Dear Helicopter Parents,
Elementary school teacher here. We need to talk.
We're a team, you and I—a partnership in your child's success and education. And I love you, I do. But some of the things you do drive me nuts and are really bad for your kid! Here's a handy list.
Ever wonder why most teachers ask parents to wait at a designated pickup spot outside the classroom at the end of the day? It's because the end of the day in a classroom is suuuuuuper chaotic, and we really don't need parents there to add to it. Plus, your kid should really be getting themselves ready; most are completely capable of doing so and we're trying to teach them independence.
Also, when a parent is in the classroom, it feels a bit like having your boss standing over you, watching your work. We become self-conscious of everything (the messy class, the kid who isn't listening to us, the student who's in the corner making farting sounds).
Oh, and this goes for you, too, parent lurkers who hover in the hall. We see you. If we aren't saying anything, it's not because we're okay with it.
Teachers don't care about the occasional weeklong family trip to someplace sunny in November. We get it—vacations are cheaper in the school year during off-peak times.
I'm talking about the kids who miss school pretty much once or twice every week, and not for valid reasons. We teachers see this a lot in kindergarden kids, but it happens in all grades.
These parents will say their child was tired, slept in, wasn't feeling well (it always seems to be an upset stomach or a headache) or they feel that their kindergartner “just isn't ready” for so much school time. Excuses, excuses, excuses.
Kid is too tired? Set and stick to a reasonable bedtime and morning routine!
Kid can't handle the full week of school? Only in the rarest of cases. Kids thrive off of routine, which is really noticeable when that schedule is disrupted.
As for your child's tummy or headache? It might very well be anxiety. I'd be anxious too if I didn't know whether or not I was going to school every day, and if I had a harder time catching up and following along with the lessons, and if I didn't have close friends (it's harder to kids to make friends when they're frequently absent).
Hate to say it, but you need to ask yourself this: Who are you really keeping them home for? Your child or yourself?
Teachers are busy. Usually our days are timed to the minute. When you ask your child's teacher for extra homework for them to complete on vacation or because they are bored at home? Not cool. Let them just enjoy their vacation. At home, talk to them, or have them help you garden or cook. Or, you know, let them relax. Do you enjoy coming home from a long day of hard work only to do more work?
The extra work you expect teachers to procure tends to be worksheets. While worksheets have their uses, so much rich learning happens when students get together in groups talking, problem solving, and working with hands-on materials. And a class discussion might launch a different direction in learning which can't be replicated through worksheets. So no, teachers are not going to want to photocopy worksheets and plan separate lessons just for your kid.
Newsflash: It's probably because they didn't do A-level work. To get an A, your child has to go above and beyond the grade expectations. That means they have to do extra, unrequired work (like a bonus project), or incredibly sophisticated work that a teacher would expect to see from older students (like a grade 3 student correctly using quotation marks in their story writing). If your child gets a B, settle down—that's actually wonderful. It means your kid has reached the provincial standard. An A is meant to be rare and reserved for exceptional work. A-level work is easy for teachers to spot when marking classwork because it stands out like a Ferrari in a fleet of Ford Fiestas.
Of course, teachers are only human. We do make mistakes when marking. And if you really feel like your child's teacher has erred, then by all means say something. Just don't yell at us or be patronizing, please. That just makes us dislike you (though we'll do our best to hide it behind a saccharine smile).
Know what's sad? When a child comes up to you at recess crying because their clothes got dirty while playing. Kids are kids. They should be exploring their world and getting messy—it's how they learn. Teachers are not purposefully throwing gobs of paint at your child, but some lessons are messier than others (usually the more fun ones). And if your child does get grass or paint stains on their clothes? Don't freak out on them. A diluted vinegar treatment before detergent will usually do the trick. Save the fancy clothes for picture day.
Look, I get it—sometimes it's easier to just let your little darling come to school with their toy than it is to say no and launch an epic Monday Morning Meltdown. However, if you make it a habit that toys stay at home, it's better for everyone in the long run.
This may come as a surprise, but kids prefer to play with toys than learn math. Shocking, I know. And it's not just your child distracted by the toy, it's the entire class. Toys are like a blackhole that sucks the attention of every child near the event horizon. Also, toys brought to school often “disappear” and take a walk….right into another kid's desk or backpack. Just think of your child when they lose a toy at home—is it fun for you? Because it certainly isn't fun for a teacher to console the crying child, search every desk or backpack in the classroom, and address the matter with the child who took the item (and their parent). And all this usually happens on our recess breaks when we need to pee. Seriously, home toys ruin school days. Please, please, please, just leave the toys at home (that especially goes for you, Pokemon and hockey cards and annoying LOL Dolls!).
So, teaching is not a desk job. In fact, during the school day, a teacher’s desk is usually just a place for us to put things on it. Most (good) teachers really only get a chance to sit at our desks before and after school, when we plan and mark. Same goes for the class computer. That means that if you send an email or call the school to speak to your child's teacher, chances are you're not going to connect with us right away. So please don't get mad when we don't respond right away. Realistically, would you want a teacher who is always on their cell phone sitting at their desk as your child's teacher?
Guess what? We can totally tell when you “help” your child too much with their homework. Think about it: Teachers spend hours each day with your child, which means we generally know what their academic strengths and weaknesses are. So if all of a sudden your child who regularly (and humorously) misspells the word “come” suddenly spells everything correct on their homework, we start to get suspicious. And writing with your left hand won't convince us that it's your child's writing. Please, let them do their own work. Let them make mistakes and learn from them. Teach them hard work, success and failure.
(Also, you might like to know that teachers rarely mark homework or count it towards anything because we can't verify that your child actually did the work. So there's that.)
You don't want to be this parent. Really, you don't. But there is the occasional parent who takes matters into their own hands when they feel their child is having social conflict or is being bullied. Not to dismiss the seriousness of bullying, but as an adult, you should never confront a student at school for their treatment of your child.
As an adult, there's a huge power differential between you and a child. And if you're confronting a child about bullying, you may very well be bullying that child yourself. You definitely will be embarrassing that child, your child, and yourself (schoolyard parent gossip is notorious).
If you have concerns about your child getting bullied, talk first to the teacher. Or perhaps you want to consider talking to the other kid's parents. But do not confront a child. Ever.
If you have an uncomfortable and unsure feeling churning your stomach right now, or you're feeling super defensive all of the sudden, then you may be a helicopter/tiger/snowplow parent who hovers, pounces on, and pushes aside any problems your child faces. Teachers appreciate that you want to do the best and give the best for your child, but you are actually doing them a disservice by robbing them of resiliency. Remember, we learn by failure and trying to resolve that failure. So please, take a breath and back off just a little. You can do it!
The writer of this story is an elementary school teacher in Toronto who requested anonymity.