Shadow Parents Are Making Online Teaching Nearly Impossible

Backseat Parents Are Making Online Teaching Nearly Impossible

Most teachers will agree that interacting with parents is often the most challenging part of the job. Outsiders might think remote teaching has lessened these interactions. Parents aren’t able to pounce on a teacher “for just a quick minute” at drop-off or pick-up. They aren’t volunteering in classrooms or randomly “popping in to say hello” when they’re “in the neighborhood.” Open houses, after-school programs, and sporting events aren’t happening. So how can interacting with parents possibly be a problem? Well, we now have Shadow Parents attending school with their child, all day, every day. And, no, having extra adults present isn’t helpful for teachers.

Who are Shadow Parents?

Shadow Parents are always one step away from their child. They never let their kids make a move without them. They lurk on phone calls and sit next to their child on Zoom meetings. They even participate in lessons because this particular type of shadow isn’t silent – in fact, they’re usually quite outspoken.

Shadow Parents might have been Helicopter or Lawnmower Parents before the pandemic. They used to hover, watching every move their child (and their child’s teacher) made and then swooping in to intervene at the first sign of problem. Or perhaps they didn’t wait for signs of trouble and just mowed every possible obstacle down for their child right off the bat. However, now, as Shadow Parents, there’s no need to hover, swoop, or mow because they’re right there, weighing in on every single move the child – and their teacher – makes as it happens. 

Heck, Backseat Parents might even be Ghost Parents, suddenly brought to life because they don’t actually have to show up on school grounds. Now they’re making up for lost time by chiming in on every single lesson and assignment. However, they came to be, Shadow Parents can make online teaching extra challenging.

You might be dealing with a Shadow Parent if…

Shadow Parents don’t only try to control their child. They want to control the teacher, the entire Zoom lesson, the other students in the class, administration, the curriculum…basically everything related to online school. Here are some common scenarios.

  1. They distract their child (and the rest of the class) while you’re teaching. Then they get upset with the teacher when it becomes obvious the class has moved on and their child has no idea what’s happening.
  2. They give their child the answers. Often openly without even trying to hide it. (And they’re too often the wrong answers.)
  3. They do their child’s work. They’ve been known to snatch a whiteboard away from their child to try to get the math problem solved before any of the other *children* in the class.
  4. They take it upon themselves to act as a teacher assistant. They rephrase directions trying to “help” their child and others understand. Their “helpful” directions are usually opposite of what you’re trying to get students to do.
  5. Shadow Parents don’t let their child handle any conflict on their own. Their kids don’t get a chance to ask questions or advocate for themselves. Instead, they lean right up into the front seat and loudly honk the horn until they are satisfied the road is clear for their student.
  6. They take tests for/with their child. They’re always in the background somewhere “helping” when testing. 
  7. They have no trouble interrupting the lesson at any time, for any reason. Why wait for an appropriate time to speak to you when you’re right on the screen in their living room?
  8. They take over lessons. Teaching about snakes? A Shadow Parent will make a grand entrance on the screen with a pet python wrapped around their neck and take over the lesson. This probably would have been welcome if they hadn’t hijacked four other lessons this week.
  9. They’ll ask you to repeat instructions, reading, or lessons because they weren’t paying attention. And they *need* to know everything happening so they can *help* their child. 
  10. They argue with you in the middle of class. Yes, Tyler’s mom, I’m certain 80 is an even number.
  11. They pipe in with details that should be a private conversation. Some (most) things should be discussed in a scheduled parent-teacher meeting, not shared with all of their child’s classmates. 
  12. They jump in to discipline other students in the class. “You better turn your camera on right now! You heard your teacher. I know your mama!” 
  13. Shadow Parents will float right over the teacher to the principal. They take their self-appointed role as classroom critic very seriously and are quick to report any perceived shortcomings to admin.

Dealing with a Shadow Parent in an online class makes the already delicate balance of keeping students engaged and learning even more difficult. And if there are multiple Shadow Parents in one class? They take up all of the teacher’s resources.

Parents, we love to see you involved in your child’s education. But please remember it’s their education. Let them truly take the steps on their own. It’s okay if they make mistakes or struggle. It’s all part of the learning process.

Come join us in the Empowered Teachers community for more discussions like this.


Shadow Parents Are Making Online Teaching Nearly Impossible

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Rachael Moshman
Rachael Moshman, M.Ed., an editor at Bored Teachers, is a mom, educator, writer, and advocate for self-confidence. She's been a teacher in classrooms of infants through adult college students. She loves pizza, Netflix and yoga. Connect with her at rachael.m@boredteachers.com
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