Parents have to balance advocating for their child's needs and respecting the expertise of educators.
Nothing portends the end of summer quite like the arrival of class lists. Kids may lament the fact that the carefree, unscheduled days of vacation are now numbered, but most of them are also eager to be reunited with their peers. They are usually quick to ask, “Who is my teacher?” and “Who else is in my class?”
So are their parents, for a variety of reasons. A teacher’s reputation might precede them, and parents worry that controlling or permissive tendencies will rub their child the wrong way. There may be a particular classmate who your child has had conflict with in the past, or one who you think is a distracting influence. The teacher could be new this year, and you’d prefer your child to be matched with someone who has been at the school longer, or who taught other children in your family. If your child has special needs, you may worry about the teacher giving them the support and accommodations they need to be successful.
As a parent, it’s hard not to have an opinion about the class list. But it’s usually best to keep these thoughts to yourself and let your child build relationships with their teacher and classmates without the interference of your preconceptions — although there are, of course, exceptions.
If you’ve gotten the class list and are considering making a request to have your child moved, here are some questions to ask yourself before you take action.
What is behind your concern?
Sarah Kirk is familiar with such requests. As a former school counselor who worked primarily with elementary school students, she told HuffPost, “Typically it seems that parents have heard certain things about the teacher, maybe from neighbors or friends. Often it is preconceived ideas of the teacher. I have also had parents complain about getting a novice teacher.”
While there’s no question that the first year of teaching has its challenges, new teachers can offer a fresh, un-jaded perspective and contagious energy. And even if other students have had difficulties with a specific teacher, that doesn’t mean that your child will have the same issues.
It’s important to identify what it is that you are feeling. You want to be able to separate these feelings from the facts of what’s going on.
“What emotions are getting in the way of what’s going on, but also, what factual things have happened... that are getting them to be worried? What are their concerns? What are their fears?” Dayna Abraham, a former teacher in Chicago and author of “Calm The Chaos: A Fail-Proof Road Map For Parenting Even The Most Challenging Kids,” told HuffPost.
Examining things the teacher has said or done that bothered you, and articulating why, can help clarify the issue.
You might realize, for example, “I believe that children should be able to learn in any setting, and my child is being forced to sit in a chair,” Abraham said.
Or you might find that while you’re worried about the teacher dismissing your child’s needs, you don’t have evidence that this is actually happening.
Either way, Abraham said, you deserve to be listened to: “Whatever you’re feeling, it is still valid. Even if the solution isn’t to change teachers. The concern is valid.”
What other solutions can you try?
It’s important for parents to remember that teachers share their goal: for the student to be successful.
“If we approach this from a team perspective, and what’s best for the child, what helps this child move forward, what helps this child feel safe and feel connected and belonging, then we’re going to come out with an outcome that works best,” Abraham said. She recommends against “being adamant that there’s only one solution.”
“Even when there’s some disconnect, or there are some strategies that are being used that may not be best for that child, I think it’s best to not jump to, ‘Let’s try another teacher.’ I think starting with some smaller alternatives and solutions first, and then the changing of the teacher would maybe be the last resort,” she continued.
There are lots of other things a teacher can do to help a student feel more comfortable in the classroom. At the end of the day, it’s about the relationship the student is able to build with the teacher.
“If it’s about wanting a ‘favorite’ teacher, recognize that each teacher/student relationship is different,” Lacey Robinson, an educator and President of UnboundEd, an organization that provides professional development to teachers, told HuffPost.
“What one child experienced with a teacher may be different from another. Don’t
make the assumption that your children will build the same relationship with a teacher that their sibling or another student did.”
While there are cases where a switch is the appropriate move, they are for specific and unusual reasons, not simply a parent’s dislike of an assigned teacher. “If a teacher demonstrates a lack of belief in a specific student’s potential, that could be a valid reason for granting a switch,” Robinson said.
“Unless it is a really extreme situation, it is my recommendation that instead of requesting a switch before the school year begins, parents meet with the teacher expressing the concerns and specific needs of their student before the year begins, and give the teacher a chance to be successful and a chance for the student to thrive. Teaching our students how to work with a variety of personalities is really important. They will not always be able to choose high school coaches, college roommates, colleagues and bosses,” Kirk said.
If you request a switch, what will the consequences be for your child?
Giving voice to your concerns will have an impact on your child.
“Reacting negatively to a teacher assignment can really negatively impact the student’s experience. If a student hears their parents talking negatively about their teacher assignment, it is likely to make them think negatively about the teacher before they ever meet,” Kirk explained.
There’s also the possibility that a switch will make a problem worse. “A student might be changed to a class where the parent thinks the student will be more successful but there might be factors the parent doesn’t know about that could negatively impact the student,” Kirk said.
At the same time, there will be consequences regardless of the final decision made, which is why it’s important for every case to be considered on an individual basis.
“There’s going to be a ripple effect either way. If ... there’s a mismatch between relationships, between personalities, even the support that they’re able to get, and then they stay in that classroom, there’s going to be a ripple effect. Then if they move classrooms and they get a fresh start, there could be some really positive ripple effects,” Abraham said.
What will the consequences be for their teacher and classmates?
Parents may not realize that what seems to them like an isolated request may have bigger ramifications for the school community. Other parents will find out that a switch was made, and start making similar requests.
Teachers will feel the impact, too. “Both teachers will likely know of the request which can cause negative feelings towards the parent and student. It can send the message to the teacher that their feelings are not valid and that the administrator will not stick up for them,” Kirk said.
Robinson concurred: “If a switch is done for a personal or inequitable reason, other requests will soon follow and create a pattern of distrust amongst the teaching staff.”
Schools spend a lot of time and effort crafting class lists that will maximize students’ learning opportunities.
Kirk remembered: “When I was responsible for creating the class rosters, I looked at math and reading scores, behavior referrals, attendance, students who have had difficulties together in the past, students who have worked really well together in the past, students with disabilities, students with health issues, students who are English learners, students who are in the gifted and talented program, students who receive tiered interventions, caregivers who are able to volunteer in the classroom, student and teacher personality, new students, equal split by gender, etc. The spreadsheet I used to make classroom assignments make it very clear that it was not a decision made without very careful consideration! It also made it very difficult to make any changes after they were assigned in order to make it fair between classes.”
Abraham echoed that it’s a delicate balance “trying to make sure that you have a good mix of students who are really outspoken and students who maybe need a little bit more support in getting pulled out of their shell.”
“You’re really trying to make sure that your classroom is diverse: learners and children and personality types.”
It’s worth keeping in mind that your school only has a few classes per grade, maybe even just two. The perfect balance of talents and temperaments is not possible — and there are advantages to this. In order to learn how to work with others, your child needs to have interactions with people who are different from them, and whose personalities may be in conflict with theirs.
Who can best address your concerns?
Not asking for a reassignment doesn’t mean you have to keep your worries to yourself.
“Talking to the administrator, school counselor or teacher about your concerns is always OK,” Kirk said.
“It is just important to remember to do so with an open mind and an understanding that the school cannot share all of the details that go into the class assignment process. If you are uncomfortable talking directly to the teacher or principal, a school counselor can be a great person to talk through your concerns with.”
Robinson believes that this kind of open communication is to everyone’s benefit throughout the year: “It is important that the lines of communication and relationship building are not just heightened at the beginning of the school year but the educators are given opportunities to have time to make connections with students and parents.”