Handling “helicopter” and “snowplow” parents
If you’re teaching in an affluent community, and especially if you’re teaching honors level students, you are bound to encounter helicopter parents.
If you’re unfamiliar with the term helicopter parent, it means that the parent is constantly hovering over their child and everyone their child interacts with. That includes you.
You might even encounter some snowplow parents.
A snowplow parent is a parent who goes beyond helicopter parent status. They push all potential road blocks out of their child’s way (just like a snowplow) so that the child does not encounter any obstacles (or as few as possible).
If the parent views you as an obstacle in the way of their child’s success. You might get “plowed.”
The best way to deal with helicopter and snowplow parents is to get to them before they get to you.
Don’t wait to find out if you have a helicopter parent in the bunch. Make contact first! That will make them feel that you are in control, you know what is going on, and you will contact them when needed.
You can do this simply by sending out group emails to all parents about once a month. Make sure to BCC (blind carbon copy) your email list. You don’t want to inadvertently give out parent’s email addresses to each other without their permission.
I accidentally CCed instead of BCCed once when I was a new teacher and I got a very angry message from a parent about it.
The emails should include information such as the monthly calendar, when assignments will be due, any major school happenings like underclassmen picture day, etc.
End every email with, “feel free to contact me at any time with comments, questions, or concerns.”
You’d be amazed how those comments, questions, and concerns disappear when they’re given so much information up front. And those parents who would otherwise call and email constantly are appeased by your initiative. They probably will still contact you at some point, but they will be more positive and more confident in your abilities if you contacted them first.
What if you have a parent who just won’t leave you alone?
Parents are known to argue for a student’s grade. Stand your ground. If you feel that you’re in the wrong and graded too harshly, then consider the parent’s advice. If you feel that the student was not up to par and the parent is just trying to get them out of it, don’t budge.
Let your administration and guidance department know about the parent and their demands so when the parent calls, the office admin will be ready, and they’ll already know your side of the story.
Be strong. Changing a grade or giving extra time on an assignment (for no legitimate reason) sends kids the wrong message. They need to learn that deadlines are deadlines and you can’t always talk yourself out of bad situations.
I remind my newspaper students that if they turned in a story two weeks late to their editor at a real newspaper job they wouldn’t get a D, they’d be fired.
I once had a parent email me upset because his daughter spent a large sum of money at the grocery store buying food to make for our class. The students were working on a project on India, in which they were broken into groups: food, religion, family, etc. His daughter was in the food group. The groups were given multiple options of how they could present both an informational and a creative element. The food group chose to cook Indian food for the class. The father emailed me and insisted that he “would like to be reimbursed” for the money she spent on the food (PS This is the same parent who sent an angry email about carbon copying instead of blind carbon copying an email). This was my response:
“XXX group chose to cook for the class; it was not a requirement. They also had the choice of bringing in recipes or doing a power point, etc. We do not have a budget and they knew they were responsible for any cost they incurred if they did choose to actually cook food. I would recommend that she talk to her group members about the cost and also suggest that she choose a much cheaper option next time we do creative presentations. There will be other opportunities for creativity in this class and I want to ensure you that students do not need to spend any money in order to create a fantastic presentation. We have the capacity to do power points, iMovies, photo stories, collages, etc. for free at school. I’m sorry for any frustration this may have caused you.”
Parents can be intimidating, especially if you are a brand new teacher, but you are the boss in your classroom. If you are reasonable and responsible AND you reach out first, you will avoid a large number of angry emails and calls.
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