Thursday, March 31, 2016

A Teacher's Plea to Helicopter Moms

I talk a lot about my job on this blog. It's hard. And fun. And rewarding. And stressful. And insane. And full; full of joy, integrity, tears, pain, love, support…

There are a lot of things that make teaching difficult: legislation by people who have no idea what it's like to be in a classroom, administrators who are more worried about impressing their superiors than supporting their teachers, students who are disrespectful and don't care about their futures...but one of the most detrimental aspects of my career is the Helicopter Mom. 

You don't have to be a teacher to have experience with a Helicopter Mom. She is a ruthless Mama Bear who will protect her Cub at all costs. She is someone who peaked in high school, and because of that she will never allow her baby to have anything less than a perfect and spotless high school career. Helicopter Moms don't just feel obligated to fight their children's battles, they thrive on it. 
I’ve created a list of the most common traits of Helicopter Moms. If any of these look like you, on behalf of teachers everywhere . . . please stop.

1. You frequently email or call your kid's teachers to "discuss" a bad grade, missing assignment, or perceived mistreatment.
How often do you contact your kid's teachers? When you do, do you subtly question or criticize those teacher's methods? Do you believe that they may not have your child's best interest at heart? Is your first reaction to attack or question said teacher, instead of asking questions in order to get to the root of whatever the issue is? If you answer yes to any of these questions, then you might be a Helicopter Mom. When a teacher contacts you about your child’s struggling grade, do your responses look anything like these (and these are paraphrases of actual responses I’ve gotten when trying to talk to a parent about their child’s failing grade)?
  • Well, little Johnny tells me he just doesn't understand the work. Maybe it would help if you made your expectations more clear. How can he turn it in if it's that difficult for him? If you could just set aside some time to help him during class I'm sure that would solve the problem.
    • You're right! It would be no problem to stop class and ignore the other 29 students to make sure that Johnny is completely comfortable before we move on. And don't worry, there's no need for him to talk to me - ever - or express any of his struggles, or come to me for help before or after school when I can give him my full attention. I can read his mind, so I'll automatically know if he doesn't get it. It's certainly acceptable to never say a word, never turn anything in, and expect me to just inherently understand what he needs from me.
  • I don't know what you expect me to do about it. She tells me she doesn't have any homework. Talk to her.
    • You're right. Why would I expect you to have an actual conversation with the fruit of your loins, the child you love and care for? My bad.
  • Sweet Susie has a 504 plan that requires you to give her extra time to complete her assignments. If you were giving her the time she's required then she wouldn't be failing.
    • You know what, maybe the time and a half she’s given that the 504 requires just isn't enough. What if we let Susie turn in all of her assignments on the last day of school? Better yet, how about we just give her until she graduates to do any of her work? I'm sure she'll never have a job that requires any kind of accountability or deadlines, so it won't be an issue.

2. You insert yourself into your child's "friend drama."
Do you find yourself texting for your child? Do you contact the parents of his or her peers to discuss less than cordial incidents between your children? I've seen instances, where mothers text their kid's friends from their own phones in order to gossip about another friend that isn't very popular at that particular moment, or a mother text-harassing a boy her daughter liked in order to determine why he wasn't texting her daughter back in a timely fashion. Are you more interested in your kid's drama than you are in your own personal life? You might be a Helicopter Mom.

3. Your first instinct is to believe it isn't your baby's fault.
Have you ever gotten a call from a fellow parent or your child's school to let you know that there's been an incident and it appears that your precious little cherub is to blame? Have you ever been notified of a failing grade due to incomplete or missing work? What is your first reaction? Is it anger or denial? Do you lash out at the person delivering the bad news? Do you blame the authority figure of the time the incident occurred? If this is your first reaction, you might be a Helicopter Mom.

We take away our children's responsibilities and then we are surprised when they don't learn how to be responsible.
We never let them fail, and so they don't know how to try. 

This is what makes my job hard. Because it doesn't matter how many times I tell your kid that working hard matters. If they go home and you validate every whine, complaint, and lazy decision, then all of my work goes down the drain. It doesn't matter if I punish your kid for disrespectful behavior, if they go home knowing that you've called the principal and complained - without even checking with me first to verify what happened - then they will never learn respect. Your child's teachers can't be the only ones trying to instill in them a belief in integrity and responsibility. If it isn't reinforced at home, then I am preaching to the choir. 

Sometimes your child will fail at things. Sometimes, it will be your kid's fault if something goes wrong. And that's OK! No one is perfect. Failures are learning opportunities. Help me be the best teacher I can be and stop insisting on feeling threatened by your students' teachers and administrators and start viewing us as partners. We want your child to succeed almost as much as you do. 

Try to remember that the next time you decide to send a hateful email questioning whether or not we are capable of doing our jobs, or when you deny us the professional courtesy of actually talking to us and instead decide to go above our heads in an attempt to undermine our authority in our classrooms, or switch your student into a different teacher's class because you believe we are prejudiced against him or her. 

I believe I represent the majority of teachers when I say we are pleading with you to be our partners and not our enemies. We shouldn't be set against each other, we should be working together to ensure that your kid gets as much out of his or her education as possible.

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