Class teachers as ‘substitute’ parents


In any class, there will be students who are a challenge to deal with, but most class teachers take it in their stride and are protective of their ‘brood’.

THE storylines are often predictable and characters are sometimes stereotypical, but there are certain old movies that you don’t mind watching again ... and again. I must have watched The Sound of Music at least six times but I am still blown away by Captain Von Trapp when he sings Edelweiss at the end of the story.

P.Ramlee’s chant version of “Open Sesame” in the movie Ali Baba Bujang Lapok is something that is hard to beat and which sticks around in the mind for a very long time. And even though the sudden appearance of a bevy of buxom prancing maidens in certain village settings may be highly unlikely, I lap up every exaggerated bit in the old Tamil movies.

In some of these movies that I’ve enjoyed, I remember melodramatic “family” scenes where a parent, usually the mother, takes the side of the child against her husband.

Although she is a devoted and loyal wife who would willingly sacrifice her life for her family (this, she sometimes does) she feels that she has to defend her child and speak up for him despite the risk of incurring the displeasure of her husband.

There are many tears shed in these scenes, emotional remonstrances and long-trembling speeches. At times, she succeeds as a mediator or conciliatory role and manages to persuade her husband that the child’s chosen bride, bridegroom, career path, etc. is not so bad.

In more unfortunate situations, she ends up receiving the blows meant for the errant child.

There are times when we the audience sympathises with the “supportive” parent and feels indignant against the other one for demonstrating such heartless insensitivity.

Other times, we are angry with the child for his defiance against parents who have sacrificed so much for him.

These are scenes that some of us who are parents may be familiar with in our own lives, when there is a conflict between the desires of our children and what we think is best for them.

Demanding duties

Class-teachers or teachers who are responsible for a certain class throughout the academic year, also know what the feeling is like – of having to stand in the gap between their own students and other figures of authority in the school. They could range from school administrators, the disciplinary board and even their own colleagues.

I have always felt that one of the most demanding duties in school is that of being a class teacher.

With the exception of a few teachers who have other special duties, most teachers are assigned to a class at the beginning of the school year and become particularly accountable for these 30 something pupils under them.

Apart from teaching her own academic subject or subjects, the class teacher is also responsible for many other matters related to her classroom and the students in her class.

She is in charge of the class register, students’ attendance and records of their academic and extra-curricular progress. She has to ensure that the classroom is well organised, clean and stimulating towards learning.

It is the class teacher too who is responsible for collecting special fees. When there are concerns about student attendance, health or discipline, it is the class teacher who is often the first one referred to.

Class teachers are also the connecting point between parents and the school.

They ensure that any information the school wishes to communicate to the students’ parents reaches them. When parents turn up in school with a query or complaint related to their child, it is most often the class teacher they want to meet and who is sometimes expected to provide all the answers and the solutions.

Why has their child’s behaviour suddenly changed? Why is he not performing well in a certain subject? Who does he hang out with? It is almost as if they assume that the well-being and progress of their children in school lies in the hands of the class teacher.

This seems to be reasonable enough, seeing the number of ways class teachers are connected with their students.

Sense of ownership

When we are so invested into our students’ lives, it is quite natural and perhaps even desirable to have a sense of ownership towards the students in our class.

They belong to us in some way and we feel at least a little more responsible for their general welfare.

When students from the class are reported for some infringement of school rules, the class teacher feels the disappointment more keenly than others. Similarly when there is news of any outstanding achievement by a student from her class, there is a little mother-pride in her voice when she turns to tell the teacher next to her, “Oh that boy, he is from my class you know. I am his class teacher.”

Just like in the movies of old, there are also times when we as class teachers are quick to rise to the defence of our students especially when there is a question of character or credibility.

Like a mother hen fiercely protective over her brood, we try to find ways to justify the actions of our students. We try to act as advocates on their behalf to somehow lessen the charges against them.

“This girl is not so bad, really,” a class teacher would say of her student. “She does a great job in helping to keep the class organised.”

Or the teacher might come to the defence of her student by saying, “This boy from my class, he’s having some serious family issues, so maybe that’s why he’s not behaving the way he should. Please be a little more understanding with him.”

The reverse however is also often true especially in cases when the class teacher is deeply distressed by the insolence and wilful disobedience of students in her class.

This time, it is she who volunteers information on their various misdeeds in the hope that there will be changes.

Students too, generally look upon their class teachers as substitute mothers and fathers.

Even though there are trained counsellors in schools, it is often the class teacher that students turn to as a confidant or to seek advice on some deep troubling matters.

But then again, there are always exceptions.

There are class teachers who make no attempts to establish any bond between their students and themselves and apart from carrying out the regular duties, they remain dispassionately detached and aloof.

Not all of the things class teachers do are detailed in their job description.

Generally, it is not a position that every teacher would freely choose if given that option.

But even if it is a job that is thrust upon us rather than one we have chosen to do ourselves, for the most part teachers adapt into this role of “temporary substitute parent” pretty well. After all, that is what teachers do. Well, most of us, anyway.

Let me also take this opportunity to wish all teachers and readers Gong Xi Fa Cai.

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Education , edud , teachers , substitute , parents , malika , vasugi , talk ,

   

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