In the first part of this two-part series, I wrote from the perspective of an administrator who honors parent/guardian requests for specific teachers. For the second part of this two-part series, I’ll share the perspective of an administrator who does not accept parent/guardian requests for specific teachers. There are a number of valid reasons for not allowing this sort of teacher selection to take place.
1. Self-selection makes it nearly impossible to create balanced classes. In other words, a class could end up with 5 boys/25 girls or 10 students with special needs or 15 students who are English language learners. When parents make specific requests and they are all honored, it leaves little room for school officials to balance the classes into a heterogeneous mix as needed.
2. I’m a firm believer that perception is reality and as such, many a teacher has been chosen (for better or for worse) based on general public perception and reputation. The problem with this type of selection process is not every good teacher is a good teacher for each child. Don’t just go by word of mouth as a teacher’s personality/style may not fit your child’s.
3. Choosing a teacher can lead to a popularity contest and can breed unhealthy competition amongst teachers. It is imperative in schools that teachers and staff build a collaborative culture. But if parents are allowed to choose their child’s teacher, some teachers simply focus on getting as many parent requests as possible by shaping public perception. It becomes more about politicking than about being a great teacher. At one school where I worked, a few teachers would put their colleagues down and speak poorly of their colleagues in front of parents. Often times what was said about their colleagues were completely false. All this, for the sake of one’s popularity index.
4. Parents/guardians sometimes make the assumption that their request for a specific teacher will be accepted with just as much enthusiasm on the part of the said teacher. It’s important to keep in mind that teachers have preferences, too. And while little Johnny may be the apple of a parent’s eye, a teacher might not feel the same way, especially if little Johnny is a handful. Sometimes it may even be the parent/guardian that the teacher may not wish to have to deal with for an entire school year. Difficult to swallow, I know. But that’s a stark reality. At one school where I worked, the practice had been to allow parents/guardians to select their child’s teacher. In order to balance this practice of “the right to choose”, I implemented a teacher’s right to veto a request. For example, there was a family of 4 sons who attended this school. The children were a handful, but what was worse frankly, were the parents, in particular, the mom. Each year as that family made a request, there was always an equal number of teachers who vetoed the request. Of course, this was unbeknownst to the family, but it seemed only fair that there remained a balance in the business of choosing.
5. The parents who are the most involved and thus request a specific teacher typically all end up in one classroom and that one teacher receives the most outside support while the other teachers and students end up without. As a parent, you may be thinking, “not my problem” and that may be true to some degree, but remember that a school administrator’s responsibility is to look out for every student and every teacher. When all of the more involved and engaged parents end up in one classroom, it creates an imbalance and is a disservice to all the other students. So when an administrator allows parents to choose specific teachers, it can end up hurting students as a whole.
I’ve worked at schools where things were done both ways–honor parent requests or have a policy forbidding requests. From my experience, what is helpful is some sort of balance. I do not philosophically believe that parents should have a right to choose their child’s teacher. In a public school setting, I believe it’s not appropriate. Teachers don’t get to choose their students and neither should parents get to choose their child’s teacher. It’s a slippery slope once that door is opened. However, I do believe that parents/guardians should be engaged in schools and do everything possible to support their child’s learning experience.
One of the things that I ask parents/guardians to do should they wish to give some input into their child’s placement is to write a letter to the school’s principal. This letter should describe a child’s personality and unique needs that may help school officials with better placing a child with a teacher. I have also accepted letters that request not to be placed with a specific teacher. If a family has a good reason such as a previous experience with the teacher that would hinder building a good rapport, I’ve found this information good to know. Most importantly, if you have concerns, have a conversation with your child’s principal and current teacher. Ask them what the policies are regarding selecting a teacher so that you can best support your child’s learning experience. Keep the lines of communication open and honest.