Why are teachers struggling?

Teachers struggling

There was a time in my life when the only badly behaved people I knew were all adults. They were utterly entitled and completely uncivilised.

I can give you chapter and verse of shouting, harassment of all kinds, extreme bullying; and all done with a smile and “she’ll be right, mate”.

These people saw themselves as the centre of the universe.

Then nearly six years ago, two academics – Sander Thomaes and Eddie Brummelman – foretold the future.

“When we think of narcissists, we typically think of adults, whose personalities are rather crystallised – perhaps a charming but manipulative ex-partner, or a self-absorbed and authoritarian boss.

“We do not typically think of children, whose personalities are still in flux.”

Here’s the killer from these two: “Narcissists do not just begin to love themselves at their 18th birthday; they typically develop narcissistic traits from childhood onward.”

Now the kids are behaving badly.

They monster their primary teachers, they badger their high school teachers and, by the time they get to university, they argue the toss about every single grade, they whine about group work and they want extensions because they don’t wish to be inconvenienced (although, let me say, there are also those who get extensions for real reasons).

I’ll defend active parenting and standing up for your children when they can’t stand up for themselves – but there are limits.

Here are mine.

Your child should not be abusing a parent who comes in to help with reading groups. Your child does not need your advocacy to get them into the top sports team at school.

And your child, kill me, does not need you to call their university tutor to argue a mark on an assignment.

It was a wonderful moment in my life when I was able to tell such a parent (I’m pretending here it was a single occasion; it wasn’t) that I couldn’t discuss her child’s university progress with her for privacy reasons.

And, no, it made no difference (at least to me) that the mother was paying the university fees.

I used the same answer when explaining to another mother that she needed to talk to her own child about whether he had actually submitted all his work.

He hadn’t, no matter what he told his doting ma.

As Brummelman and co-wrote in 2015 in a study published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences: “We demonstrate that narcissism in children is cultivated by parental overvaluation.”

They found narcissism levels are increasing among Western youth and contribute to aggression and violence. Yes, there is a direct line between the kind of parenting we do and the kind of children we rear.

A fill-in teacher has admitted his actions were “shameful” after he punched a student during an out-of-control brawl at a NSW school.

Let’s be clear. We all want to stick up for our kids. We have our own ideas about what’s right and what’s wrong.

And I’ve certainly been to see the class teacher and even the principal when things went badly wrong. I’ve been to meetings where my own (ever so slightly imperfect) children’s behaviour was called into question.

I am no angel, neither was their father and I guess it’s genetic. But this constant indulging – even protectiveness – of entitled behaviour has to stop. Your child is not always right.

It’s not just rudeness or a lack of cooperation or even respect.

It extends all the way to violence. We have record levels of assaults at schools and violence both within and outside school – and believe me, it is not only the behaviour of students with significant trauma in their lives for whom we must make both excuses and support mechanisms.

We know now that private schools have their own – significant – issues around assault and violence. Read more

  • Jenna Price is a visiting fellow at the Australian National University and a regular columnist for The Sydney Morning Herald.
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