St Andrew’s Cathedral School principal Dr John Collier said in a recent school newsletter that “gracious engagement” between staff and parents had been on the decline lately in the “minority of parents”.
However, Dr Collier added that he thought an “increase in parental anxiety” may be a problem across society.
And at his school, he said (the upwards of $30,000 in) fees parents are paying have meant some see their relationship with teachers as “master/servant relationship”, entitling them to make “extravagant demands”.
“I am having to interact with too many parents who have verbally abused, physically threatened or shouted at a staff member,” Dr Collier told parents in his impassioned newsletter address.
Teachers cop a lot of abuse so we thought we’d call our favourite teachers just to say thank you. Post continues.
He continued, “People who do this should engage in some role reversal: if someone behaved in this way towards you, would it be helpful and would it motivate you to assist them?”
“I have chosen to draw this matter to the attention of all parents as the frequency of incidents of unrestrained behaviour appears to be increasing.”
The educator implored parents to ask themselves questions like, “Is my child’s view of the universe entirely correct, or is it partial or jaundiced in some way?” and “Should my child be able to manage this himself or herself as a learning experience?”
Comparing parents to a hippopotamus who bit the head off a crocodile approaching her offspring, he said parents were (over)reacting to a perception their child was threatened.
An example he gave was when a parent said her daughter’s life was “over” because she didn’t get the marks she wanted on a test.
“A couple of years ago, a middle school parent said to me that he knew the thirteen staff members who had observed his daughter committing an offence were all lying, as his daughter said she was innocent,” he said, giving another example. “It is very hard to make progress with this level of unreality.”
Dr Collier encouraged parents to try to think long-term instead of reacting to each incident, lest they get so stressed out they start to pass that stress onto their children.
The school head also encouraged parents to understand that high school teachers may have “up to six classes and 150 students” to work with and cannot devote time to email and call each and every student and parent frequently.
“No high school pretends to be a tutoring service,” he reminded parents.
His advice to parents was pretty simple (and applies pretty much universally to all human interactions): to start a conversation calmly and with respect, rather than “fiery” words.
He said that if the behaviour from parents didn’t improve he might be forced to tell staff not to answer their phone calls or emails or even ban aggressive parents from entering the school.
“Last year, I used this authority to terminate an enrolment where the relationship with the parents had entirely collapsed as they were in effect bullying staff on a daily basis.”
Dr Collier acknowledged some parents “may not appreciate these remarks” he felt it was important to attempt to persuade those parents to change their behaviour.
He concluded: “As our children would say to us: ‘Chill!'”
Dr Collier’s experience of abusive parents is not unique. A 2015 study found that New South Wales principals were five times more likely to be threatened than the general population.
But it’s not just a problem in NSW. That same study found bullying against principals was a problem across the country. And in 2015 three Western Australian principals were hospitalised after being attacked by members of their school communities.