On the very last day that I taught as a full-time secondary teacher, a Year 7 boy waited till everyone else except his two best buddies had left the room, walked up to me and slapped me in the face. I had given him absolutely no reason to do so; he did it because he could, no doubt to build up his profile to his mates.
He had no fear of retribution whatsoever. He knew that if I complained to the principal, he would at worst be sent to the school counsellor- who would then, in the ultimate example of teacher-bashing, call me in and tell me that it was somehow 'my fault' for not understanding this child's motivation and needs. The child knew it, and I knew it.
I put that incident down to the universe confirming my decision to leave the secondary system, and walked away. Ultimately, this school was so afraid of telling parents the truth about their children's faults and problems that it was prepared to allow the children to get away with assault, disguising the truth of the situation in a thick cloak of 'support and understanding'.
I'm not alone in having this sort of experience, as recent statistics on teacher stress (as detailed in today's Sydney Morning Herald) show. Teachers crushed by expectations I'm not the only passionate, enthusiastic teacher who has been lost to teaching due to the system's failure to balance the equation of teachers' and students' rights, to protect staff from abuse.
Sadly, blaming the teacher for everything that goes wrong in a classroom is not confined to the school administration; it's become a blood sport amongst parents seeking easy, comfortable answers to their child's problems. I have been insulted, ridiculed and verbally attacked, both face-to-face and online, by everyone from acquaintances to total strangers- sometimes for merely being a teacher, and sometimes for suggesting uncomfortable answers which are, in my view, better answers.
But what effect does this sort of vicious attitude to teachers have on the children?
If you cast your child as the hero in every school drama, and the teacher as the villain, are you effectively being a strong advocate and expressing your unconditional love and support for your child? Is that what you think?
I want you to think about the Year 7 boy who hit me in the face. What had he already learned, that allowed him to do this?
For a start, he'd learned to manipulate the system for his own ends. The school would cast him as the hero, and me as the villain. Experience with the way 'crossing the line' with a teacher was handled in that school had taught him that he could talk his way out of anything, and so anything was okay, because the child has all the rights in this equation and the teacher has none.
Is that okay with you? Is that a good lesson for that boy to learn?
What do you think that child will be like by the time he enters the adult world? Is that the way the adult world works? Was that child prepared adequately for adulthood?
Or is he likely to go out and smack someone in the face, thinking he can talk his way out of it in the courts? He has no evidence to the contrary.
Not convinced yet? Let's visit the home of a parent who thinks that their child needs complete support against the school system. If anything goes wrong, it's the teacher's fault. If the child fails a test, the teacher set the test too hard, or didn't teach the child the material adequately, or shouldn't be imposing tests anyway because it threatens a child's fragile ego. If the teacher corrects a child's behaviour, they shouldn't be doing so because they're not the parent. This child gets constant reassurance that everything they do is okay, and everything that goes wrong is someone else's fault.
I'm not talking about preschool here. As my original example shows, this attitude pervades society right through a child's senior schooling as well.
I bet you can think of a parent who defends their child like that. You can bet that this parent also talks about every conflict with the school in front of their child, denigrating the teachers and undermining the teacher's authority, with a sort of pride in their own outspokenness- as though they are a brave crusader for young people's rights.
What is their child like?
Does that child respect other children's rights? Adult's rights? Are they even aware that other people HAVE rights? How is this going to unfold once they leave home? Will they show respect for their first boss, or will they imagine they can treat him or her like every other person outside the family who has told them to do something they don't want to do?
Will they take responsibility for their mistakes in life, or will everything be someone else's fault?
Does that child have a realistic perspective of their own ability? Are they going to cruise through life, or are they going to get a rude shock when they discover that the workplace does, in fact, judge you on what you can actually do- regardless of why you get things wrong?
Children are not quite as delicate as these parents like to make out. Children are resilient little things, as long as they've been provided with their basic physical and emotional needs. Trust your child to absorb a little disappointment, a little correction, a few boundaries. Let them discover who they are and what they can do- but also what they CAN'T do. They need to know this to become successful adults.