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As the school year comes to a close, there are parents who will start worrying about who will be their child’s teacher in the upcoming school year. Not infrequently, concerned parents will talk with other parents to learn about their thoughts and experiences. After hearing from other parents, they may think they know which teacher will be best for their child and may even take their desires and concerns to their school administrator, petitioning for a particular teacher.
But I warn you: Be careful what you wish for.
If your child attends a small school, you may think it reasonable to request that he or she be placed with a particular friend or not be placed with a child you think is a bad influence or who might take up too much teacher time. If you’re a parent of color, you may ask for the (often one) teacher of color, believing that experience will be critical to your child. But keep in mind that administrators and teachers in smaller schools or in schools with more predictable enrollment will likely consider multiple factors carefully when placing children in particular classrooms. It’s not that larger schools are unwilling to consider placement issues, it’s just that in a class of 30 plus children, it’s much harder.
In every school, educators, like parents, want things to run smoothly. If administrators have ideas about how they can distribute challenges evenly across classrooms so as not to exhaust their teachers, they will. With the exception of honors and AP-level courses in high school, most classrooms are heterogeneous in terms of ability and challenges. In some public schools, teacher salaries are based on their students’ performance, so if teachers are expected to bring all their students up to a certain performance level, having all the weaker readers in one classroom would stretch those teachers too thin. Similarly, educators don’t want all the kids diagnosed with ADHD in one room because of the demands it places on teachers—even those with great classroom management.
While you may think class placement is going to make or break your child’s academic life or future, no single year will have that great an effect on most students. You may believe the teacher you have in mind will ensure a fabulous year for your child, but things that you couldn’t know about the teacher (things that administrators do know) could cancel out the positives for which you are hoping. Even if you have talked with parents to get the scoop on who might teach your child, unless you have spent considerable time in their classrooms, you can’t fully appreciate the nuances of how the classroom dynamic is cultivated by each of these teachers.
If a gifted instructor has little patience for rambunctious kids with attentional challenges, no administrator will tell you this. Nor will they let you know if a particular teacher is less skilled at working compassionately with anxious or emotionally needy children. Thus, most parents lobbying for their kids to have a certain teacher will not know many of that teacher’s specific strengths and preferences.
Apart from children’s individual needs, an important thing to consider when building a class is how the various personalities and behaviors of the children mesh with each other. For the most part, parents only know their own children in the context of home and family activities. They don’t have a front-row seat to see which factors most affect their child’s learning, social development, and behavioral regulation in the classroom.
Be careful not to advocate too strongly for any single reason for a particular teacher lest the school give you what you want to make you happy, even if it might not be what your child needs most. Schools try to discourage special requests for teachers, but they may choose the path of least resistance—giving you what you think you want. The best way to ensure a good placement for your child is to be in honest communication with your child’s current teacher about which areas of development he or she—and you—think your child needs the most support.
What parents can do:
Here’s an example of the kind of requests that would best position your child to be placed with a teacher who is a good fit:
I think it’s really important for my daughter/son to be with a teacher:
- who is like her/him
- who might be a mirror to who s/he is or how s/he sees her/himself
- who has worked successfully with children diagnosed with ADHD who have difficulty sustaining focus and attention, or who have a lot of behavioral overflows
- who will have patience with my child’s anxiety
- who might model and coach my child to grow in her/his ability to self-regulate and manage her/his intense emotions.
I recognize that there may be other contributing factors to your decision making; I just hope you will keep these issues in mind as you decide who will teach my child next year.
And then, after lobbying for what you think your child needs, be OK with the educator’s decision.