checking and deleting your emails are boring, imagine doing it for other people, plus leading classes of 30 rowdy kids.
But ultimately – and local teachers’ blogs attest to this – the main root of the teaching exodus is… wait for it… us.
Yes us, the students, or their parents (soon-to-be parents, this concerns you too). That’s not to say that we want to push teachers out of their chosen profession (after all, the brain drain of capable educators should worry us too), but our unconscious attitudes are often at fault.
For instance, if parents adopt the erroneous view that they are “customers” paying for their child’s education, it is too easy to slip into “customer is king” mode. The teacher (being a service provider) simply has to provide whatever the parent wants. But that means teachers may not be able to provide the hard lessons the child sometimes needs through discipline.
It is widely acknowledged that the younger generation is more entitled; a distinct contrast from the attitude of students in our parents’ generation: last time student misbehave, smack you in front of school; now student misbehave, cannot touch – or else teacher and school gets smacked. And the students know it (remember that student who demanded a personal apology because his teacher scolded him?). With punishment prohibited from schools, students are given license to develop their worst adolescent tendencies – tantrums, entitlement, and irresponsibility.
The generation before them, their parents, are frankly to blame when they shield their child from needed school discipline. One the most extreme cases is the mom who was so angry a teacher had cut her son’s hair without permission, she filed a police report. No wonder teachers are quitting: no one likes working under conflicting conditions – namely, educate rowdy kids, but then be denied the tools or authority to make that happen.
Teaching is not one-sided
When you really think about it, since we want well-rounded young people (and not just smart ones), we need space for character building – discipline and resilience are essential by the time you’re an adult. Ultimately for the child’s own future, the momentary pain of being disciplined by a teacher can teach a lifelong lesson: “People won’t shield you from your choices forever, so think before you leap”.
In this collaborative effort of student and teacher to achieve this thing called Education, both students and teachers need support – the students to be kept safe, respected and primed for learning; and the teachers to be trusted with powers to effectively administer their duties – neither should be favoured over the other. If teachers were omnipotent, they couldn’t be effective and lead by example. But if students have immunity, they can and likely will succumb to their own childish wiles, destroying the discipline and respect that’s the foundation of an effective education, driving committed teachers away out of the profession and deterring future educators from careers where they are sorely needed.
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