Content shared by Mr. David Hunter, Principal, International School of Cape Town

I have often considered the relationship between parents, students and teachers in the school context and how on the surface of things this seems to be so simplistic. However if one scratches the surface of this relationship, one discovers a great deal of complexity that lies beneath. 

Parents submit their most precious “possessions” into the care of teachers who are entrusted with a responsibility of educating those in their care. Students, in most cases, willingly form part of this triangular arrangement and especially in the primary school, soon hold up their teachers to be on a higher plane than even their parents. 

David Hunter, Principal

This arrangement works very well most of the time. I remember being told by my son as a five-year-old that his teacher said I was not to exceed the speed limit when driving him to school in the morning. I was principal at that time and the teacher was an employee of the school and I began to wonder who was actually in charge of whom! 

However, the relationship between the three parties can easily begin to unravel when one or the other does not support those to whom they should hold a higher loyalty. Teachers’ first function should always be to accept the child and strive to educate and affirm and in so doing support the wishes of parents. Students should respect their teachers and parents and the parents in turn should provide support for their children’s teachers. In this day and age poor communication is often at the centre of any breakdown in relationships. It is part of our school policy that we advise teachers to observe the following protocols when communicating with parents. Firstly, if at all possible, speak to the parent face-to-face. Secondly, if this is not possible, call them by telephone and speak to them personally. Thirdly, if 1 and 2 are not possible, send a written communication (email or WhatsApp) but go over this carefully before sending as these can so easily be misconstrued and any inferred tone can start a war!

Covid has made us all less sociable as a result of lockdowns and masks and keeping to ourselves and the last 18 months have enforced antisocial behaviour on us all.
As I have frequently stated, I am grateful for the massive support given to the school and its staff by parents as well as for the amazing generosity shown by so many of them. However, there have been times when I consider that if I were to respond to parent emails using the same tone and language as has been used by the sender, whether I would be sitting in the same office behind the same desk doing the same job as I am today. In essence, it comes down to the respect we show one another as well as to the authenticity of the way we manage our communication. 

I have stood in the car park in the morning watching parents deliver their children to school and I have wondered how many of them would encourage the children to one day take on the awesome responsibility of teaching others. In South Africa, teachers are often under-valued in terms of their pay-scales and it takes courage to embark upon a career where so much is at stake and the rewards often not tangible.

I hope that 2022 will bring with it a renewed sensitivity and empathy for the various needs of individuals as well as an appreciation of the situation of others within this complex social structure we call school. We have seen the devastating impact of the past 18 months and some of us have experienced the loss of near and dear family and friends. As a teacher I can tell you it’s been probably the toughest 18 months I’ve had in my 40 odd years of doing what I do.

The impact on students has been devastating it is clear that many parents find themselves under increased pressure.

Thank you for all that members of the community, parents, staff and students continue to do to keep us working forward in this complex environment.