Parents need to stop whingeing to teachers about the little things

Kelly Yang says parents must learn to voice their legitimate concerns to teachers, rather than always whingeing about the little things

PUBLISHED : Tuesday, 01 April, 2014, 1:10pm
UPDATED : Wednesday, 02 April, 2014, 4:32am

These days, many Hong Kong parents seem to know more about school than the teachers. Or, at least, that's how it seems, according to a recent survey, by the Federation of Education Workers, that showed teachers being bombarded with never-ending comments, critiques, criticism and tirades from parents. The poll found that 64 per cent of the complaints were "unreasonable requests" while 72 per cent of teachers said the attitude or tone of complaining parents was "inappropriate".

If teachers think they deal with too many parental concerns and comments, they should try being a tutor. I've heard them all, from the parent who asked that her daughter be allowed to switch classrooms so she had a better view, to another who wanted me to let her son's helper sit in on my class so he wouldn't have to take notes - his helper would do it for him.

Such comments used to bother me tremendously. Lately, that's not been the case. And it's not because I've found an excellent therapist. It's because I have become a parent. I now understand just how stressful and crazy parenting can be in Hong Kong. And if you don't think it's crazy, just look at the mother of five-year-old dancing prodigy Pearl Chan Pui-yee.

To be fair, there are many benefits to Hong Kong parents' devotion to education. For starters, there are the stellar Programme for International Assessment results for 15-year-olds. Year after year, Asia tops the charts.

Yet, extreme devotion to education and one's children can backfire. If parents constantly criticise good teachers, they risk driving them away. Then we'll be left with those with the thickest skin, not necessarily the best. Pearl's mother may think that "the real teachers are not in school, but after school" but, in reality, no self-respecting school, teacher or even tutor wants to deal with crabby parents forever.

My teacher friends here tell me about parents calling them up and quizzing them about their child's latest story to see whether they really read it. Such behaviour shows not only disrespect but also distrust. This distrust cripples the education process. If parents distrust teachers, their children will pick up on it. Then, how is the teacher supposed to teach?

However, just because you should pick your battles doesn't mean there shouldn't be any. Sometimes, parental criticism of an unsystematic curriculum, ineffective lessons or confusing exams is spot on. The problem is, in my experience, few parents have the guts to voice legitimate complaints. They'd rather keep quiet about the mad maths curriculum or their suspicions of unfair grading and complain, instead, about school lunches.

If more parents let the little things go and tackled the bigger, more important, issues, if more teachers listened with an open mind to parents' feedback instead of tuning them out and if more schools were real collaborations between teachers and parents - then the future of Hong Kong's education scene would look a whole lot better.

It takes a village to raise a child and, right now, our village is disconnected and divided.

Kelly Yang is the founder of The Kelly Yang Project, an after-school programme for children in Hong Kong. She is a graduate of the University of California, Berkeley, and Harvard Law School.