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Are We Supposed To Be Teachers or Surrogate Parents?

June 4, 2017 in In the Classroom - No Comments

Are We Supposed To Be Teachers or Surrogate Parents?

June 4, 2017 in In the Classroom - No Comments

So many times in the media we see teachers and schools being dragged through the mud for getting something ‘wrong’. Half the time I look at those ‘wrong’ things, and wonder why the school is concerned with it in the first place.

We see all the time teachers in the bad books for not teaching things like manners, relationship skills, even basic human decency. We see them being crucified for ‘not recognising’ personality disorders, bullying traits, or mental concerns. I saw one article recently vilifying kindy teachers for not picking up on speech disorders.

Are these things actually a part of our job?

Academic Instruction vs Home Education

To me, school had always been an academic institution.

A place where you went to learn stuff about things (a favourite saying for my students). A place to hone academic, and yes even sporting and arts, skills in order to prepare you for the world at large and more specifically for further education and/or the work force.

You learn how to do math, how to write paragraphs, what happened throughout history and how science is ever building on our understanding of the world around us.

If you show the right type of talent you can learn how to sing, how to play an instrument or a sport, how to compete individually and in teams. You learn all of these academic things in an academic institution.

To me, home has always been the place where you learn good manners, how to behave appropriately, what sort of hobbies you were interested in.  You learn how to clean up after yourself, how to share things, how to talk to people of different ages, how to eat in different situations. Hell, even reading skills were honed at home.

All the non-academic things were always taken care of, by your parents/carers, at home. They taught you right from wrong, how to deal with friendship issues, how to learn to trust people and be wary of people, how to drive a car and cook a meal. That was your parents, not your teachers. And this was only a decade ago. Of course schools reinforce these concepts, but they weren’t expected to be the ones who taught it in the first place.

Maybe I’m wrong? I know that is only my own personal experience, but to me it seemed right. Teachers taught you subject knowledge and skills, parents and friends taught you life stuff.

I am a little bit confused by all this media attention, which fuels societal attention, towards the idea that school is the place to learn absolutely everything about how to live life.

Is it because of the shift in work/life balance for parents?

More than ever we are seeing both parents/carers in full time work to support their families. That means less time at home to actually be with said families. Less time to spend with children, get to know them and their personalities. Of course there are also far too many families where the parents are unable or unwilling to care for their children, and in those cases the adults at school may be the only ones responsible enough to teach these things in the first place. Then it can become a tricky situation of a different sort.

Time and Trust

You need time and familiarity to be able to recognise things like mental and emotional issues. Trust is needed to discuss friendship and relationship issues. Both time and trust are needed to explore hopes and dreams for the future. But without time, parents can’t build trust, and none of these things are explored fully at home. Which leaves it to the place and the people students are spending a majority of their time with – school, with their teachers.

Is school now supposed to do both? Is school supposed to be a place to teach academics and how to be a decent person? If so, why are we teachers not being told this? Why has society made the change from an outside perspective but not from inside the institution itself?

If you want teachers to take on all of the things that traditionally were taught at home, you need to tell them so. We need to make a conscious decision as a society that this change will happen, instead of blaming teachers for short-fallings in children that have traditionally been the responsibility of the parents.

Paradigm Shift

If this is to be the case, and school really is the place to learn how to be a person in all aspects, not just academic, then the entire institution needs to adjust accordingly.

We need a pretty severe paradigm shift.

Society needs to back the teachers, not crucify them at every turn. Why on earth would children listen to their teachers when their parents tell them not to? Why would parents trust teachers when the government doesn’t appear to? When teaching is touted as a lowly profession, trust fails and the whole thing falls apart.

Ever heard the expression “those who can’t do, teach”? I hate that with a passion. I teach science because I know, understand, love, and yes, can actually ‘do’, science. If I sucked at it, why on earth would I teach it? But if teachers are portrayed as failures in their field, why would anyone want to trust them to deliver content about it?

We see countries like some in Europe where teaching is a celebrated profession by the whole society. In those countries staff happiness is higher, outcomes are higher, everything seems to be coming up roses. But that can’t happen in Australia while teaching and education are viewed, and reported on, negatively.

Raising the Children

Teachers need to be trained appropriately for how to deal with all of the non-academic stuff. They need to be given the time and space, and above all the trust, to be able to enact these things.

If we are supposed to raise children, not just teach them, then we need to form real relationships with them (I know some people’s minds will jump straight to unsavoury thoughts here. Grow up). You can’t expect teachers to raise the children they teach with one hand, then slap them down for being ‘too friendly’ with the other. The things I mentioned before about trust, familiarity and time should be encouraged.

Teachers should probably also receive child/teenage psychology lessons. Training in how to deal with emotional situations, how their brains develop, the right way to deal with difficult families. All those sorts of things that could help us to raise these children who are in our care, but also aren’t allowed to be in our care. I for one could never pick up on a personality disorder, or a speech disorder, because I simply have no training or experience in that area. I highly doubt the kindergarten teacher mentioned above had any training in it either, and yet they were vilified for failing to pick up on it.

I use the word ‘raise’ here very specifically. Because that’s what it seems like is happening. Teachers are less and less expected to teach children, and more and more expected to raise them.

So what are we supposed to be? Teachers? Or surrogate parents? Or some strange hybrid?


Emily is a secondary science and math teacher in Australia. She enjoys sharing the real and human teacher life, facilitating the ‘light bulb’ moment in her students, and drinking tea and wine.

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