I’m going to let you in on a secret: Sometimes, as a parent, you need to break the rules if you want to get the best education for your kids.
This is one of those times. As the current school year inches toward the finish line, schools will begin planning for next year. They will be registering new students, filling any open faculty and staff positions, and finalizing budgets.
Most of them will also be setting tentative class lists for the fall and assigning students to specific teachers. That step — the match between your child and his/her teacher — is critical for two reasons. First, because teachers are exceptionally important and some are much, much more effective than others at helping students learn. Second, because you can often influence the match simply by offering your input.
A few years ago, researchers working on a study about parent involvement noticed something peculiar. While most of the traditional things parents do — like attending events at school or helping with homework — are not associated with higher student performance, the step of requesting a teacher for one’s child stood out. Families of all backgrounds who reported making that request tended to have students who did better in school. And yet, most families do not do it. Just 20 percent of higher income families said they gave input on which teachers their children were assigned; in lower income families, it was 10 percent.
Why would this be? First of all, schools rarely invite feedback from parents on student-teacher matches. In fact, some schools expressly forbid it. They are concerned – with good reason – that it’s not possible to accommodate every parent if they all want their kids in Mrs. Smith’s class. Mrs. Smith only has 24 desks in her room, perhaps, and there might be 100 families that want those seats. It’s understandable that school leaders would hesitate to start that discussion.
Fortunately, there is an alternative: Allowing families to describe their children and their learning needs, so schools can take that information into account, without naming a particular teacher. For instance, one child may do well in a classroom with lots of structure and clear boundaries. Another may do better with more flexibility and freedom. Schools should be interested in that information.
I have first-hand experience with this process because my local district not only permits input, it has a formal process for collecting it. Each April, my kids’ principal sends every family a form with a series of questions. The form makes clear that families cannot ask for specific teachers by name. But it provides an opportunity for families to address their children’s strengths, struggles, and emotional needs. You can see the school’s form, below, with contact information obscured.
As a parent, I really appreciate my school’s willingness to open the conversation and ensure all families have a chance to voice their opinions. I encourage you to offer your perspective on your children’s learning needs, too, even if your school does not invite it. Don’t be afraid, and don’t feel badly about it, either. Common sense and research both suggest that communication is a positive thing when it comes to matching students and teachers, not a nuisance. And, more importantly, which teacher your child gets can have a huge impact on their education.
So go ahead, break the rules. Let your school leader know your thoughts, openly and respectfully. Not sure how to do it? Download and use the standard form we’ve created for just this purpose (see below). And if the classroom assignment you eventually get is totally different than what you hoped for, schedule time with the school leader to understand why.