The other day a friend sent me a text message. The class lists were out. My stomach lurched, like it does every year. Like it has every fall since the moment I enrolled my oldest daughter in preschool.
Teachers can make or break an entire school year.
We hear a lot about teacher appreciation, all year round, but let’s face it – not all teachers are created equal. While we have been lucky to have some excellent, life changing instructors for our children, we’ve also had our share of teachers I did not appreciate at all. Not one bit. A bad teacher can be damaging.
Sometimes it’s not even about good vs bad but more about fit. Certain teachers might not match your child’s learning style. They might be perfect for another child, just not yours.
So what’s a parent to do, other than panic and chew their fingernails off their crossed fingers as they pray to the unseen muses of Academia to make it a good year with Mr/Ms So and So?
If you are in a school that allows requests, by all means make one. If your school doesn’t allow requests, or worse – penalizes parents/kids who make them – you will probably have to be a little more ninja with your efforts. You still might not win, but you can improve your chances greatly!
Scenario #1: You want to get the teacher that is “perfect” for your kid
If your school does not allow you to ask for a specific teacher, ask for a specific curriculum, teaching approach, academic level and/or classroom situation. Rather than focus on the teacher, focus on your child. Think of yourself as an impartial advocate, and try to remain unemotional. Present data including test scores and any and all written recommendations from past teachers and administrators. Schools actually do want your kids to succeed, but tend to turn off their “listening ears” when confronted with emotional parents.
Scenario #2: You want to avoid a dragon
Sometimes you have to choose between two dragons and a teacher who is not ideal, but is not a dragon. Trust me, I’ve been there and played the “avoid the dragon” game. This is the toughest of situations. In this instance you want to know as much as possible about the teachers you want and the teachers you don’t, so that you can make a case for your child. Now is not the time to become inflammatory or raise threats.
Scenario #3: You want to make sure your child is with (or apart from) a specific other kid or group of kids
Most schools will honor separation requests far more readily than requests for a specific teacher. In fact, this is a backhanded way to request a switch, when you know a particular problem child (for your kid) is already with a particular problem teacher you don’t want your child to be with. It’s not the most honest or straightforward route to switching classes, but it might work. Conversely you might ask that you child be placed with a friend but these requests are usually only considered when space is already available.
Scenario #4: Despite your efforts, or much to your surprise, your kid has been “stuck” with a rotten teacher and you feel like there is nothing else you can do
Some of my most desolate parenting moments have occurred when I felt entirely helpless to protect my child from a bad teacher. My children have always approached school with joy and hope and excitement and over the course of a couple of bad years I saw that stamped out and replaced with fear, boredom and even worse… self loathing. No child deserves that from any school system. There is always something you can do. See pro tips below!
Parent Pro Tips : How to Get a Good Teacher
Always keep a succinct profile of who your child is, and how they learn.
It should be short, about three paragraphs and contain specifics about your child’s strengths and weaknesses and any learning systems, methods or curriculum that have worked out great or that have crashed and burned in the past. It should not be about personality – try to refrain from emotions other than to describe what motivates your child to succeed, what sort of rewards they seek in a classroom setting.
Know your school officials.
It’s a good idea to know the principal, the vice principal, the people in the front office. Make friends with them before you have to make any requests.
Know the other teachers.
Sometimes other teachers are your child’s best advocate. They have the ear of the administrators and are also familiar with your child’s needs and can give you advice about which teachers to request (and possibly avoid).
Know the other parents.
When a teacher is awful to your kid, it’s likely they have been awful to other kids as well. A single parent complaint is ignorable. Five, or more parents complaining about the same sort of incidents, becomes a little harder to shrug off.
Know the higher authorities.
If you believe a teacher is abusive, and the principal is not interested in the story you have to tell, who do you call? I once wrote a letter to the superintendent of our school district, as an act of desperation after witnessing a teacher behaving truly abusively to several of the kids (not only mine) in her class. This letter, along with several other parent complaints led to further investigation, and a resolution of the situation. I am so glad this teacher is no longer teaching.
Have an escape plan.
If you are stuck with a truly bad teacher, and there are no ways to mitigate this short of hitting the eject button, could you do it? Seriously consider the possibilities. Where else could your child learn? What would you need to homeschool them?
Public schools will sometimes change their tune when you present them with your very real eject plan. Losing a student mid year means losing funds. Even if they hold fast to a no switches policy, make a plan and consider pulling your child out. This is perfectly reasonable. Leaving a bad situation, after all attempts to correct have been made, is a life skill that kids should be taught as well.
Childhood is short, if all else fails, it may be time to bail.