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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


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 is a National Board Certified educator with 11 years of teaching experience and more than a decade of experience as an instructional coach. She started this website in 2003, and now serves as Editor-in-Chief of the Truth for Teachers...
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  1. I have really bonded with some families on the past and would like to be able to have siblings to because I already have a relationship and trust built…. But our school takes NO requests (unless you are a child of the admin) and requests are purposely not fulfilled, so you are better off not requesting because then you for sure won’t get that teacher 🙁

  2. Here’s something else to consider. I’ve pen ever had a principal willing to let a teacher opt out of having a sibling of a former student if a parent requested me. Sometimes working with a family is difficult, and if parent requests are honored, I should be able to have my opinion heard.

  3. When the year ends, we create heterogenous classes from info we get from the grade that had those kids during the expiring year. They’re based on performance, ELD, behavior issues, gender and ethnicity, who shouldn’t be with whom by requests of parents and recommendations of current teachers (In other words, making sure there’s a blend of all those categories). However, we get a lot of incoming kids showing up in August so classes do have last-minute switches. We know for certain the kids are not the way we set them up. It would not surprise us to know principals make some of those changes to please parents. Some principals definitely cater and it becomes a kind of currency between them and parents.

  4. I am the teacher that gets assigned the learners with the biggest challenges, the majority of boys, and the disruptive behaviors. Student growth bears out my skill which is beyond proficient. I have a Master’s degree and and have taught for many years and have trained many new teachers and mentored countless others. Sadly, I have no choice in my own career, I can’t pick the students I want, I can’t teach the courses I want to teach, and I have to deal with many students who have “ghosts” for parents meaning parents disappear and fail to partner up with the teacher. I have been on both sides of the issue, the mom advocating for my children and being the teacher that has to deal with the parent choice. Quite honestly, parents know nothing about us, administrators are forced to assign students based on ” what is best for students” and once again, the teacher is factored out of the equation. NO choice for teachers….
    What is best for kids? Vocal parents calling the shots? Would those same parents like others to take the drivers seat in their career choice? Parents can best influence their child’s education by becoming involved in the school activities and advocate for all of the students.
    #anotherreasonthatthegreatexodusofteachersisoccurring #lettheteachersteach

    1. I appreciate you sharing your story. I hope this post and all the wonderful comments here have at least made you feel little less alone in a difficult situation.

  5. We have a similar situation in our school. You see kids “tracked” through certain teachers. Clusters of kids stay together year after year.
    But how does one REALLY know how effective a teacher is unless you spend copious amounts of time on their room? As an instructional coach, I have been blessed to get to know teachers on a different level & am constantly impressed with the quality of teachers in our building. I want to shout it out to all those parents who don’t want their child with THAT teacher. However, with confidentiality, I cannot disclose any of that information.
    Another thought is, what happens if the parent requests a teacher and it DOESN’t work out? That would be an awful lot of guilt to carry.
    As an educator, I do not request my kids’ teachers. If there is a personality conflict, it is a good time For my child to learn how to persevere. That is life.

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