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'Helicopter mom' and detached daughter

By Zhao Xinying | China Daily | Updated: 2021-04-12 08:56

Zhao Xinying

As I was writing this story about college students working as part-time private tutors, as well being as participants and observers of home education, I was reminded of my own experience about 15 years ago.

That was my only exposure to private tutoring, but it has stayed in my memory because it wasn't a typical case of home education and parent-child relations.

Instead, it was an extreme case in which I could see how a "helicopter mom"-someone who "hovers" over their child as they study-and a disillusioned daughter interacted and what the outcome might be.

At the time, I was a college freshman in Xi'an, capital of Shaanxi province, and I applied for a part-time job giving English lessons to a junior middle school student.

The first time I visited, the mother, a prim woman who was dressed very formally, welcomed me with an English examination paper.

"Please finish the test within half an hour and let's see what your English ability is like," she said with little expression on her face.

Before going, I'd asked some classmates who were working as private tutors for their experiences and suggestions, but I'd never heard of anyone being asked to take an exam the first time they met the student.

"It's kind of an interview. No big deal," I told myself.

Fortunately, the questions were easy. I finished the paper within 15 minutes, double-checked, and handed it back to the mother.

She checked my answers with a reference book and found that they were all correct. Then she talked with me for a few minutes about how to improve her daughter's grades.

Having made sure that I met all her requirements, she led me to her daughter's bedroom.

It was a cozy chamber. There were toys on the bed and the walls had been painted pink. By contrast, books were piled everywhere-on the floor, the bookshelf and the desk.

"This is your new English tutor. Listen to her and study hard," the mother told the girl, still almost expressionless.

The girl was young and good-looking, with bright eyes and straight bangs. She stared at me for a second and smiled. But as soon as her mother left the room and closed the door, I saw her high spirits plummet immediately and her bright eyes became dull.

I asked her to answer some questions about a book to ascertain her level of English, which turned out to be not very high as she answered half of my queries incorrectly.

I explained and analyzed them one by one for her benefit. During the process, I heard the door behind me open and close several times. I knew it was the mother checking to see how her daughter and I were doing.

The girl did whatever I told her and showed superficial respect to me and the teaching content, but she obviously didn't concentrate on the lesson at all. She only appeared well-behaved because of the eyes behind the door.

The situation lasted until her mother reentered the room and said to me: "Let's call it a day. It's already 7 pm and it's time for my daughter to learn composition by watching the TV news."

I was momentarily shocked. What? A junior middle school girl learning to write essays and reports via the TV news, rather than reading the classics or having diverse experiences?

However, I was merely a college student who had been hired as a temporary private tutor, so I did not feel I should judge other people's style of home education.

I took the 30 yuan salary (about $4.60 at today's rates) for the hour's work and left. While the payment was reasonable for Xi'an 15 years ago, I could not help but feel sad for the girl and her mother.



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