When a school exists simply to please the parents …

Today’s article by Tsip Tsao (To Kit) in Apple Daily will resonate with many teachers in Hong Kong. He is talking about how many teachers in Hong Kong easily give in to unreasonable parents, and do not stand by their professional duties and judgments. One can accuse Tsao of not being sympathetic enough with teachers (unlike me, haha), but at least his article points to the difficult situation that teachers are often facing in their dealing with parents.

When I was a schoolboy, teachers were like little gods. They could not only scold the students in front of their parents, they could even reprimand the parents at the same time. Now, the pendulum has swung to the other extreme. Parents often not only fail to give teachers the respect they deserve; they treat teachers as service industry staff whose primary duty is to serve them and their children to their satisfaction. (Of course, not all parents are like this. But just a few of them in one class are enough headaches for the teacher and the school.)

What has caused this to happen? Is it the excessive push for accountability in school management? Is it the falling birthrate that has made survival the top priority for some schools and teachers? Is it the pervasive ethos of complaints in Hong Kong? Is it the growing consumer mentality among some parents? Is it becaue of the expanding middle class who are obsessed with their ‘rights’? This is not the place to embark on a sociological investigation of what has led to the present situation. But I AM concerned that some schools are giving in to parents’ unjustified complaints and requests too easily, and thus abandoning their educational role too quickly. (Of course, I have heard grievances from people in other fields about the arrogance or indifference of the schools their children are attending in communicating with them, and sometimes I can’t help thinking that there is an element of truth in what they are saying. But that’s another story.)

As a former teacher, and currently a teacher educator and a parent, I think the scenario depicted by Tsao in his article is unfortunate and unwarranted. It doesn’t have to be like that. But teachers often find themselves caught in the middle: they have to handle complaints from parents, and at the same time, they are employees and have to be mindful of the boss’s position. This is why the stance of the principal is important. Surely we shouldn’t be defensive, but if the principal sides with parents no matter what, then there’s little that teachers can do.

If parents do not do their part properly, and complain unjustifiably, schools should take a stand, and insist on what is educationally desirable. Schools should treat parents as educational partners, but schools are not commercial establishments and their top priority is not to please the parents. The principal’s attitude is the most crucial. If the message they give to teachers is: “As long as you’re discharging your duties based on your best professional judgment, I will support you. If parents complain, I will take the opportunity to educate them, too” … If that is the message that principals are giving to teachers, it will be a very different story. If however the message is: “The parents are our bosses; let’s not offend them”, well, what can teachers do?

I still believe that a school can’t win parents’ respect simply by pleasing them. By standing by our educational principles, we may lose a couple of parents in the short run and this might threaten some schools’ survival, but these are unreasonable adults anyway. For the majority of parents, if we are patient enough, they will come to revere schools that show themselves to be run on educational principles. The more we do back flips to simply please parents, the more they will disrespect schools. Isn’t this simple human nature?


Tsip Tso’s article:



















5 thoughts on “When a school exists simply to please the parents …

  1. I totally agree with you on your principles and fully understand your sentiments. However, I have been a victim, have witnesses and heard accounts of how one crazy parent can turn every day at the school/workplace a living hell. There are so many people from the school interacting with a parent, not to mention her personality/temperament and everything else that is going on in her personal live, that it is impossible to understand why she reacts to or interprets a message in a certain way. When one has the parent, government officials, the media and who knows who else breathing down one’s neck, sooner or later, self-preservation mode kicks in. I am not saying that we should bend over backwards to please the parents, but communication skills and empathy are crucial when dealing with them. And yet, you might still find yourself trying to stay afloat in the deep end.

  2. I’ve met him once, when he was a lot younger and very handsome. He handed me a piece of paper too, not to wipe my tears with, but to fax. He was much more “scholarly” then.

  3. spongee

    It seems that you are talking about my condition in my school. ‘Since we are working in a government school, we have to treat ourselves like working in a service industry.’ ‘parents are our customers. ‘ ‘to strengthen our competitive edge, we have to be very conscious of what we wear. I am very conscious about it.’ ‘how can you set this question that causes some parents to bargain the marking scheme?’ Every time, the patents win. I won’t blame them because the ‘root’ is always the distadministrators

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