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January 3, 2022

Parent Archetypes: A Teacher’s Survival Guide

What’s your relationship with the parents like?

No, this isn’t some foray into Freudian psychobabble. We’re talking about parent archetypes and behaviors that, for better or worse, influence your classroom environment.  

Despite the most thoughtful intentions and strategies, cultivating symbiotic partnerships with our students’ guardians often becomes a painstaking task. Between changing requirements and multiplying responsibilities, teachers find themselves navigating unfamiliar if not downright treacherous terrain. And this rings especially true when you mix the politics of parent/teacher relationships into the equation.  

That’s why educators need a survival guide that identifies parent archetypes and helps everyone work in tandem to achieve the best outcome for each individual child. But first, let’s take a look at the motley gallery of parental species.

Elephant Parent

Genus: Almae Parentis

The Elephant Parent nurtures and protects, prioritizing their child’s social and emotional health over academic or athletic success. Teachers can expect frequent communication regarding the child’s interactions with classmates. While sometimes demanding, this parent’s willingness to partner with teachers creates a cooperative relationship that sets a solid foundation for ongoing progress. Brace yourself for pushback if you must give negative feedback or reprimand their child for misbehavior.

Likes: The feeling that their child feels loved and respected.

Dislikes: Bullies.

Tiger Parent

Genus: Lenta Parentis

The Tiger Parent epitomizes the term “tough love.” This species relies on a hard-nosed parenting style that places academic and/or extracurricular achievement as their child’s top priority. Social-emotional development? Meaningful relationships with classmates? Learning how to rise from the ashes of failure? The Tiger Parent has zero time for such silly things. Teachers may find it difficult to explain priorities and the reality of strengths and weaknesses.

Likes: Straight-A report cards.

Dislikes: Second place ribbons. 

Helicopter Parent

Genus: Aliquet Parentis

Named for those who hover over their children, the Helicopter Parent pays magnifyingly close attention to their kids’ activities. From schoolwork to personal relationships, this species likes to stay involved in a most invasive manner. As shepherds of their child’s academic performance, this parent archetype may question teachers about the hour-by-hour classroom schedule. While often well-meaning in their micromanagement, the overseeing of all activities stunts students’ personal and professional growth.  

Likes: Control.

Dislikes: Mystery.

Lawnmower Parent

Genus: Superbe Parentis

Also referred to as the Bulldozer or Snowplow, the Lawnmower Parent clears a path for their child, eliminating any instance of adversity or struggle. While this schematic sounds good in theory, obstacles are an integral part of a student’s academic growth and personal development. Their schemes may include completing a child’s homework or even cheating on college admission tests.

Likes: Vicarious achievement.

Dislikes: Merited rewards.

Dolphin Parent

Genus: Delphini Parentis

What is this, an equilibrium? We haven’t seen harmony yet, have we? Well, luckily, the Dolphin Parent embodies the kind of balance that Mr. Miyagi helped Daniel-San master. This parent helps their child succeed, but also allows them to fail, enabling students to learn in a way that transitions them seamlessly into adulthood.  The more Dolphin Parents there are, the easier it becomes your job becomes. 

Likes: Their kid’s teacher.

Dislikes: Willful ignorance.

Jellyfish Parent

Genus: Iucundus Parentis

The Jellyfish Parent doesn’t have much in the way of expectations. Not because they don’t like their kids. Just the opposite, in fact. The Jellyfish Parent often gives in to their child’s every whim, an overly permissive nature that translates to undermined teacher authority. In other words, if they can fling mashed potatoes at dinner, they’ll likely pelt someone with the school’s famous rectangular pizza come lunch time.

Likes: Veruca Salt.

Dislikes:  Charlie Bucket.

Shadow Parent

Genus: Umbra Parentis

When NTI became a staple in 2020, teachers discovered a new archetype: the Shadow Parent. These caregivers remain behind their child at all times, but not in a supportive manner. Instead, this species eavesdrops on remote lessons and often stations themselves right behind their kids in the Zoom classroom. While related to the Helicopter Parent, this iteration is concerned less with their student’s performance and more with humdrum goings-on of their day.

Likes: Surveillance.

Dislikes: In-person classrooms.

Forming Partnerships with Parents

Being an educator means forming healthy relationships with students that nurture their academic and social growth. But we don’t talk about the other side of that responsibility as much.  And that’s because forming quality partnerships with parents is way more difficult than it needs to be.


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