The beginning of September marked children’s return to school, and the revival of parent-teacher WeChat groups that had lain dormant during the summer vacation.
Asked how they felt about the new semester, my former colleagues at a middle school in Suzhou whined to me that they had already sensed a relapse of “cellphone-phobia,” as screen-flooding WeChat group messages from their students’ parents are coming back.
“Teacher, please remind my son to drink more water.” “Teacher, please pay special attention to my daughter today because she did not sleep well last night.” My former colleagues’ workdays are inundated with such requests.
I also remember being bombarded with parents’ messages on WeChat when I was a teacher not long ago. Regardless of the timing, whether I was teaching, grading homework, or meeting with colleagues, a constant flow of messages from parents was competing for my attention.
For many of my former colleagues, dealing with parents’ WeChat groups now almost balances their time spent on other duties like teaching and marking homework.
Many parents can be so responsive that teachers’ announcements quickly get drowned in a sea of uniform responses like “I got it, thank you, teacher!” — although many teachers have made it clear that parents don’t have to reply unless otherwise required.
Peer pressure is part of the answer, as competition is always lurking somewhere — if other parents compliment the teachers and I don’t, my child might suffer. Plus, messaging on WeChat doesn’t really cost a penny, which makes it harder to resist the urge to conform.
For teachers, some compliments are just overwhelming, with many increasingly suffering from an insidiously expanding workload.
While babysitting restless children at school activities, teachers are often pestered to broadcast children’s “live shows” by posting photos and videos in WeChat groups.
If someone’s child is found missing on the photos, teachers will be asked to make it up by re-capturing this child’s “memorable moments.”
Some teachers concede that this has significantly distracted them.
The content of the group chat is another matter of concern.
On the one hand, some parents keep sharing in the WeChat groups some irrelevant information like personal holiday photos, chicken soup articles or even advertisements.
On top of that, the private friendship between certain parents has been strengthened in the group chat, too, at a cost. Not long ago, three mothers of my former students had a heated conversation about one child’s birthday party and the exchange didn’t end until midnight. Over 200 messages left me dumbfounded when I woke up the next morning.
Teachers, on the other hand, tend to mute their voices to avoid criticism. Media have reported that a father expressed hostility against a math teacher in their group chat after the teacher kindly mentioned his son’s declining performance.
“There are no students who are incapable of learning, but there are unqualified teachers. My son has always been bright, only the teacher is to blame!” posted the angry father. So, most teachers are now being utterly meticulous about their words, which can be used against them if a parent decides to report to the principal or even education authority.
To relieve teachers’ burdens, a kindergarten in Dalian, Liaoning Province, announced a string of rules for parents’ WeChat groups, according to a recent report on the Bandao Morning News, a local tabloid.
The rules included “Please keep your messages brief and to the point,” “Please don’t curry favor with the teachers,” and “Please contact the teacher in private if it doesn’t concern other parents in the group.”
It’s sad that, to protect themselves, some teachers have to invoke rules, instead of counting on mutual understanding and sympathy.
And it is tragic that the modern technology meant to help lower the cost of communication is actually costing a lot more, as teachers’ routine becomes seriously compromised by the inordinate attention they have to pay to the nonsense in the WeChat groups.