In Praise of the Helicopter Parent
I cannot believe it’s almost been a year since my last post. I am certain that anyone who ever read this blog has long given up on me. But that’s okay: I didn’t begin this for anyone or any purpose other than to chronicle my professional journey, and it was originally intended for students to read, too. It long shifted away from a place to share lessons and links with students, but more to share my insights. Trust me — there have been many occasions I’ve drafted post after post in my head, thinking that maybe this time, no, that time, perhaps now…would be the moment to jump back in. I’ve also enjoyed just dabbling in fiction writing too, an escape of sorts. I’m not done writing for fun, not by a long shot.
But I have a few more things to say here, too.
I have two sons. Correction: I have two amazing sons. Each picked up not only alternating genetic physical traits between my husband and me, for they look nothing alike, and have very different personalities. Yet at their core, they are both two of the most kind-hearted, intelligent, funny, and generous young men anyone would ever hope to meet. However, they have been a case study of how our current educational practices work, or don’t. The older one is inherently organized, driven, almost a perfectionist, and the younger one is not. Through chemistry, genetics, luck of the draw, whatever, they are different. The older one is a teacher’s dream: well-behaved, studious, and organized. I was behind him every step of the way, but seldom had to remind him of assignments, etc. He will tell a different story of when he was in 8th grade and all the wind went out of his sails. He struggled to get things done, he had zero motivation, and quite frankly, was burnt out. I’ve also been behind my younger son every step of the way, but the shoes I’ve worn have been more hob-nail boots than running shoes. For the younger son I’ve been in contact with teachers, principals, and counselors since a red flag waved in fifth grade when a big assignment slipped past him, and none of his team of teachers seemed to notice. It’s been a struggle ever since to balance between advocating for him and trying to get him to be independent.
Bottom line: the world doesn’t give a damn if you struggle with ADD, ADHD, organizational skills or lack thereof, if you’re amazing at creating, building, and talking about science but don’t fill out your journal correctly, or if you slip up and completely space out on an English book report. The world doesn’t care if you make mistakes. Repeatedly.
My own anxiety levels have gone through the roof. I know what’s at stake here. If the GPA isn’t high, the SAT scores are high, and he doesn’t walk across the stage during graduation with some kind of sash around his chest then…what? What exactly are the consequences? As a parent, the only tools we have are to reflect on our own academic careers, and somehow, someway, even though I got a D in Chemisty and in Algebra II, I still made it into colleges. I am not sure that would happen today. And not only am I not sure, but the ‘there is only college or the military’ paths have become so constrictive and limiting to our nation we are forced into two chutes via cattle-prod. Who makes the cattle-prod? The big testing companies. This week alone we’re giving the second district-mandated assessment; this will total six instructional periods of bubble-filling. This does not include our own department assessments on the learning targets for the quarter, which took two instructional periods: pre and post. From those assessments I informed more about the neccessary instruction for my students that the bubbles that fly away into the ether, never to be seen or data-collected again.
Now I’m rambling, sorry: back on point.
So, helicopter parents. Those parents who drive teachers crazy with their poking, prodding, assistance, help, micro-managing ways. But guess what teachers, principals, and districts? Sometimes…in fact many times…we make mistakes, too. Big ones. We are complicent in our over-testing. We get steam-rolled by grading systems and confusing technology infrastructures that demand our students to not only be technologically astute and savvy, but offer parents a 24/7 on-demand access to every little blip with children’s grades. We try out new ‘math’ that gives 5/10 points for math homework when a child has done 8/10 problems (this is true: this is the first time I had to have one of “those” meetings with my younger son’s math teacher and principal–my son was getting a F on doing 80% of the problems correctly).
And we have bullies in our profession. Bullies who treat children as if they are adults, and beat us (parents and students) over the head with their grading policies and syllabii that no one questions until the bully teacher is inconvenienced. But hey, this is what bully bosses do, too, right? So it’s just getting students ready for ‘the real world.’ I am not sure anymore what this ‘real world’ looks like: if it’s the vision of a particular bully teacher, it means robotic obedience to a draconian agenda. It means not spending time with family. It means not having an experience outside of his/her realm.
So if it means I need to swoop in and monitor what is going on, so be it. And I welcome parents who ask questions, seek understanding, and want to know how their child is doing. The only times I am ever uncomfortable or feel awkward is when parents ask me about the testing, the grades that may fluctuate, or the moments their child is struggling and I haven’t done every thing in my power to help. We are on the same side, though: we both want our sons and daughters to learn, to grow, and be ready for the ‘real world.’ Whatever that is. Pretty sure it’s not on the test. Parents are responding to what we in education have created: yes, I am suggesting we made this monster. Now it’s up to us to dismantle it.
In the meantime though, I’ll report a conversation I had with my younger son this afternoon. I told him I thought he may want to drink alternative things and get back in his habits of drinking water. He told me, “Someday I’ll be able to make my own decisions and you won’t have control over this…I’ll be working at JPL Laboratories and if I want a Diet Coke, I’ll have one…”
You know what I said? Hallelujah.