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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. There are not an overwhelming number of parents who request a particular teacher. If they do, we (the teacher and/or principal) decide if we think it is a good match or not and may or may not agree.If we don’t agree, we just say that classes haven’t been decided or that we don’t think it will work out well. The principal tends to place certain children with certain teachers which may unbalance classes, but there’s not much that can be done about it. We’ve also had parents say they do NOT want a particular teacher. Those are almost always complied with because the teacher doesn’t need an unsupportive parent and there are often valid reasons.

  2. Schools and educators can sometimes be very dismissive of parents. In the book, Dealing With Difficult Parents by Todd Whitaker and Douglas Fiore, building relationships with parents of our students is critically important. The authors note that parents are vital stakeholders in the success of our society’s young people.

    I believe many schools do a lot of damage to parent/school relationships. When parents speak up and make requests, it is because those parents want the best for their children. They may have valid reasons for wanting specific teachers, and those requests should be considered. If schools completely ignore parent input, those schools fail to build and strengthen relationships with parents. I am certainly not saying that schools can always honor every request by parents; however, parents need to know that their voices and concerns are being heard and matter.

    I have had some parents come directly to me requesting that their children be switched to my classroom. After listening to these parents and reassuring them that their children will have a great year even if not in my room, the parents are usually fine. The key is to build and strengthen those vitally important parent/school relationships.

  3. It’s so not fair when school employees get to choose who they want their kids to have for their teachers but the rest of the student’s parents don’t even have a say. I see this every year.

  4. There is no easy answer. Teachers popularity in a school community is not necessarily a reflection of their ability to teach. I have had classes as a result of parental requests and they were difficult – usually the tricky kids socially and behaviourally which meant most of my time was spent on developing relationships and managing behaviour.
    The other issue with classes is a lot of time and effort goes into placing children – on paper all looks balanced but put a group of individuals in a classroom and the reality is different.
    Our school now asks for class requests in writing with reference to academic, social or behavioural considerations much easier to address individual concerns.

  5. In our small school in East Texas, our principal told us it was the law who opened up parent requests. The school is required to honor requests. This isn’t broadcasted, but some parents know. This isn’t always an issue since we don’t have more than 2 teachers for each grade level.

    1. We’ve been told the same but I haven seen this law and I know our counselor will tell patents they can’t have things they request. Unfortunately the counselors don’t know the kids the way we do (in the wild) and they’ve put a few very bright and eager kids in inclusion classes but they put struggling kids in Pre-AP as a behavior solution. It causes a horrible mess.

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