More terrifying than the appearance of the gunships in Apocalypse Now, they announce themselves with the same warning “whup whup whup”. The helicopter parent approacheth and for the teacher it presages certain grief. It begins with a phone call.

“I was just wanting to touch base with you regarding Janelle’s progress.”

This being the first week of the new semester you’re not entirely sure who Janelle is. Is it the one with walrus teeth scaffolded in metal and a cat’s cradle of rubber bands? Or perhaps it is the classroom Lolita who shows every appearance of having emerged from the womb fully made-up and batting those baby blues.

“There were some problems with her last teacher,” the helicopter Mum is saying.

“Problems?”

“She didn’t seem to know how to cater to Janelle’s special gifts.”

Now every teacher of experience understands that this is code for Janelle is trouble. Big trouble. It is the Lolita after all. Time to do some fast talking.

“Ah yes. I was able to have a quick chat with Janelle. (‘Go to the coordinator and remove that eye-liner right now. You look like a panda.’) I think we established an immediate understanding. (‘And while you’re there you might ask Mrs Garamsala to clarify for you the school policy on inappropriate language.’)”

But this is a mere diversionary tactic. In your waters you know what lies ahead. The increasingly desperate little notes querying why Janelle appears to never have homework to complete. Or why when assessment tasks are returned she has failed to meet exacting parental expectations.

“Perhaps you are not engaging her, Mr Diogenes?”

This is the signal to bunker down (“Incoming! Incoming!”) and wait out the firestorm. There is no avoiding parent-teacher night, however, with exchanges of small arms fire as the helicopter parent comes armed with pad and pen ready to conduct a forensic analysis of your teaching methods. This cold war is in no way thawed by the bribe of Ferrero Rocher chockies — “just to thank you for all your hard work in bringing Janelle up to the expected standards”.

In fact, for all the politesse of these interviews, the temperature continues to hover around 0 degrees Kelvin. Make no mistake this is a war of attrition in which only at year’s end are the guns silenced. It is a phoney peace. Just over the horizon there is that unmistakable sound. Whup whup whup.

Peter Fray

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