Ask a Teacher

When Your “Helicopter” Parent is a Teacher

I  am enough years into teaching to have experienced a few of those parents. You know the type I mean: near daily notes, frequent phone calls and messages, surprise visits at school, requests for some special treatment or accommodation for their child, and occasionally an offering of personal information you might wish had never been offered.Having one of these over-involved parents fall sporadically into your already packed day or into your overcrowded inbox can be an added burden. You might even find yourself ducking into the room of a colleague you didn’t plan on visiting to avoid being spotted in the hall if the school is in a little-town, country setting and an open-to-the-community type like mine. If you teach long enough they will likely be former students of yours or former students of more senior colleagues.
These parents mean well, but they hand-hold, hover, and dive into places and situations where you’d like to rely on your professional training and judgment as the teacher, and in reality, you often wonder if helicopter parenting is really helping the child or holding them back? Teachers often crave for more parent willingness to be involved, but for problems on the playground, complaints from the classroom, cafeteria issues or requests for next year’s class placement? It can feel like you have another supervisor at times.
To compound issues, what if your helicopter parent is a teacher themselves? Click To Tweet
To begin with,  It is very likely that I am, or at least have been, the helicopter teacher-parent (let’s call them HTPs) .
Let me explain.
This is the last year one of my children (Ella)  will be a student in the same building I teach in. She is a sixth grader this year, and has Mrs. Hayes (“Trish” to me) for a homeroom teacher, and I know I was (and sometimes am) an HTP when it comes to Ella. If you want to know part of the reason for that, check out this story I shared with Education Post back at the end of 2015.  My share was a response to their call for some inspirational stories to ring in the new year with and the gist was both an homage to a great teacher (that year it was Mrs. Mack) and a recognition that incredible and important things happen daily, continuously, in ways people never know because educators just make them happen intuitively- right in the very public schools we already have.
My Ella was once a cheerful, athletic, outgoing little girl who was temporarily turned into a shell of her former self by an illness the medical profession is only now coming to accept (PANDAS).She has made progress and has started to get past some of the anxiety-enough to start sleeping in her own room again-but that’s all besides the point. Our daughter’s condition has definitely caused my wife and I to do some hovering. The “easy access” didn’t help-I was just down the hall from Ella’s room that year, my wife is a physical therapist who also works with students in the school a couple days of the week, and Ella knows our schedules and how to find us. So  I know she asked to come and see me many times. I also know I sent emails describing symptoms, requesting special consideration, and if I reflect and am honest-there is a part of me that feels more entitled to be heard; to get my way because I am a teacher.
I try to justify with it’s a medical condition, right? I saw it happen, I know it’s real, and I don’t really spoil my kids that much, do I?
My middle daughter, Brenna (16 this year and in 11th grade), also has had me behaving like an HTP. Testing accommodations, the ability to get up and move around in the back of the room or take a walk, access to a counselor…the need to address her anxiety seems much less now but when she was in the middle of it, from about 4th grade to ninth grade, we were probably all up in her teachers’ business. I know there had to be times where teachers have said to themselves “Christ, this is one more thing for me to deal with.”
For Chloe, my oldest, it was different. Other than having open heart surgery in fourth grade there wasn’t much along the lines of health concerns. Of course I’m kidding. A valve trimming and cutting out/resection of part of her aorta where it narrowed right outside the valve is nothing to be cavalier about. Yes, from time to time I have hovered in regards to this, making sure teachers have been aware and know the warning signs to watch for; making sure that high school PE teachers knew that, while we understand running a mile is a requirement, alternatives need to be found for her. All while making sure that the school assisted in crafting an IEP that would address her learning disability. You see, while she has a very high IQ, the discrepancy between  verbal/language and math skills caused her to struggle in some isolated areas.
As you can see, I have been guilty of being a hovering helicopter parent. 
I’ve used my teacher-smarts to justify all my hovering, all my requests, all the “special treatment” I have tried to get for my daughters. But as a teacher, I have smarty-pants ways to explain my extra requests and believe I know what teachers can and can’t-do, or should be able to do, or shouldn’t do to begin with.
However, because I am first a parent then a teacher, I have to say that I don’t find myself minding HTPs terribly. I get them. I have been one and I sometimes am one. Yes, it can be a huge pain: that stack of papers is waiting; grades close this week and report cards are due by Tuesday (virtually guaranteeing weekend work); those behavior plans need to be reviewed; the half hour that was mine to make a couple appointments and check on the car at the garage just became someone else’s half hour…HTPs can cause a hitch in a teacher’s giddyup and put more things on your plate while pushing other important stuff to the side. Just like my own girls, though, these kids are someone’s babies.
Letting go can be tough, and HTPs want to just make everything better.  With that understanding: HTPs are a resource, so I try to use them as one.
So take this advice into consideration:
1) For your sake, present and future, go into your relationship with the HTP knowing, or at least willing to believe, that they know their shit. They know how to teach, they have an idea of what to expect  from other teachers (in general), and there is a chance they might internally hold you to a standard that is above what an average parent might. Communication, feedback on assignments, a little more effort than the drag and drop comments from the auto-report card comment filler menu…If you’ve been there you understand: you tend to hold yourself to a higher standard when dealing with someone who might know when you are not. Smart that you do. Cultivating a teacher ally is more practical than encouraging a doubter with a degree.
2) Know that love and concern for their child drives the HTP, and an understanding of the profession and the job informs them. Make yourself available but give clear parameters on when you can be available. It may mean some extra phone conferencing after hours and maybe on the weekend (the union leader in me says shhhhh, but the pragmatist says the benefit in the end is worth it), but cultivating a “working relationship” with an HTP could pay off big in the end. In addition to the apron strings you hope to cut, HTPs can give sound advice and pertinent observations regarding their children.
3) If the HTP isn’t a whack-job parent that stumbled into teaching on sheer will and marginal brains, involve them whenever possible. Check to see if they are interested in arranging to be available for helping out during occasional in-class projects, parties, field trips…And if they take you up on the offer? Organize tightly and have a clear plan for them. Not only could they be a trained and useful set of hands/eyes/ears, but your preparation will alleviate some of the anxiety that pushes them to hover. You showing the HTP that “Hey…I got this!” might prompt them to relax their hold.
It can be challenging to have an over-involved and hovering parent, and more of a challenge when that parent is a teacher themselves-I know because I have had some HTPs and been one myself. But because of the potential benefits, it’s worth cultivating and guiding that relationship.

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