This is another one of those highly divisive issues that seem to plague large schools all across the country, yet I don’t see a lot of conversations about it online. Anytime there are multiple classes per grade level or subject area, teacher reputations spread throughout the community and parents (as well as students) begin to express a preference for one teacher or another. These requests might be submitted in writing to the principal, or shared casually. But either way, schools have a big decision to make: should they honor or deny parental requests for specific teachers?
Many people don’t realize the enormous amount of factors that are considered when creating class assignments before the beginning of the school year. There needs to be a semi-equal distribution of students by gender, achievement levels, and behavioral concerns (and balancing all three of these factors simultaneously is no small feat.) Special considerations must then be made for the placement of English language learners and students with special needs. Often student-teacher personality conflicts are considered, as well as interpersonal conflicts between students who need to be separated from their peers. Then, just when a near-perfect balance has been achieved, it’s announced that a student is transferring in or out of the school, and more changes have to be made on a weekly basis all throughout the summer. I’ve been involved in the process of student class assignments many times, and it can take hours for just a single grade level. When you add dozens of parent requests to the mix, the job becomes almost impossible.
That said, I believe that parents have the right to do what they think is best for their kids, and their concerns about the classes to which their children are assigned are valid. It’s been well-documented that the skills of a child’s teacher have a far greater impact than the reputation of the school as a whole. In other words, it’s better to have an outstanding teacher in an average school than an average teacher in an outstanding school. The issue goes far beyond just academic achievement: teachers shape students’ personalities, attitudes toward school, and outlook on life. I certainly don’t blame parents for requesting an educator whose teaching style and personality is the best fit for their child.
So what’s a principal to do?
Picking and choosing which parental requests to honor creates a minefield of problems. What happens if one parent finds out his or her request was not honored but another parent’s request was?
If all parental requests are honored, the effect on the school can be chaotic. Parents who request specific teachers are often highly involved in their kids’ education and support learning at home. If all of those children are placed in one class, that means the other classes will have a disproportionately high number of families who are not actively involved in education. This creates a difficult situation for the other teachers, and an extremely unfair situation for the other kids, who may be assigned to less capable teachers simply because their parents weren’t able to advocate for the “star” educators. (Whether the toughest kids should go to the best teachers is another debate altogether.) When principals and teachers create class lists without input from parents, they have greater freedom to look at the big picture as they consider the needs of all students and how the school will function as a whole.
But if no parental requests are honored, principals run the risk of upsetting their most vocal and potentially supportive families. In some cases, those parents make the lives of both the teacher and the principal miserable until their kids are transferred into the desired classroom. Regardless of how well the parents handle the news, they’re still prevented from having a say in which person will assume a tremendous amount of responsibility for their child’s education over the course of 35 hours a week for almost an entire year. Parents can choose their children’s caregivers and babysitters–it seems natural that they’d have some sort of say in their kids’ teachers, as well.
What do you think? Is there a solution that’s fair for students, parents, and teachers? How are parental requests handled at your school?