Secret Lecturer - Enrolment: Mothers? Some students do have ’em!

Published: 11 Sep 2017

Secret Teacher

My college is up to its ears in enrolment and induction sessions but I’m really starting to wonder who I am signing up – teenagers, especially boys, or their parents?

Why is it that in the last few years I’m seeing more and more adults accompanying offspring to enrolment sessions and basically take over while the prospective students look embarrassed and stay mute?

For example, one 16-year-old was asked what he wanted to do on a media course, but before he could open his mouth, his mother piped up with the immortal words: “Johnny wants to be a TV sports presenter.” Twenty minutes later she’d just about run out of steam when the interviewing lecturer asked the poor mite what he thought. His mother nudged him firmly on the shoulder and said: “Yeah… go on, you tell him.”

Over-zealous mollycoddling is catching on

Only last week, I’d just finished interviewing a student and asked him to fill in his GCSE results on the application form, when his mum grabbed the pen and did it for him! I even found one parent inputting all the required enrolment information into a new college laptop account while her son just watched.

You may laugh at this over-zealous mollycoddling but it’s catching. And not only in colleges. University admissions staff are being bombarded with calls from parents insisting on sorting out courses and accommodation for their 18-year-olds. It’s the same with student finance. No wonder business leaders complain that so many young graduates can hardly string a sentence together, let alone make a phone call.

‘What? I can’t take my parents into lessons?’

Enrolment successfully completed, some die-hard parents cannot let go even at induction stage. A colleague from another college told me how an African student turned up on his first day complete with mother and three sisters clad in full traditional dress – he stared at the lecturer dumbstruck when told he had to go into class alone. 

Another lad brought along both parents and sister and, when the relatives were politely asked to wait in the café, his mum duly opened a plastic bag and gave him all his books, pens and paperwork.

Parents even bring their offspring into college on their first day of lessons. More than once I’ve seen embarrassed teenagers hissing loudly for mum or dad to disappear in case they are spotted by mates and the student’s chance of being seen as ‘cool’ disappears forever.

Decision-making maketh the man – or woman

Yes, I’m a parent too and well aware that we wrap our youngsters in cotton wool and want the very best for them. But if they can’t be allowed to take decisions and speak their own mind, how will they ever learn?

Parents naturally don’t want their children to suffer disappointment. But college is not a bed of roses, and young people need to learn that they won’t get everything they want in life, whether it be a job, a place on the team or that dream part in a show/play/film.

However, I’ve found one very effective way to get mothers off their children’s back is to actually feed parental interest. I suggest to students that after each of my teaching sessions on a subject a parent is really interested in, they actually teach it to them. 

Teach a parent what you learn – you can’t lose

Research suggests if you teach a subject to someone, you are much more likely to remember more of it yourself. If you just sit and listen, you’ll remember about 17%; if you are encouraged to apply your knowledge, it shoots up to around 60%; but teach it and you’ll remember up to 90%. If students go home and teach their mother what they’ve just learned, they will be likely to do well – and they’ll get quality time together!

Next time a parent muscles in on enrolment/induction sessions, I will politely but firmly ask them to give their youngster space to air their views, fill in their own forms – and maybe even start teaching. I can’t wait to see the reaction.


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