Originally published in Times Live and

Spending time with parents at a graduation ceremony got me pondering some of the misconceptions about educators.

DO THE MATHS Teachers are responsible for teaching. Learning is the child’s responsibility, writes Jonathan Jansen.

This past Saturday I was a speaker at a moving ceremony where parents and their children graduated after learning together and learning from each other through a period of training. My spirit soared. Here were parents from informal settlements and council housing who lived hard lives taking time off to learn how to be a good parent and children learning the basic habits that make for a flourishing childhood. Middle-class parents need this as much.

The graduation was also an opportunity for me to reflect on eight things parents often get wrong about teachers.

  •  Teachers are responsible for their children’s learning. Nope, teachers are responsible for teaching. Learning is the child’s responsibility. In a home where parents are attentive and hands-on in their children’s lives, the child would already have learnt how to learn in the preschool years. Yes, it is your job as a parent to instil the habits of learning long before a child comes to school.
  • Teachers can compensate for a dysfunctional home. Let’s be clear, if you failed as a parent to raise your child to be decent and kind and respectful of others, do not expect the school to correct your incompetence. Every day I witness how teachers work their hearts out trying to discipline wayward children; it is hard and sometimes impossible. A child who throws a tantrum in a classroom, fights with a teacher, or simply gives the finger salute to an educator is not the primary problem — the problem is the parent. How dare you, a parent, come to school and berate the teacher for disciplining an unruly child? You are the problem, not the teacher.

It does not take a teacher too long to work out that the child comes from an unstable and undisciplined home.

  • Teachers have lots of free time. This, of course, is an enduring myth. Teachers have weekends and holidays and close school early. Really? Come and try to teach for eight periods a day and supervise for the teachers who are absent and coach the soccer or netball team and rush to finish the overcrowded curriculum, all while doing social work with broken children, nursing kids who come to school with health problems, and keeping the police on alert because of violence in the area. You are drained at the end of the day and have seen colleagues burn out. The rubbish people sometimes speak.
  • Teachers are responsible for your individual child. No, they are responsible for classes of 30 and sometimes 40 or more children. All you need is five of them to play up and disturb a class and you are doing crowd control. In classes of 5-10 children, it would be nice to expect personal care for each one of them. But most South African schools are not like that or, to put it bluntly, do not have parents who can pay upwards of R100,000 a year to guarantee small classes.
  • Parents know better than the teachers (about teaching). This is infuriating. Just like a teacher does not know the details of chemical engineering or the principles of advanced accounting, like various parents, you do not know the complexity of teaching, curriculum design, assessment protocols, subject knowledge, pedagogy, classroom management and scores of other competencies. Just because you taught Sunday school does not make you a teacher. At its best, teaching is a complex event that balances knowledge, wisdom and contingency that comes from deep experience.
  • Teachers are ignorant of what happens at home. It does not take a teacher too long to work out that the child comes from an unstable and undisciplined home. In primary school, the children volunteer eye-popping information. But even in high school, you can read a broken home from the face of a sad and sometimes angry learner. Teachers know. Approach with caution.
  • Teachers are obliged to make your child pass. No, again. Teachers are there to tell you the truth about your child’s wonderful qualities as a learner and, when necessary, about why your child is struggling. A good parent will confer with the teacher and work out a support plan. But far too often, parents come to school and raise the finger at the educator as if they are responsible for the child’s lack of progress in mathematics or accounting. Not good.
  • Teachers have no lives. How incredibly sad. Teachers also have children going to school and households to maintain and family getaways to enjoy. In fact, the ability of teachers to take care of themselves improves their capacity to take care of other people’s children. Teachers need space, they need support, and they need to turn off their cell phones.

So next time you confront a teacher about what they may or may not have done, stop and ask yourself whether you played your part in the education and development of your children.

Professor Jonathan Jansen is a distinguished professor at Stellenbosch University and president of the Academy of Science of South Africa. With degrees from the University of the Western Cape, UNISA, Cornell, and Stanford, his career spans high school teaching and prominent university leadership. He champions educational reform and is widely recognized for his contributions to the field. His research explores the politics of knowledge, as detailed in his award-winning book, “Knowledge in the Blood”.