Even though teacher assignments could spell the difference between their children’s failure and success, more schools are limiting how much input parents get into deciding who will be at the front of their child’s classroom in the fall. In some schools, parents are not allowed to state a preference for a specific teachers, and many lock parents out of the decision entirely.
According to Sue Sellenbarger of The Wall Street Journal, the uncertainty about teacher assignments makes for a stressful August. Parents are worried that bad chemistry between their children and the assigned teacher could substantially hamper kids’ academic progress – and not just for the year, but putting them at a disadvantage for the rest of the students’ academic careers. Some parents take drastic action; administrators report parents threatening to quit the PTA, pull children out of school, and even using physical intimidation, all in an attempt to change assignments.
For parents, of course, the stakes can feel very high. If they don’t protest, and their child has a bad experience, it could derail their academic development. But because many parents look to educators to be a nurturing mentor for their child, many fret that complaining about a placement or meddling too much will put them on that teacher’s bad side, making life even harder for their kids.
Teachers expect parental angst and most try to allay it early. Lori Attias, a teacher at Lindley Elementary School in Greensboro, N.C., says she was a little nervous when she was assigned two years ago to teach a blended classroom of third- and fourth-graders. “It was a challenge,” she says. At the open house before school, parents were more anxious than usual, she says. One father who towered over her by nearly a foot “came up next to me and said, ‘How do you intend to handle this?’ I’ll never forget it,” she says.
Even principals who don’t enforce a hands-off policy for parents still say that the best approach is to allow the school as much autonomy as possible in selecting teachers for each classroom. However, many also acknowledge that providing them with that autonomy could involve a substantial leap of faith on the part of the parents.
The process of sorting children into classes and assigning them teachers is a complicated one, and sometimes involves factors that are simply not known to parents. Sellenbarger cites an example of Mary Herbenick who asked principal Aaron Woody of Lindley Elementary School to change her daughter Kara’s teacher assignment after she was placed in a classroom of a teacher who, in Herbenick’s opinion, wouldn’t do as well in helping Kara to learn how to love reading. Although Woody heard her out, in the end, he asked for her trust. According to Herbenick, that trust was justified.
As it turned out, the new teacher encouraged Kara to “read in a way that worked for Kara … My daughter is very theatrical and the teacher would say, ‘Can you act that out?’” Ms. Herbenick says. Kara now loves to read.
But Ms. Herbenick remembers how difficult it was when Dr. Woody asked her to “trust the process,” she says. “I agreed. But I was nervous.”