'They phone you up during lunch and yell at you'– why teachers say dealing with parents is the worst part of their job

'They phone you up during lunch and yell at you'– why teachers say dealing with parents is the worst part of their job

We know teachers are under a lot of pressure. Teacher shortages, growing workloads as well as the demands of a complex job mean many teachers are stressed.

But my research shows parents are not helping. In fact, they are making the problem worse.

Teachers are increasingly copping abuse from parents and it’s undermining their desire to stay in the profession.

A 2020 Australian Catholic University/ Deakin University survey of more than 2,000 Australian principals found 83% had experienced bullying, the threat of physical violence or physical violence in the past 12 months.

The survey did not specify where the abuse came from, but it did reported a significant increase in parental engagement due to the pandemic. About 28% of surveyed principals said they were spending an extra two hours a day dealing with parents.

The survey’s researchers also recommended having recorded, online parent/ teacher interviews to minimise exposure to “offensive behaviour”.

This has not escaped the attention of policymakers. From term 3, the Victorian government introduced powers to ban parents from school grounds for threatening behaviour and bullying towards staff. Western Australia has a similar ban in place.

I have interviewed more than 80 teachers across four different studies over the past past ten years.

This includes studies with teachers from government and independent schools, and both primary and secondary schools. It also includes early career teachers and teachers in remote and rural communities.

Out of these, three consistent themes arise: teachers are passionate about teaching, the job is incredibly stressful and does not come with enough support and the profession is increasingly disrespected by the community. This includes media reporting about schools, comments from political leaders, as well as parents’ behaviour towards teachers.

Read more: 'This is like banging our heads against the wall': why a move to outsource lesson planning has NSW teachers hopping mad

The teachers I interviewed talked about their commitment to the emotional, intellectual and physical wellbeing of students in their classrooms.

Some teachers spoke of being like a parent to their students. As Annelise told me:

But while teachers are very caring and protective of their students, they are sometimes taken advantage of by parents who outsource parenting, discipline and child-minding. Ross, a teacher in a private school spoke of always being in demand.

Many parents think teachers just work from 8.30am to 3.00pm. The reality is they have to create lessons, have staff and parent meetings, mark work, complete administration and respond to emails outside of these hours.

Teachers spoke of not being respected or valued by parents. This includes waiting for hours for parents to pick up their children. As Krystal said:

It also involves parents not believing teachers’ accounts of what happens in the classroom, as Jackson told me:

Bella, a drama teacher, told me “the most challenging thing” about being a new teacher “is the parents”.

But it goes behind simple disrespect. Teachers I interviewed reported regular incidents of violence and threatening behaviour. As Kelly told me:

This also involves verbal abuse, as Max highlights:

Chloe, an independent primary school teacher, summed up the situation like this:

Of course, parents care deeply about their children and have the right to approach the school to ask questions or raise concerns.

But parents should also be mindful that a school is also someone else’s workplace. Teachers are already working overtime (literally) to educate their children – they don’t need abuse from parents on top of this.

Read more: Australia's teacher shortage won't be solved until we treat teaching as a profession, not a trade

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