In social media age, teachers increasingly fear parents

By Thanh Hang   November 1, 2023 | 03:25 pm PT
With more parents deciding to handle school issues by posting one-sided stories on social media, experts say teachers are facing more pressure than ever.

Hue is a fifth-grade homeroom teacher in the northern province of Ha Nam.

Recently, she got a phone call from a parent at around 9 p.m.

The parent informed Hue that their son had hit his head on a table at school that day and though it was not serious, they would take the boy to a hospital for a checkup.

From the parent, Hue learned that the boy and two other male friends had been playing together in the classroom earlier that day when he accidentally slipped and hit his head. Hue had not been aware of the incident until the phone call.

"The boy only said he felt tired during class, and because I did not know that he had fallen earlier that day, I just simply called his parents to pick up him, thinking he might have been sick."

The 50-year-old teacher then reported the whole story to the school’s principal.

The principal told her to visit the boy’s home immediately that night and apologize "before they post the story online." He also criticized her for failing to monitor students closely.

"I was quite upset and I don't think I deserved to be criticized," said Hue.

But she also said she "understood the pressure that the principal is facing."

So, at 10 p.m. she rushed to buy some fresh milk as a gift and came to the boy’s house, which is 5 km from hers, to make sure the parents would not criticize her and the school online.

Thanh, teacher at a private kindergarten in Hanoi, said she is "scared to death" every time she sees a student with a scratch or bruise.

In charge of taking care of 30 three-year-old children with another teacher, the 28-year-old said it is impossible to prevent all the children from hurting themselves all the time.

Many children are active and they often bump into each other or hard objects, or they fall while running or jumping, causing them scratches or bruises, she said.

"But when parents see their children scratched a little, they often get suspicious. Even though I explain the situation to them, I'm still afraid that they won't believe me and post it online, and I might lose my job," Thanh said.

Speaking at an education workshop on Oct. 20, Vu Minh Duc, head of the Teacher and Education Administrator Bureau at the Ministry of Education and Training, said: "If just one behavior deviates from the norm at school today, the whole social network will learn of it tomorrow. Teachers these days are placed under immense pressure."

According to the Ministry of Information and Communication, Vietnam has more than 77 million Internet users, accounting for nearly 80% of the population.

Thanks to social media, many online posts attract tens of thousands of interactions in just a few hours.

Urge to resolve issues

Nhai, a 29-year-old parent in Hanoi’s Ha Dong District, said posting on social media is the "most effective solution" to prevent an issue from being ignored or left unsolved.

Nhai’s experience includes writing a post in which she complained about the inefficiency of her son's class parents’ fund on Facebook.

She said that within six hours of posting, her boy’s homeroom teacher and a representative of the class’s parents’ committee came to meet with her to sort out the problem.

"The representative promised to make all income and expenditures public, and the teacher also explained them in detail. It was only then that I found the explanation reasonable and decided to delete the post," said Nhai.

"Parents have no voice so we need the masses to create pressure," she said.

A principal at a school in the central province of Quang Tri who requested anonymity said it is now "too common" for parents to post everything on social media, forcing schools and teachers to be overly-cautious with every word and action.

"There's no need to know what's right or wrong, as long as the stories go online, teachers must write a report, explain and be criticized by their superiors," he said.

So, when teachers learn about an incident, they must act swiftly and tactfully to handle it as soon as possible.

He admitted that in several cases, teachers have not been open enough to communicate directly with parents, leading to situations in which parents have been justly disappointed.

However, he said there are cases when parents have pushed a disagreement too far or did not research an incident carefully and/or intentionally posted false information online.

He said there are teachers who've gotten in trouble because a parent complained about a school meal that then turned out was in fact never even served at the school.

Other teachers' text messages have been screenshotted and then cut and paste out of context to purposely misinform and mislead readers.

Two teachers welcome parents and students to the school on the first day of the 2022-2023 academic year at a primary school in HCMC. Photo by VnExpress/Quynh Tran

Two teachers welcome parents and students to the school on the first day of the 2022-2023 academic year at a primary school in HCMC. Photo by VnExpress/Quynh Tran


Nguyen Thi To Quyen, acting head of the Sociology Faculty at the Academy of Journalism and Communication, said accurate feedback from parents does help school administrators handle mistakes swiftly, and such feedback can provide lessons for schools and teachers.

But, she said, much feedback lacks the objectivity needed to be helpful.

According to Hoang Trung Hoc, head of the Psychology - Education Department at the HCMC National Academy of Education Management, once teachers feel insecure, they withdraw and hesitate to contribute.

"When teachers lose their enthusiasm and passion, it is the students who will lose the most," he said.

In Vietnam, there is currently no research on the specific impact of teachers being harassed.

In South Korea, a total of 1,133 teachers were subject to online harassment between 2018 and 2022, according to data released by the country’s Ministry of Education.

In a survey conducted by the Korean Teachers and Education Workers Union (KTU) in 2022, 93% of teachers said they fear they may be accused of child abuse. Among teachers who were actually charged, only 1.5% said they were eventually convicted.

The teachers' fear of parents is so serious that the South Korean government is planning a series of educational policy changes, including limiting parents' contact with teachers.

After witnessing one of his colleagues being criticized for pointing a finger and yelling at students, Trung, a middle school math teacher in Hanoi, said he has gradually lost enthusiasm.

Being well aware of his hot-tempered personality, Trung reminds himself every day at school that he only needs to finish the lesson and go home, instead of fiercely urging students to study hard, or yelling at those who did not do their homework.

"I’m not proud, but at the end of the day I’m still doing this job for a salary. If I’m not careful enough, I could lose the job and create a bad reputation for myself," he said.

Hue in Ha Nam said she has "grown tired of the job" and has already submitted papers requesting permission to retire sooner than regulated.

"I feel that if I make just one mistake, my 30 years of being a devoted teacher will mean nothing," she said.

Educators have said that although it is impossible to avoid problems between schools and parents, such issues should still be approached in an objective and civilized way.

Nguyen Van Ngai, former head of the HCMC Department of Education and Training, advised parents to research carefully, and consult with other parents, as well as other children instead of just listening to what their children say.

He told them to talk to teachers first to learn more about the situation, and only when teachers fail to handle the problems should parents contact the principal.

As for schools, he suggested building a specific channel designated to receive complaints from parents.

"I really hope that both parents and teachers carefully consider every move they make to see what impacts it could leave on students because after all, it is the students who are affected the most," he said.

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