We’re on the other side of Fall Break, bracing for the tsunami that is the end of the semester, and working really, really hard. Really hard. Some colleagues have said it can feel like they are working harder for their students’ success than the students themselves. This might be a good time to reflect on the emerging phenomenon of the “helicopter professor.” Just as “helicopter parents” tend to hover near their children and strive to prevent their experiencing any kind of failure–and therefore deprive their children of the life lessons that recovering from failure can bring about– diligent professors may be on the road to helicopter status as instructors if they can answer “yep, always” to these questions:
- Am I always available (24/7) to clarify criteria and answer questions about the assignments I give?
- Do I provide micro-level feedback on multiple drafts of student work?
- Do I make it impossible for students to earn low grades in my courses?
- Am I constantly exhausted by efforts to be present to and affirm students regardless of their actual performance on academic tasks?
Of course, we want our students to flourish, and UP faculty rightfully take pride in being invested in their success here and beyond. There’s no question it’s possible to do too little for students; but if you find yourself even a little resentful at the relative balance between your effort to teach and students’ apparent efforts to learn, it might be worth taking a deep breath and asking yourself if you are doing too much to ensure academic success and depriving your students of the benefits to be derived from a well-earned failure. Living through a D or an F in an atmosphere that supports your efforts to get back up and try again–and perhaps even to learn that you are a worthwhile person deserving of respect even after you bombed an assignment or missed a deadline–might be every bit as important a learning outcome as anything else found on our syllabi.
If you’d like to read some more on the potential downfalls of helicopter professoring, check out this article by Kristie McAllum (2016)– Managing imposter syndrome among the “Trophy Kids”: Creating teaching practices that develop independence in millennial students.Communication Education, 65 (3), 363-365.