Teachers need help too

Image credit: iStock

In Dad Talk, our guest contributor KC Wong muses on parenthood and being a father to his two children.

A notification on my phone can mean several things. Is it an email enquiry from a potential client? Or an existing client chasing me for photos? Or yet another unsolicited text promising a quick cash loan?

As a parent, one of the most dreaded messages to receive is from my son’s teacher. “Dear Mr. Wong, I have observed that [your son’s] attention span in class is very short. He also tends to talk to his friends and as a result [is] not able to keep up with the lesson... Please assist to talk to [your son]. Let us work together to help him. Thank you.”

That message made me think of my own teachers. I had a much-feared teacher who slapped my classmates when they were tardy with their homework. There was a girl who was often on the receiving end of such a punishment. At my 30th anniversary class reunion recently, I asked her if all that slapping had scarred her emotionally, and elicited loud laughter from her and others around us.

Another boy frequently sat balancing on the two hind legs of his chair while folding his arms behind his head. It was not uncommon for a chalky missile to be headed his direction whenever he attempted this little acrobatic act. Ironically to this day, we still speak fondly of our teacher and her ability to instil discipline in us.

On hindsight, I really admire some of my primary school teachers. They did not shirk responsibility, took charge of the situation and dealt with the students decisively. The only times the school contacted parents were to inform them of their children’s smoking, fighting and possible gang-related activities. This is no longer the case today; teachers have a lot more things on their plate and parents are overprotective of their offspring.

My wife was rather affected by the message from our son’s teacher. As his parents, we know what he is like and regularly discipline him when necessary.

Did our son’s teacher make the extra effort to make her lessons more interesting? Is the teacher engaged with the students enough to gain their respect? Is she a Machiavellian like my former teacher who at least has a semblance of rule by instilling fear? (Even then not all my classmates were afraid of her, because beneath her armour was a soft underbelly.) Basically, I just want to know if the teacher teachers has tried their best before sending an SOS signal. I hope there are no teachers who take the easy way out by not taking charge and instead shift the responsibility to the parents.

While it is perfectly fine to ask for help, the teacher might give the impression that she is incapable of resolving classroom issues on her own. Once a student realises that he will get an earful from his parents whenever he falls short of his teacher’s expectations, what will he think of his teacher? Instead of a kid threatening another with “I will go back and tell my daddy”, it is now the teacher telling the student “I will tell your daddy!”

I might sound like a protective and unreasonable parent, but I am far from being one. I welcome disciplinary action against my child if he deserves it.

I believe a major step towards making the learning environment pleasant and conducive is for teachers to share positive news: a kind act by a student, a contribution made, a peacemaker who breaks up a fight, or when a class improves, no matter how small the progress. Once in a while, if the teachers can shed some positive light on my child, who knows what kind of galvanising effect it might have on student morale? This could be a small step in changing our education system from a results-oriented one to a more caring one.

The teacher asked for my help. The teacher gets my help.


KC Wong is a photographer and a father of two. He has a daughter aged 11 and a son aged nine.

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