During the holidays, I noticed that wherever I went, whether it be the airport, the bank, or the post office, I saw the same messages telling clients and customers that they needed to treat the employees of the organisation with respect, and that abuse would not be tolerated.

Seeing these signs almost everywhere I went made me feel quite sad and also made me really think about this as it has become a fundamental issue in our society. How have we come to the point where people feel that it is appropriate to be rude, aggressive and abusive to people who are performing a service for us? Why do people behave like this and treat others with blatant disrespect? Why are people so angry?

What concerns me most is that this abusive, aggressive behaviour from adults is being modelled in front of children. When an adult is dissatisfied with the service they have been provided, children are learning from their parents that it is OK to become angry and abusive to others. I worry that if this type of behaviour is not held in check and called out, then we are spiralling into a vicious cycle. As adults, it is important that we model appropriate behaviour for our children and show our children that everyone deserves the right to be treated in a respectful and dignified manner.

This also applies to how staff are treated at school. During your child’s time at school there may be many times where your child or yourself is unhappy about something that has happened. Increasingly, I am seeing parents either sending incredibly reactive, angry, and abusive emails, or calling teachers and other staff members and verbally abusing them. My advice to parents is that if your child comes home unhappy, don’t launch into attack mode straightaway. Sleep on the issue and see how your child and you feel the next day. In my experience, children have often forgotten about the issue by the next day, but if you feel there is still an issue to be resolved, email the appropriate staff member and ask if they could call you. When they call you, explain the issue in a very calm and unemotive way and ask the staff member for their perspective. In any situation, there can be many different perspectives to consider, and your child’s perspective, although important, is only one perspective. The truth for most issues often lies somewhere in the middle of the different perspectives. You will have a far greater chance of being heard and reaching a resolution to the issue if you treat the staff member with respect and kindness.

Across the country, we are in the midst of a chronic teacher shortage. We are seeing far fewer people choosing to become teachers and, increasingly, teachers who have just begun their careers in education are leaving the profession within three to five years of graduating. Much of this is to do with the way they are being treated by parents. At the other end of the teaching spectrum, many experienced teachers are choosing to retire early as they are tired of the way they have been treated. Each of these scenarios is contributing to a national shortage of teachers.

We are very fortunate to start 2023 with a full contingent of teachers. However, I am aware of many schools where principals have not been able to fill teaching positions. This is a major concern for schools. Each year at Moriah, like at many other schools, we lose excellent teachers because of negative interactions with parents. When a teacher chooses to leave Moriah, it is becoming increasingly difficult to replace them.

We know that quality teachers have a profound impact on the learning of our children so we have a responsibility to ensure that we treat our teachers with respect so that they don’t choose to leave our school or, worse still, the profession entirely. We all want to attract and retain the very best teachers at Moriah and this will only occur if teachers feel appreciated, valued and know that they won’t be abused.

As I told the students last week, I am really looking forward to a wonderful 2023. If we work together to create a school and community culture of respect and kindness then there is no reason that Moriah’s 80th year can’t be its very best year so far.

ABOUT THE AUTHORMark Hemphill headshot

Mark Hemphill is the Head of High School at Moriah College in Queens Park, NSW.

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