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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. Unless a parent has spent time in a teacher’s classroom, they have no idea what kind of a teacher he/she is. None. Their opinion is build on gossip from others, usually from people who have also not spent time in that teacher’s classroom. The same can be said for listening to the opinion of another teacher. Most teachers are never in another teacher’s classroom. Their “opinion” would also be gossip. And going off of what a child says can be misleading as well. I had a parent come in one day and take their child out of my class because he had all of a sudden stopped wanting to go to school. Had never talked to me about it and the child had said nothing either. Come to find out, he had stayed in at recess to finish work that he had it done in class because he was playing, and was mad. So he threw fits when he had to come to school. He was put in another class and…. The same thing happened. For the next two years he threw fits when he had to go to school. Finally they moved. Do a child’s complaints are not always valid. Especially when the are spoiled. Why do parents feel like they need to coddle their kids? Done times you have to do things you don’t want to. Sometimes you have a boss you don’t like or a peer. That’s life.

  2. This is a tricky debate. Where do the parents learn about the qualities of particular teachers? Most likely on the sports fields. I have had parents specifically request their child NOT be in my class, not because I had a sibling, not because I had any prior intereaction with the family of the child, simply because they heard I was tough. I am tough. I hold children accountable for proper behavior and hold them to a high standard of work completion and effort. As it turned out, those children who were placed in my room despite the concerns from the parents, had the best year ever. The parents were kind enough to tell me so! It is not fair to single out particular teachers, but it is important for parents to have a voice in what style or teaching environment their child gets placed in. However, if they make their decisions solely based on the “soccer field” gossip, they can be sorely misguided and deny a child the potential for an outstanding learning year.

  3. I am a teacher where my child goes to school. Even though I may have preferences as to who my child’s teacher is, I don’t request. I have to trust that she is put in the best placement, based on personalities and ability. The grade level teachers plan together so the content is the same, presentation may slightly differ. I stay involved and fill in any gaps at home. You can’t expect the teacher to know the ins and outs of all thier students. They do their best, but you as a parent have to be the biggest advocate for your child.

  4. My school honors parent request. The problem that arises is one teacher has been teaching 20+ years and everyone wants her. She then is given a class full of students whose parents are involved and students who are well behaved. The other two teachers get all the behavior and students with special needs. It’s starting to becoming very frustrating.

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