Teacher reveals she was pestered by parents in evenings with emails
12th June 2019

Parents, for pity’s sake stop pestering us with your petty emails! Former teacher reveals she was contacted out of school hours by her pupil’s families about problems like missing PE kits

  • English teacher was bombarded with messages from parents during evenings 
  • She said when started teaching in 2007 contact with parents was limited 
  • Has now left job and said not answering emails is like ‘weight has been lifted’

A quiet Sunday evening and I’m snuggled on the sofa, with my husband Matt, watching film credits roll up the screen. 

Our two-year-old daughter, Molly, has been sleeping soundly for hours and as I glance at the clock and see the time is just after 11pm, I realise we should head to bed, too.

Suddenly my phone vibrates loudly, startling us both. ‘Who’s that at this time?’ frowns Matt.

Former English teacher Becky Harris said she was often contacted at the weekend and in the evening by the parents of her pupils (file picture)

I check my mobile to find a text message from the mother of an 11-year-old boy in my form: ‘Hi Mrs Harris, Ryan had massive argument w his dad. We’ve confiscated Xbox. May be in a bad mood tmrw. Sorry!’

‘OK,’ I reply.

It may be the weekend, at an hour when even family and friends would think twice about texting. 

But Ryan’s mother, and other parents at my state secondary comprehensive, seem to have no such social filter.

As form tutor to 30 children and English teacher to hundreds more, I receive at least a dozen emails or texts a week from parents outside school hours.

Some don’t think twice about pinging me an email at 9pm on a Friday night to ask me about their child’s progress when all I want to do is unwind with a glass of wine and a takeaway. 

Becky said the messages could be about missing PE kits or stationary (file picture)

Others text asking for a homework extension on behalf of their child at 7am on a Monday morning, before I’ve even buttered my toast.

I’ve had calls when I’m reading a bedtime story to Molly, texts when I’m on holiday with my family and emails when my head is about to hit the pillow. I feel I’m on call 24/7.

So I had to smile when I saw that parents at some private schools have been asked to sign behaviour contracts, including agreeing not to spread gossip about their school on WhatsApp groups or post on social media.

It’s part of widespread changes to the way parents and teachers interact. The pervasive on-demand 24/7 culture has crept into education — and it’s insane.

The former teacher said she must have spent hundreds of hours every year responding to messages outside working hours (file picture)

Education Secretary Damian Hinds recently urged teachers not to spend their evenings and weekends responding to emails from pushy parents.

‘Education is one of the few sectors where technology has been associated with an increase in workload rather than the reverse,’ he said.

‘I’m sure none of us now could imagine a life without email, but do we ever stop to think how much of our day is actually spent reading or replying to them?’

Parents expect a certain level of two-way communication from a teacher in a way which didn’t exist a few years ago. I must spend hundreds of hours every year responding to messages outside working hours.

Of course, people in other professions receive out-of-hours emails from bosses, colleagues and clients. But as a teacher, you’re in loco parentis and feel a duty of care to respond.

No wonder teachers are leaving the profession in the highest numbers since records began.

Mother-of-one Becky said when she started teaching in 2007 there was much less contact with parents (file picture)

According to one survey, 80 per cent of teachers have seriously considered resigning in the past 12 months because of their heavy workload. Sadly, one in three new teachers quits the classroom within the first five years. 

It wasn’t always like this. When I first became a teacher in 2007, contact with parents was limited to twice-yearly parent-teacher evenings. Occasionally a mother or father would come into school for a chat or we’d receive a scribbled note via the child.

But around six years ago things started to change.

Teachers had far more admin than ever before. Not only did we have to lesson-plan and mark, but we had to be more accountable for our actions. If we gave someone a detention, we had to write down the reasons for it. 

As part of that drive to make us more accountable, parents and pupils were given access to our school email address and our phone numbers were made available ‘for emergencies’.

Now, they can contact us 24 hours a day — and it has become relentless. But because the culture at my school is that you always have to be ‘at work’. I feel compelled to respond.

So why the constant barrage of messages? Some mothers and fathers are simply struggling to ‘parent’ and ask me for words of advice. Messages about missing PE kits and stationery are common; there’s an expectation that it’s my problem to sort out.

Becky said that she no longer has the ‘responsibility of answering emails and texts from parents, and it feels as if a huge weight has been lifted’ (file picture)

There are times when I’m relieved parents can confide in me. If a child’s home situation is difficult — a divorce, for instance — then it’s useful for any teacher to be aware that the child’s focus might not be entirely on their schoolwork. I want to help.

But the messages which keep me awake at night are from parents asking me about their ‘missing’ child.

On a Friday evening I’ll get texts saying: ‘X hasn’t come home from school — have you seen him?’ and I’ve no idea what’s happened to X until I return to school on Monday to find he’d visited a friend.

Not all messages make me anxious. I’ve received emails of praise and gratitude from parents and children, which is lovely. But this constant two-way communication is not only annoying, it puts teachers in a precarious position.

There is a safeguarding policy in place to protect us all from unwanted attention or accusations, but I know some colleagues and parents communicate on their private phones.

I’ve never done it. It can be dangerous when a professional relationship spills over into friendship, and all it takes is one ‘inappropriate text’ to find yourself hauled in front of the board of governors.

Not all teachers succumb to the pressure of being constantly available. One older male teacher at my school locks away his laptop in the school cupboard every evening, and people know he simply won’t be contactable until he’s next in school. But for other staff, there’s a subconscious competition as to who can be most available.

Not me. The pressure, and constant demand to be ‘on’ all the time became so relentless that in recent months I’ve changed jobs, opting for self-employment within the education sector.

No longer do I have the responsibility of answering emails and texts from parents, and it feels as if a huge weight has been lifted.

I’ve become one of the statistics of teachers leaving the full-time profession — a real shame, as it’s a job I love.

But for the first time in years, I’m sleeping properly. The aches and pains in my back are gone. I am no longer jumpy around my phone. My husband says it’s like having a different person in the house. And at least now we can watch a film on a Sunday evening without too many interruptions.

Names and identifying details have been changed.

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