Saturday, January 22, 2022

Respectful or inappropriate? Teachers give their two cents on ‘second parent titles’

Some have no problem being called 'father' or 'mother' while others say this could open the door to issues such as sexual grooming.

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Educationists have expressed mixed reactions to the use of terms of endearment such as “daddy” or “abah” by students for their teachers, with some saying this could lead to a crossing of boundaries in the relationship and others appearing more comfortable with the practice.

The issue surfaced after a video clip of students calling their tuition teacher by such terms during an online class went viral on social media.

Some said it was part of Malaysian culture to show respect to elders through the use of these terms while others voiced concern that it could lead to problems in the long run.

Normala Mukhtar, president of the parent-teacher association of SK Seksyen 17 in Shah Alam, said what is considered appropriate in this sense changes with time.

“In my time, we didn’t have any problems calling our teachers ‘father’ or ‘mother’, especially when we were at boarding school. Such terms were respectful names for our teachers.

“But in this era, I believe it would be better to have guidelines to prevent any controversial issues between teachers, parents and students,” she told MalaysiaNow.

Norhaslinda Zakaria, a chemistry teacher at SM Sains Bagan Datoh, said these terms were inappropriate for use in an educational setting.

“Some might think that the use of such titles will create closer bonds and relationships between teachers and students, but undeniably, there are repercussions to this,” she said, citing the possibility of sexual grooming.

“Boundaries might not be respected, either,” she added. “I am not trying to be pessimistic here but anything could happen.”

Yasoda, an English teacher at SMK St Bernadette’s Convent in Batu Gajah, said teachers as the older and wiser party should be the ones managing boundaries with students.

Yasoda, who has taught for as long as she can remember, has no issues with students calling their teachers by parental terms as long as the teachers themselves know how to keep an appropriate distance.

Speaking to MalaysiaNow, she said some students have a very close bond with their teachers and are more comfortable with them than they are with their own parents.

Both Norhaslinda and Normala however said there are other ways that teachers can create a connection with their students, key among which is building a sense of trust.

“When this trust is successfully created, such terms of endearment are absolutely unnecessary,” Norhaslinda said.

She also criticised the trend of calling those in positions of power or influence by fatherly names in a professional setting.

“My concern is that, along the way, people may lose the sense of respect that should be given to these individuals who must be respected in their fields of work,” she said.

“While we are trying to close the gap between teachers and students, something else may be jeopardised.”

Normala however chalked this up to Malaysia’s “budi bahasa” culture where it is normal for a person to be called “abah” or “daddy”, even in political settings.

“I think this has become our culture,” she said, citing the example of former prime minister Muhyiddin Yassin who was often referred to as “Abah”.

Beyond concerns over sexual grooming and boundaries, there is also the issue of the job scope and responsibility of teachers.

Norhaslinda said teachers, especially those at boarding schools, have enough on their plates as it is.

She voiced concern that being given “second parent titles” might lead to the impression that teachers have the same responsibilities as parents.

“Schools should be a safe place for students and it is the job of teachers to make sure of that. But it is out of teachers’ capacity to do more than that, what more carry out the tasks of a parent,” she said.

Long-time teacher Yasoda, on the other hand, already considers herself as a second parent to some of her students who still keep in touch with her and share their problems even though they have left school.

“They feel comfortable, that’s why they do that. So I think it’s okay for a teacher to be a second parent to students.”

The caveat, she added, is that teachers must be aware of their boundaries and the distance that they should keep.

At the end of the day, though, there are some areas in which a teacher’s job inevitably overlaps with the tasks of a parent.

“Like it or not, we can’t deny that teachers spend most of their time with our kids,” Normala said.

“Sometimes they know our children more than we do.”

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