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Have teachers lost their authority?

STAND-OFF: The ground has been abuzz about respect, discipline and the scope of a teacher's authority in schools after a two-minute clip showing a Secondary 1 student arguing with his teacher went viral in the past week.


    Jan 27, 2014

    Have teachers lost their authority?

    A RECENT video of a Secondary 1 boy yelling at his teacher has raised the thorny question: Who has more power in the classroom now?

    Teachers cannot cane errant students freely and must seek parents' permission before giving a rap on the knuckles. Some ask: Is curtailing teachers' powers in students' best interest?

    Talk to teachers and the stories that come out about ill-disciplined students run the gamut, from talking back to throwing chairs.

    One biology teacher had a Secondary 3 girl show him the middle finger.

    "I was shocked at her audacity and wanted to discipline her immediately," said the teacher, who did not want to be named.

    But he had to call the girl's mother to ask for permission and, eventually, she allowed a smack on the girl's palm with a ruler. But just one smack.

    The ground has been abuzz about respect, discipline and the scope of a teacher's authority in schools after the two-minute clip showing the student arguing with his teacher went viral in the past week.

    The teacher was filmed apologising to the student as a means to contain the situation.

    The student has since apologised to the teacher, said the school principal.

    When Madam Bessie Chionh saw the video, the first thing she did was warn her boys, aged 15 and 19, that rudeness to their teachers would not be tolerated.

    Madam Chionh, 49, said she thinks that this incident reflects the deteriorating state of discipline in schools.

    Said the housewife, who was formerly a primary-school teacher: "This also means that, as parents, we should teach our children how important it is to respect their teachers and the authority they carry in school.

    "My younger one (who is in Secondary 2) is capable of answering back, and I felt that this was a timely reminder."

    Madam Chionh recounted how she gave her son a whacking last year after his form teacher complained that he had muttered "troublesome b****" after he was told to redo his English written assignment.

    "As parents, if we don't work with the school, how can we ensure that our children are being educated properly?" she asked.

    One sentiment that was common among the 30 parents and 10 teachers whom we spoke to on Friday was summed up by Madam Ng Lihua, 60, who has four grandchildren. She said that teachers have a tougher job these days.

    "Times have changed. Now, corporal punishment like public caning is not really carried out or allowed in most schools," she said. "Now? Some parents may even complain to the Ministry of Education if you shout at the children."

    Madam Ng called for stricter disciplinary action against students who constantly challenge a teacher's authority. She said: "Letting a child get away with disrespecting a teacher because (of the fear) of getting in trouble (with the parents) only means you are encouraging the child to continue being rude."

    Mr Faishal Saini, 48, a marketing executive who has a daughter, 13, also wants more authority for teachers.

    He said: "I feel that if parents are too protective, children will never learn from their mistakes.

    "We must try and understand that discipline methods (meted out) by schools are generally meant to groom our children. So we should not challenge these rules."

    A teacher from a top junior college said it is hard to mete out punishment now.

    The 41-year-old, who does not want to be named, explained: "For students, if they make a mistake, all they have to do is change. For teachers, the consequences are severe (for their careers).

    "That's why teachers face problems when dealing with errant students."