Snowplow Parents: Thoughts from a Teacher

Last night at 11:59, the final exam closed for my college-level English classes, The students had been given one full week to do the final exam online, 24/7, and I had reminded them repeatedly during classes that they should NOT wait until the last minute to do the exam because if they had problems with the internet or service, I would NOT reopen the exam for them, since they had a full week to take it.

This morning, my phone, email, and messages were blowing up from a student saying she had an internet outage and wanted me to reopen the exam for her. I gently explained that I could not do that, reminded her that she had been reminded repeatedly that I would not reopen the exam under any circumstance, and I let her know that she was fortunate that she had done so well in all other aspects of class because missing the final exam will not likely impact her final grade too negatively.

She sent a message thanking me, and I thought we were done. I even felt good about that student having learned a lesson that, while uncomfortable, was not dream-crushing. Then the phone rang, and it was a call from her. I decided to answer, only to hear her mother on the other end. Thankfully the kid is a dual enrollment student, so I could actually speak with the parents, which is not the case with students over 18, regardless of who is footing the bill for the tuition. Mom pleaded for her daughter, and I explained exactly the same thing to her that I had told the daughter. She reminded me that the parents have multiple degrees between them, which just irked me. Everything we do as teachers is an attempt to make sure every student has the same shot at success, whether the student’s parents have “multiple degrees,” or no degree at all.  I asked her if she felt that her intervening on behalf of her daughter was teaching her any responsibility for her own choice to wait until the last moment to start the work?  Since she couldn’t really say it was going to teach the daughter any responsibility, I asked her if she would seize the opportunity to use this incident to teach her daughter that we all have to live with the consequences of our decisions, good or bad, and even though she got lucky this time, even one small slip has consequences.

I thought we were good until Dad got on the phone, announcing that he is Attorney John Doe (or whatever his name is), and demanding that I need to make an exception for his daughter. I lost my shit. Being in the final days before retirement must be adding a little courage.

First I asked him why he felt the need to let me know that he is an attorney, as if it mattered. Then I started to try to explain that his wife and daughter had already come to a conclusion, when he told me that he wanted to finish what he was saying first. I allowed him to do so, during which time he apologized for announcing that he is an attorney because it may have sounded threatening, and in no way was that his intention. He said that he said it out of habit whenever he answered the phone.

When he finally stopped, I reminded him that, while he may announce his title when he answers the phone out of habit, he had been the one calling me, so announcing his title was not only unnecessary but incredibly offensive, bullying, and threatening. What an asshat. Suddenly, I felt sorry for the student having to live with such a pompous jerk. I reminded him that snowplow parenting is not going to help his daughter become a responsible adult and that I had simply told his wife that perhaps this would be a teachable moment for the daughter not to wait for the last moment to do an assignment. I reminded him that, while they may not have had internet access last night, the entire world was not without access, and just as I have been driving to a parking lot to access internet in order to be on time to teach his daughter online all semester, she could have done the same last night.

He eventually agreed, but then he decided to remind me that it is harder for students of color to get into good schools, and his daughter has worked very hard to keep a good GPA.

He certainly did not know how to make things better. I explained to him that I was all over trying to make teaching and learning equitable for ALL of my students, which is why I gave them a full week to take the exam. I explained that if I opened the assignment back up, I would risk losing every other student’s grade (I don’t know for sure that this would happen, but it could), and I asked him if he felt that would be the equitable solution to allow his daughter to negate the grades of the 30 students who had completed their work on time.

I asked him if he thought that his daughter would learn any lesson about being a responsible student or human if her grade had gone from an A to a B because she had failed to complete her work on time and what lesson she was going to learn from having her father call and use his title and stature to try and bully a professor to get what he wanted for his daughter?

When he had to back down, I explained to him very calmly that his daughter had, until this morning, been one of my best and favorite students because she participated in class and worked hard. I explained to him, as I had done to his wife earlier, that the child’s grades were high enough that the missed final exam would not likely lower her grade from an A to a B. Then I added, “While that may make you happy, you should be embarrassed and ashamed of yourself because now, instead of remembering your daughter as a good student and bright young woman, I will always think less of her because of how her parents chose to respond to this situation and tried to use title and privilege to bully someone into getting what they wanted instead of teaching her a lesson in responsibility.”

Teaching is not something we choose to do for money. We do it because we love helping instill a love of learning in student and because we are dedicated to helping children become responsible, thoughtful citizens. None of us enters the profession because we want to deal with bullies or snowplow parents. When that is what confronts us over and over again, is it any wonder why educators run screaming from the profession or become bitter and hateful?

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