I’d been warned.
As soon as I signed a contract to teach sixth, seventh and eighth graders at an A+, A-rated public school in a middle- to upper-middle-class attendance zone, educator friends told me to prepare to deal with helicopter parents.
You know, the parents who expect to reach their kids by text message in the middle of class to remind them they have piano lessons. The ones who bring lunch and a sweater by and expect to deliver it right to the classroom. The ones who pick up the phone to complain about a child’s grade before a teacher has even had a chance to talk with the student.
Too anxious about their kids?
Newspapers, parenting magazines and education publications are filled with articles on the subject.
Helicopter parents are unable to detach! They suffer from too much anxiety, critics say.
Helicoptering is necessary! In an era when kids fall through the cracks in crowded schools and classrooms, moms and dads need to be advocates, proponents say.
In the 12 weeks that I have been teaching, I have seen parents who fall into both categories.
A few parents interfere so much I worry about the sense of entitlement and anxiety they are passing to their kids. These are the parents who have pressured their students into taking a high-school level class in middle school just so they can get a credit out of the way, who tell their kids they will lose their phone and internet privileges if their GPA falls below an A and those who tell me I made a mistake when correcting their child because the kid has never ever failed or been in trouble before.
I actually had one mom e-mail me the morning after a quiz demanding that her daughter be allowed a re-test. I was happy to respond that there was no need. The student had already earned an A.
Luckily these folks are a tiny minority.
Positive parent-teacher connections
But others — and fortunately these parents are more common at my school — have a knack for knowing exactly how and when to get in touch about a concern. They also know just how to respond when I call or e-mail with a problem.
Early in the school year I had a close eye on one student who I knew had severe allergies that could be triggered in the classroom. The last thing I wanted as a brand-new teacher was to have a life-threatening health emergency on my watch.
When I noticed the student was walking around the classroom frequently and then got a low grade on the first quiz, I reached out to the mother to see if there was something else I needed to do.
At first she was defensive. Wandering? Could it be I had him mixed up with another student in my crowded classroom?
The helipad is open
Um no. I had my eye on this student like a mother robin watching a chick take flight. I did not use those exact words, but she got the idea. She came in to talk.
It turned out that the student is gifted but sometimes lacks focus. He also gets stressed before tests. We worked on some strategies and built a partnership.
The other day, I had just returned a test to the student and encouraged him to come in and talk to me about what he missed. Minutes later I got an e-mail from his mother. “What do we need to work on?” she wanted to know. I smiled and answered her, explaining the plan.
Helicoptering? Yes, I would say so. Negative? No, not in the least.
For this mom and others, the helipad is wide open.