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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 principal has asked parents requesting a particular teacher to write a letter stating the reason they believe one teacher would be a better fit for their child than the others.

  2. Our Open House is the spring is treated by parents like a trade convention. They go around to classrooms, take pictures, notes, and “interview” us. But the truth is, it’s impossible to meet every request. Too many new kids show up in August and last-minute changes have to be made to rosters.

  3. I have mixed feelings on this. More often than not, the parent who requests a particular teacher is doing it thinking that it will be the best fit for their child–but they can’t see everything ELSE that is going on behind the scenes to determine the best fit for the other 80+ kids in that grade level. So say the child gets the teacher the parent requested and it turns out that that teacher (or the makeup of the rest of the class) IS NOT the best fit..then what? You have an upset parent who got exactly what he or she asked for and it still isn’t working out–it affects the teacher’s relationship with the student, the parent, and ALL the other parents when the one who made the request invariably voices their displeasure publicly.

    The other side of this are those parents who target the teachers they think they can control–not those that are best for the child. It’s the bully parents I worry about more. They target a newish teacher who has a reputation for being kind, being cooperative, and one who is known for working with parents to do whatever it takes to help his or her students. Soon as the school year starts, the parent demands changes be made to accommodate the needs of the child that are absolutely out of line and that affect the rest of the class. This is the parent who demands meetings during lunch, planning periods, after school several times per week. It’s the squeaky wheel, unfortunately…one wrong step and the teacher’s reputation is ruined.

  4. Our high school is quite large – over 800 students per grade – and I shudder to think what our counselors would have to go through to honor parent/student requests for specific teachers. No, we have a master schedule of courses on the computer, and the computer does the shuffling.

  5. The elementary school that I teach in, has in recent years, has ability grouped the students. This has stacked the classes. The same teachers get the higher students every year and the other teachers get the lower students. As in your article, burnout is a major problem. The majority of our students come from lower income families and low parental support. I wish we evenly grouped our classes, but administration seems to think differently.

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