By Andrew Hawk
Most experienced teachers have heard phrases from parents like, “I just have a couple questions about your grading policy,” or, “Can you clarify the instructions for the homework assignment?” Then there is the much-dreaded statement, “I just want to make sure that we’re all on the same page.” When teachers hear one of these phrases, they may also hear the chopper blades whirring overhead.
Helicopter parenting, while easy to joke about, is a real-life challenge that nearly all teachers will experience at some point in their careers. Here are a few do’s and don’ts that can help you avoid unnecessary showdowns with parents who love to hover.
- DON’T make assumptions about parents’ motives. I often hear colleagues speculate on why helicopter parents want to be so involved. Typical responses include a need for power, control, or attention. But rarely do we know the real reasons why, and projecting motives on parents can only lead to trouble. Most likely, they are trying to be helpful rather than trying to annoy teachers.
- DON’T get defensive. This is very important. Unless a parent has accused you of criminal wrongdoing, there is never a reason to get defensive. Parents typically will not understand the reasoning behind every learning activity unless they are teachers themselves. Yes, it can be tiresome to have someone always questioning the activities and assignments you choose to use in your classroom. However, it’s important to be willing to take a few extra minutes to explain your reasoning to concerned parents.
- DON’T second-guess yourself. Sometimes a parent will say, for example, “Last year Mrs. Teacher did such-and-such, and this worked better for my child.” I have heard this statement myself, and my response has been that people are different and teachers are different. Your child is likely going to have to work with more than one boss in his life, and this is a good opportunity for him to learn a different way to do things. If the parent is not satisfied with this answer, she may choose to go above your head and take her complaints to the principal. You can head this off by saying something along the lines of, “Mrs. Principal has approved the learning experience I use in my classroom.” In my opinion, it is best for teachers to handle parent issues without involving the principal, but some parents will not be satisfied until they have spoken with the principal. Compromise is very important. However, there is a difference between making a compromise and letting a parent run a classroom.
- DO be as transparent as possible. If parents ask to observe you teaching or volunteer to help you in the classroom, let them! I have seen colleagues avoid having parents in the classroom at all costs. They may give any number of reasons, but the real reason is obvious: They are self-conscious about their teaching. They are afraid the parent will judge them. They are worried the parent is going to criticize them for one reason or another. Let me tell you: There is nothing to be afraid of. A teacher should be able to teach with other adults watching. A teacher should know and be able to explain what he is doing. As long as you have a good academic reason for what you do in your classroom, there is nothing to fear. I always let parents come and observe or volunteer. Trying to keep them out when they want to come into the classroom only raises suspicions. I do control the times, though, and I limit their time in the classroom to one hour. If they want to observe me teaching, I let them choose the subject and let them know what times they should arrive and depart. If they want to observe multiple subjects (I am an elementary teacher), I let them know that they will have to observe over a period of several days.
- DO be honest. Teachers who are afraid of a parent’s response to bad grades or behavior usually do one of two things: They defend their decisions so strongly that anyone would be offended, or they sugarcoat the issue to the point that it’s not obvious what the problem is. A teacher can be honest without being offensive. Parents get upset and lash out at teachers; listening to this is part of our job. Maintaining a professional demeanor during a tense conversation is also part of our job. If a parent becomes rude, you can request to have a meeting with the parent and the principal.
The teacher-parent relationship is vital to the success of the students. As teachers, we always need to be looking for the right approach to build a professional, productive relationship with all parents.
Bonus! Download the Parent Contact Log from RTI Success: Proven Tools and Strategies for Schools and Classrooms. Use the log to document communications with parents and monitor your level of communication throughout all stages of each student’s learning process.
Andrew Hawk has worked in public education for fourteen years, starting as a teaching assistant in a special education classroom. He has taught first, second, and fifth grade as a classroom teacher, and for the past three years has worked as a resource room teacher, providing services for fourth and fifth grades. Working as a special education teacher has given him the opportunity to work with a variety of age groups and exceptionalities. In 2011, he earned his master’s degree in special education from Western Governor’s University. When Andrew is not preparing for school, he enjoys spending time with his wife and daughter.
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