Yesterday, The Sunday Times ran a special report (below) on teacher-student relationships titled “Balancing Act”, coupled with the tagline that “with younger teachers, more mature students and the extensive use of social media, educators today tread a fine line between being friendly and going overboard”. Unsurprisingly, the report was probably penned by the writers in response to assorted recent cases – for instance, the secondary school teacher who had sexual intercourse with a female student – of inappropriate relationships between students and teachers.
However, I felt that the report was poorly written on a few counts.
– It unnecessarily exaggerated the extent of the “problem” of teacher-student relationships, and used weak, anecdotal evidence to explain positions. Besides the isolated incidents, there is no concrete data to prove that the trend of teacher-student relationships is either increasingly detrimental, or on the rise.
– The writers also drew on baffling data to make assertions, or substantiate their propositions: for instance, the writers first stated that were more and more new teachers – targeted at 33,000 by 2015 – before penning that “such numbers now do mean that it is difficult to spot and monitor likely black sheep among them”. It is a fallacious justification, with the insinuation that the addition of newer teachers to the profession would be inevitably negative.
– There was a strong tendency to portray social media and corresponding networking sites as the “big evils”; furthermore, it was implied that younger teachers were more vulnerable to a plethora of misdeeds because of their connectedness to the platforms.
That generalised perspective might be misguided: on the contrary, younger users could be more adept with the channels’ intricacies, and be more judicious or prudent with their online exchanges. It is too convenient to assume that “the younger teachers tend to bring with them a different set of rules, many having been educated by teachers who were more relaxed”, and make a hasty, unfair presumption.
– What annoyed me the most was a comment made by a secondary school teacher that “a number of these teachers grew up disrespecting their very own teachers … it is no wonder that their moral standards are a bit wayward”. Based on this myopic, biased opinion, the writers of the report promptly drew the general inference that “having grown up under a more relaxed system, it is difficult for such younger teachers to enforce rigid rules”. Really, is that fair?
– Beyond teacher recruitment, the Mrs. Chong advertisement by the Ministry of Education (MOE) was also paying subtle homage to educators who have spent considerable time and effort to help struggling students. Raising the notion of possible confusion, and the suggestion that there be other inappropriate interpretations are ludicrous views in my opinion; sadly, the writers are missing the point.
Trusting Our Teachers
Give our educators a break; yes, even though there have been unfortunate transgressions, the employment of precautionary reminders and guidelines would be more than sufficient to remind teachers to be more cautious. There is no need to anxiously sound alarm bells, or to establish strict rules for schools to adhere to.
Give our teachers the trust and faith that they need, because they have the intelligence and professionalism to conduct themselves in the most appropriate manner; Madam Koh, the principal of Yishun Junior College, puts it most eloquently and logically: “If teachers conduct themselves well, it does not matter how many ways students can have to contact them”.