A Lesson In Giving Up Control: Why Parents Shouldn’t Request Their Child’s Teacher
Lately, as I wait for the dismissal bell to ring at my son’s elementary school, I have been overhearing parents talking about the coming school year. They share stories, compare notes, and exchange opinions about the schools’ teachers in an effort to determine the “good” teachers from the “great” teachers. They’re trying to decide which class they want their children in next year.
Listening in on these conversations makes me feel like an undercover cop. I’m not just the parent of a current third grader at this school. I am a former teacher with twelve years’ experience, having taught kindergarten, fourth, and fifth grades (at a different school).
I find it shocking to hear what parents say about teachers. One day I heard a parent praising a particular teacher but criticizing her bungalow classroom, deeming it “too small,” ultimately making her less-than-desirable as her child’s teacher next year. Had I been a part of the conversation, I would have told this parent that my son’s kindergarten, first, and second grade classes were in bungalows. Had she been speaking to me, I would have told her that in “the small bungalow” Ryan participated in whole group instruction on the rug, worked independently at his desk, enjoyed a class library corner, and did cooperative group work.
Another parent, who did know I had been a teacher, spoke directly to me. Though her son is a year younger than Ryan, both our boys attended the same preschool.
“How was Ryan’s year? Did you like his teacher?” she asked.
“It’s been a great year,” I answered. “His teacher is wonderful, but she’s retiring at the end of the year.”
But the conversation didn’t end there. This parent spoke to me about a different third grade teacher, “the woman with the short hair who looks mean and unhappy.”
I’ve seen that same teacher interact with her class because they line up near Ryan’s class, and I haven’t seen mean and unhappy. I’ve observed a teacher who greets her class with a smile and a “good morning;” expects two straight, quiet lines; and who dismisses her class one-by-one as she shakes their hand and tells them “good-bye.”
The conversation I had with this mom reminded me of just how subjective opinions and perceptions really are. She saw a teacher who is strict and mean; I saw a teacher who had great classroom management and a clearly defined routine.
I know that when I was teaching, parents had mixed opinions about me. Many really liked me and appreciated the hugs I gave their children and the positive phone calls I made to a child’s home. Other parents thought I was mean for marking students’ answers wrong if the answer was spelled incorrectly. (In my book, there’s only one way to spell Tallahassee).
As a teacher, I can tell parents that each school year is different. The grade-level curriculum stays the same, but the children are different, which means the class dynamic is different from year to year.
As a teacher, I’d like to tell these parents that we don’t appreciate being compared to our colleagues. So much happens in a class that you can’t see from a casual observation.
As a parent, of course I want my son to spend his six-hour school day with someone I trust and have faith in. I want Ryan’s teacher to be someone who will motivate him, encourage him, and celebrate him.
As a parent, I know my son needs someone who will notice his effort, his kindness, and his curiosity. Not just his test scores.
As a parent and a teacher, I want to tell these parents that they’re doing a grave disservice to their child by formally requesting a specific teacher. Schools handle teacher requests differently. At the school where I taught, parent requests were guaranteed only in certain circumstances. For instance, an autistic child who responded better to a teacher like me who was very structured and organized and calm would most likely be placed in my class if a parent felt his child would benefit most from my teaching style and class environment.
I have never requested a specific teacher for Ryan, and I have no plans to. I’ve left it up to fate, believing Ryan will wind up in a class with other children where he belongs. Because that’s how life works. Generally speaking, you don’t get to request your co-workers or boss. You don’t get to hand-select your neighbors. And you don’t get to pick your family.
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