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Uncategorized   |   Apr 19, 2013

Should principals honor parent requests for teachers?

By Angela Watson

Founder and Writer

Should principals honor parent requests for teachers?

By Angela Watson

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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?

Angela Watson

Founder and Writer

Angela created the first version of this site in 2003, when she was a classroom teacher herself. With 11 years of teaching experience and more than a decade of experience as an instructional coach, Angela oversees and contributes regularly to...
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Discussion


  1. Our school has sort of sidestepped this issue. We send home a paper late in the year with questions for next year. It asks parents to let us know what kind of teacher they think is best for their child. That way they can give their input and help us find the best fit for their child, but they can’t request a specific teacher.

      1. Our school allows parents to write a letter to the principal describing the type of teacher they want their child to have. As much as possible, it seems those requests are honored. I am sure some slip through the cracks, but it seems a fair way to do it. They also have a placement committee that works with parents who are unhappy with their child’s current teacher. The meeting format and the discussion often helps parents see the teacher in a new light and they make the decision to keep their students in their originial class.

    1. My school also sends out a letter requesting information about child and teacher placement that parents want us to consider. It clearly states that they cannot request a teacher, but they write it at the bottom anyway or send an email or catch us in the hall just to make sure we hear them. It’s challenging.

    2. My school does the same thing. The only other addition we have is if a sibling had a teacher before and as a parent you choose not to have the teacher again the request is honored.

  2. I love Jenny’s idea. I think it depends on how much of an issue this is in your school. If you only have a few parents making requests, it might be more feasible to work with them. But like you said, not everyone can get what they want, especially if there is one really stand out teacher on a team. I would say if a principal is getting an overflow of requests that can’t be met, then have some sort of system where they parents can request and explain in writing why they want a certain teacher and promise only to consider it, but make explicit that because student learning must be put first, that not all requests can be honored.

  3. We are a new school and have always taken parent request. It has caused classes to be ‘stack’ with the same teachers always getting the “good parental involved families”. This has pitted teachers against each other & caused just a wee bit of drama. Due to this & reasons stated in your post 0ur principal will be taking only 1 written non-request per grade level, but the parents have to have a valid reason for the non-request for it to be honored. Meaning if there are 4 teachers in 1st grade then the parent has the option to non-request 1 of those teachers. This is what another school in our district does & is it very effective!

    1. Interesting, Heather…so parents can’t request a teacher they want, but they can specify one teacher at the grade level that they DON’T want. Hmmm… Thanks for sharing that. I can imagine that solves the problem when the parent is not so much desperate to get their child into a particular teacher’s class, but just wants to avoid having a certain teacher. I didn’t touch on that in the article, but I think it happens a lot.

    2. I feel a little uncomfortable with this non-request idea. By focusing on the negative it causes everyone, including the admins, to excentuate the negative things that everyone does at some point. And parents end up talking to each other sharing negative info that they heard from someone else which may or may not have actually happened.

  4. Hi! I don’t think the parent’s should be able to request teachers; It gives unfair advantage to some and a disadvantage to others. Honestly, with the new evaluations, I think that some one should come up with a program to give a true heterogeneous group to each teacher. That is the only fair way for us to succeed.

    Just sayin.. 🙂

  5. Disagree with parent input. They should stay in the business of parenting while schools stay in biz of educating. Just my professional and personal opinion. Allowing parent s to dictate our job n profession is and would be a cancer to the integrity of the operations of a school, as well as undermine the principal’s authority. As servant leaders we are charged with doing what we think is in the best interest of the child. Although a problem at every level I am sure this is most rampant at the primary grades. What is the solution? Let your teacher s know your expectations and hire only the best and most caring educators. Peace

    1. Parents are sticking to the business of parenting when they are involved in how and who is educating their child!

    2. I disagree! My child had a teacher that I had no day about, and she was absolutely AWFUL to all of the kids, and my child was having behavior issues and falling behind significantly. In order to get my child away from her we had to change schools. At the new school the principal explained the teaching styles of each teacher and let me help choose. Now my child is doing better than any of the other years in school! It’s amazing what a little parent input can do for their child!! NO ONE knows a child better than a parent does!

      1. I disagree with Christina that knowing your child means that you should be able to pick your teacher. I work at a private school and the teacher requests have gotten out of control, the school is allowing every parent to make any and all requests (for or against teachers or students). For example, my grade level has many different teachers, all professional, all teaching to the same goals. There are many factors at play for these parent requests:
        -parent gossip (parents wanting to be with other PARENTS in the same class, parents feeling like there is a “cool” class, a “sweet, nice” class or a “strict” class
        -teachers being chosen based on the way they look (etc)
        -teachers being stigmatized based on the difficulty level of their class (students with behavioral issues in the class), which is perpetuated by continued requests every year as it is IMPOSSIBLE to fairly balance classes if you continue to accept parent requests
        -there are ways that the school has put some teachers in the spotlight

        As some other commenters said, it can (and does) create a lot of tension between staff, especially since all the teachers can see all of the parent requests, in order to make the classes for the following year. I am not the kind of person who wants to be involved in any kind of popularity contest, but I can’t lie and say it doesn’t affect to me to see that I have negative requests, and that the other teachers and administrators see that. Especially when I know that I am a nice teacher working my buns off, just like my colleagues!

        While I can understand the desire to choose your child’s teacher (I have my own children), I am realizing more and more the value in trusting a school and adapting to the teacher you are assigned. Even the idea of using the “teaching style” to decide a teacher…. teachers are constantly evolving and adapting to our students. I don’t believe it’s fair to be put in a box of “teaching style”; every group of students is completely different and every year can look pretty different for a teacher. With a well behaved class, a teacher does not need to be strict as they would with more out-of-control kids! If students are excelling in an area or behind in another, you adapt your teaching to that. All this being said, I know there are some “lemon” teachers out there, or maybe some that don’t adapt to their students at all, but not as many as parents would like to think. I love that one commenter said he was in for a huge surprise when his child ended up loving the teacher they didn’t want. Schools need to be confident and make decisions about their classes and teachers, not let the parents take control, like what is happening at my school.

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