To Teach or to Educate?

With the amount of time students spend in school educators are often finding themselves playing the role of a parent when it comes to teaching children morals and respect. Is this even their job?

Never forget to say please and thank you. It’s longer, but it is safer,” is a saying that has been passed down in my family for generations. It simply meant that I would not get a beating as long as I was polite to people. Fast-forward to today, and I’m left shaking my head in disbelief, inevitably juxtaposing my upbringing with that of many a kid today – how times have changed.

When I witness preadolescent kids being disrespectful to my employees, without a moment’s hesitation, I feel compelled to publicly and firmly reprimand the transgressor, tell them to apologize, and demonstrate the polite behavior that was absent. Unfortunately, these events occur more often than anyone could deem acceptable. However, peak perplexity hits when I become the target of a reprimand from a parent who disapproves of my action–in itself, a far cry from what my punishment would have been back in my day. To a certain extent, they are right: the kid is not mine to raise. Allow me to elaborate on that last point.

Politeness and good manners are often learned by following the example
set by adults.

On behalf of every teacher out there, let me say this loud and clear: “Teachers transfer knowledge and skills to your children, families transfer values and principles to them.” Of course, these two complement each other within the framework provided by society to produce what we refer to as an education. Let’s not misunderstand each other’s roles. It is true that a child’s teacher is probably the second most important person in their life, but a teacher can only reinforce the example of the first and most important piece—the parents. However, this premise doesn’t always reflect reality in China, with the advent of boarding schools for young children, parents seem to be gleefully delegating their responsibilities onto schoolteachers.

To make matters worse, the extreme academic competition kids face from an early age and the desire to give kids an advantage in the Chinese education system typically manifest themselves in weekends full of back-to-back lessons and classes–many a time at centers like mine. These chock-full schedules further reduce the little time they have, precious time they ought to spend witnessing the examples parents are supposed to set. Does dad thank mom for the meal she spent hours preparing in the kitchen? Does she say please when she requests his help? Does he hold the door open for her? Does she have a sincere warm smile and a “hello” for the doorman? Does he forgive the small mistake made by a waiter without making a scene?

Sadly, today’s children are spending more time with classmates and teachers than with parents, which begs the question: who is responsible for the transfer of the above-mentioned values and principles? Apparently, the teachers are expected to take up the gauntlet that has been thrown down at our step by this domestic version of parachute parenting.

Regardless of how parents choose to justify the reasons for this form of parenting one thing is certain: communicating with the child’s teachers and school administrators to determine the degree of alignment with their own family values and principles becomes extremely important. For young children, the teacher-child relationship is a loveable relationship. It is one of the first relationships with an adult out of the family unit. As such, it can be powerful and wonderful. But let’s be realistic, there are teachers your child will love and teachers your child may not. Conversely, there are teachers who may adore your child, and those who don’t understand them. Incidentally, there are teachers you will like and dislike as well. I invite you to get to know your child’s teachers since politeness and good manners are often learned by following the example set by adults. The behavior of a teacher becomes an indicator of the foreseeable result. If what I experience day in and day out at my center is any indication,
we the teachers are failing as educators, regardless of how good a teacher we are. Perhaps, we are wearing too many hats.