How the parent-teacher equation has changed over the years

Teacher’s form one of the most vital pillars of the society, however, the way we treat them is undergoing a major change.

As a student, I used to face the prospect of an upcoming parent-teacher meeting (PTM) with mixed emotions – anticipation over how I had fared and fear over what my parents would have to hear from the teacher. Not that I was a bad student, or that I was an exceptionally naughty one – but neither was I the perfect ‘A’ student. My parents would approach PTMs at school with one primary question in their minds – how had I performed?

The meetings were short affairs – my report card would be shared and the teacher would discuss what I did (or didn’t) do. The teachers were often curt and spoke to the point and there was hardly much space for a dialogue. The interaction with the teacher stopped there and my parents (often just my mother) would meet my teacher barely a couple of times a year. Those were the times when teachers used to instil much respect and fear among both students and parents.

Fast-forward a couple of decades. As I prepared to go for my son’s first PTM (after moving to a big school) I felt the same nerves coming back to me. What would the teacher say about my son, who could be a brat at one moment, and a pure charmer at the other? What complaints would I hear about my child’s performance at school? At the PTM, though, I realised that the tables had turned now. PTMs and other interactions, today, are more about voicing concerns and questioning actions that teachers take, rather than taking stock of the child’s performance. At my son’s PTM, for example, it was us doing most of the talking. His teacher gave us a brief insight into how he was doing and put the onus on us to ask questions. She also made it a point to not say anything that would sound negative.

More involvement

Parents are busier nowadays, but they have also become much more involved in their child’s academics and school activities.  PTMs see a much higher attendance and discussions go beyond pure academics. Most parents are on the school or parent WhatsApp groups. Teachers are dissected, children are compared and any steps that the school has taken is debated on such platforms.

Today, interactions between parents and teachers do not stop at PTMs alone. Schools make it a point to host a variety of events for parents – in some cases, the events are also purely marketing based. At my child’s school, for example, we were asked to bring a ‘buddy’ from another school along with the child’s parents and were taken on a tour of the school.

Even in the case of government schools, where till now the interactions between parents and teachers were limited, state governments are slowly making it mandatory for schools to hold PTM so that parents can be updated about their child’s progress in both academic and extra-curricular fields. Last year, the Delhi government had organised a mega PTM to enhance parent-teacher engagement, while the Karnataka Government is making it mandatory to hold PTMs in government schools as well, along the lines of private schools.

For teachers as well, the equation that they share with parents has undergone a sea change over the last couple of decades. Madhuri Sharma, a 56-year-old teacher with close to 2.5 decades of experience in teaching, explains how, as opposed to the olden times when parents would hear out any complaints the teachers had about their wards, today, the teacher has to be very careful about the words she uses while addressing problems. “I once sent wrote a note on a student’s dairy as he was constantly disturbing the class. The parents came the next day and demanded to know why such a note had been made. According to them, this was demoralising for the child and for them as parents. What they were not ready to listen was that constructive criticism is very important for the child to progress.”

Parents as customers

Parents have also become fussy over seemingly minor issues. “A parent came to me and asked why his daughter had not received a star the previous day. He was not ready to listen to my explanation that I do not give out stars every day and demanded to know if the other had received stars,” explains Divya Desai, a pre-primary teacher.  Schools also expect teachers to treat parents with caution and ensure that they don’t have much to complain.

According to Sharma, a major reason for this change is the fact that a number of families now have a maximum of two children, with many stopping at just one. This means that all the parents’ hopes and aspirations are pinned on that one child. Also, with a rise in the number of nuclear families (70 per cent of families live in a nuclear setup, as per the 2011 Census), where there were grandparents and other extended family members helping out with the child-rearing duties, today its mostly left to the parents.

Parents also are doling out much more on school fees, with private schools charging huge amounts. “Parents have become customers who pay money and demand that they get their money’s worth. Again, what they don’t realise is that teachers are often paid really less, regardless of how much fees the parents pay,” explains Sharma.

From taking on a more authoritative role, teachers have today moved on to become equal partners in the equation between parents, teachers and the school. While this may have given rise to increased conflicts between parents and teachers, it has also meant that parents are getting much more involved in their child’s education and future.