September 28, 2009
Helicopter Moms: Running interference
(Editor's note: Sometimes it's hard to tell whether you're tackling motherhood in the 21st century -- or being tackled by it. This is the latest in a series of reflections by UPI writers.)
SKOKIE, Ill., Sept. 28 (UPI) -- School administrators and classroom teachers often view helicopter moms as their worst nightmare. Granted, there are moms (and dads, too) who are overbearing and unreasonable when it comes to their children but not all parents deserve to be viewed as the enemy. Even if they are not
education professionals, parents generally know their children better than anyone else.
In the case of my own daughters, I found the need to intervene several times in each of their school careers. My advocacy provided an example so both my children went off to college knowing how and when to speak up for themselves.
My first interaction with the education bureaucracy came after our family moved mid-school year from Arlington, Va., to a Chicago suburb. Our eldest daughter transferred from a school where parents were always welcome to one that preferred to limit parent activity to fundraising.
For some reason her new teacher was less than thrilled to have an additional student in the classroom. Every time our daughter asked a question, the teacher replied
Didn't you learn that in your old school? By talking to other parents I learned the teacher had told the children that anyone who forgot their pen would have their finger pricked so they could write in blood. For the first time in her life our daughter hated going to school.
I made an appointment with the principal and presented my case, blaming the problem on my daughter who was
overly sensitive. I knew better than to criticize the teacher. Unfortunately, the principal refused to budge and even went to far as to say he had never heard any complaints about our daughter's teacher. I later learned that was not the case. Many parents had complained but the union contract required that all complaints be in writing with very specific wording. Since no one knew this, the principal could tell me with a straight face that he had never received any complaints.
Fortunately, our daughter survived fourth grade unscathed. My ineffectiveness in getting her a better teacher taught me the importance of working inside the system. I joined the PTA and got involved in fundraising activities. Amazingly, when fifth grade rolled around, our daughter was assigned the very best teacher.
When it came time for our youngest to start school, I already knew the ropes. Other than first grade, she had excellent teachers all the way through primary school and junior high. I never needed to advocate for her until she reached her junior year in high school.
After two out of three incredibly mediocre English teachers, I decided I could not let her go off to college without a proper foundation in research and writing. Her older sister had had a brilliant teacher for AP (Advanced Placement) English and I knew my younger daughter seriously needed a high caliber teacher.
In a move that was really out of character for me, I called the head of the high school English department, whom I had never met, and told him how much I wanted my daughter to have this particular teacher. Amazingly, he replied that he had no problem placing her in the class provided it was OK with the teacher.
Thanks to my helicoptering, both my daughters became successful advocates once they left home. For example, my eldest managed to get herself into upper-level classes in her freshman year by convincing the professors she met their prerequisites. While working on her master's degree, my younger daughter demanded and received a tuition refund for a German language course she enrolled in. Not only did she label the instructor incompetent but our daughter told the university the course amounted to false advertisement.