Teachers and principals are at the end of their tether.
Teachers and principals are at the end of their tether.

Parents, not students, are to blame for school violence

It might be good manners and better politics to avoid criticising modern mums and dads, struggling as they do at the coalface of child rearing.

But the unvarnished reality is that somewhere parenting pivoted to be more about friendship and deflecting criticism rather than accountability.

With news this week that one in three school principals in Australia are being physically abused and 49 per cent of public school principals are assaulted, it's dangerous to ignore the obvious.


Retiring school principal Anni Miers who is speaking out about the rise in violence against school principals. Picture: Ian Currie
Retiring school principal Anni Miers who is speaking out about the rise in violence against school principals. Picture: Ian Currie

Kids are rude and vile at school and that's because their parents at home are giving them lessons in being rude and vile.

Let's be clear: Students are only in class for about six hours a day, so the at-home modelling (or lack thereof) runs deep.

No matter that those of us from older generations remember school with a recurring theme of discipline and respect. You never questioned a teacher's authority and it would be unthinkable for your parents to exchange a cross word with a principal, let alone get violent with them. Their job was to supervise teachers and often take lessons themselves. Ours was to learn.

And our parents? Well, they reinforced the punishment at home if we were foolish enough to get in trouble at school. Unlike their counterparts in the past, parents today will not hesitate to criticise teachers and principals if their child underachieves or is disciplined in the classroom.

For nine years the Australian Principal Occupational Health, Safety and Wellbeing Survey has been unpicking the stress, depression, burnout and abuse facing principals in response to growing concern about their wellbeing.

The statistics from a 2018 survey published this week are even more appalling.

Almost half of our public school principals have been threatened with violence (45 per cent), up from 38 per cent in 2011.

Nationwide, there is an alarming upward trend in the rate of physical violence. So distressed are our school leaders that one in three feels their mental and physical health is at risk, seriously at risk. Compounding this is the punishing hours they work to manage an unwieldy PC stricken curriculum.

And while no principal should face violence, the stats reveal that 40 per cent of female principals are in the firing line and 32 per cent of male head teachers.

So to our normalised era of attacks on principals, teachers, paramedics and police officers. Professionals who are there to teach and help, to save lives. They are the anchors of our society.

You could argue that it's time for an education campaign to teach respect to kids and their parents.

The question is though whether this behaviour is so entrenched that it will be impossible to remedy.

Instead we're making excuses for behaviour and focusing on the rights of the child. Parents prioritising rights over responsibilities.

Recently the head teacher of an elite Sydney school this week became a beacon of hope against the rudeness permeating society.

Dr John Collier, of the $32,000 a year independent St Andrew's Cathedral School, said the school's culture, which had always been one of "gracious engagement", was fracturing.

He made the point that should never have to be made: Paying thousands in fees does not entitle parents to abuse teachers and treat them like servants. But money is not the only issue here.

Dr John Collier; Principal of St Andrews Cathedral School in Sydney, says teachers and principals are not there to serve parents. Picture: James Croucher
Dr John Collier; Principal of St Andrews Cathedral School in Sydney, says teachers and principals are not there to serve parents. Picture: James Croucher

Parents who believe their kids were entitled to everything and then order them to pursue their dream and be whatever they want have effectively given birth to a different kind of behaviour and ego-driven expectations.

Therefore the spectre of violent, self-obsessed mums and dads and their violent self-obsessed student offspring is on the rise.

Children have no model for respectful behaviour if they are not treated with respect at home and by that I don't mean parents pandering to snowflakes. Rather positive discipline so kids learn from what they have done.

We cannot lose focus on improving our education system, whether it is resources, remuneration or standards, but targeting individual teachers, principals or school admin staff is unacceptable on every single level.

Parents forget that as they rally and rail against their victim, their son or daughter is watching, listening and learning.

Remember that old adage, 'everything starts at home'? Our children are sponges and look to us as their parents to guide their pint-sized moral compasses. These are the foundations for the adults they will one day become.

Is that the example you want to set for your child next time you yell at his or her teacher? Because it will spill over into your child's tool kit of conflict resolution behaviours.

I have a friend whose son has just started teaching.

Every morning he heads out the door, full of enthusiasm and joy.

He can't wait to open his classroom door and welcome his 24 kindergarten children, also open-faced and hungry to learn.

"It only seems like yesterday I held him in my arms as a newborn and rocked him to sleep," my friend said. "Now he has his own classroom and is a teacher. He has worked so hard to get there and will do an amazing job.

"I can only hope that he is one of the lucky ones and doesn't become a victim of the disgusting behaviour of parents we are seeing out there today.

Abuse someone for long enough and you take their light away. Our principals and teachers should be treasured, nurtured and respected.

I'm not suggesting that we should drop our child at the gate and walk away without a second glance. There will always be times when we need to speak up, or advocate on behalf of our child.

Principals do not belong to us. They might work in a system paid for by our taxes, or if your child goes to a private school, also by your own purse but that doesn't make them your personal slaves.

Perhaps all parents would benefit from a compulsory 'day in the life' experience where they were placed in charge of up to 30 young minds for an entire school day. Would they make it to recess?

Principal knocking is a phenomenon of this generation. And the crucial lines of respect are becoming increasingly blurred.


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