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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 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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  1. We have a teacher in our school that recruits parents and their children. Administration has let this fly with disregards to the disproportionate ability levels of students in grade level classrooms. We are trying to get this changed especially with our new evaluation system. The playing field needs to be equal or as close to equal for all grade level classes. I’ve read some great ideas here. Thanks for opening up the discussion.

  2. I am writing from a principal perspective. When I started at my last school (where I was the assistant principal prior to becoming principal), the current P allowed parent requests and had done so for the 15 years prior. I remember one of the biggest concerns of the staff (during my interview process) was whether or not I would continue this practice. They had very valid concerns as in some grade levels, it had become a major issue, pitting 3 teachers against the 4th on the team. He was a very, very charismatic and outgoing former NFL and collegiate football player. Not only did every kid want him but every parent wanted their kid in his class. I remember that last year when there were TWENTY parent requests for a class of 25 kids. And as someone mentioned above, you can bet these were the kids whose parents were the most involved in the school. The thing is, while he was very weak at his curriculum knowledge he was great with any type of child. Difficult students especially…or second language learners. He was like the Pied Piper. But when you have only 5 spots left to place kids….well you see the dilemma. Then you have 3 other teachers upset that no one requested them (that information was shared with the previous year’s teachers when they were making class lists).

    Sooooo….I ended parent requests. Much to my surprise, there wasn’t a ton of parent pushback and the staff was extremely happy. I did implement the ‘feedback sheet’ with some pretty detailed questions about the type of teacher they thought their child would be best with, etc. If a parent wanted to fill one out, they had to pick them up in the office or ask us to email. Of course I still had parents who put names on that feedback sheet… But I told the teachers who were making the lists that I trusted them to make the best placements for ALL kids (we had to do the same balanced classes as described above) and if that’s who they would have placed that child with, then go ahead.

    I did have a parent choice of ‘opting out’ of a class but they had to explain why in writing. 99% of the time it was because of a bad experience with an older sibling. My thoughts were ‘why torture a teacher and parent if I already know there is some type of bad juju between them?’ They could only opt out of one…not 3 to get the teacher they wanted!! Lol. And like I said, it had to be for a really good reason.

    Lastly, our district had a process for changing classrooms after school started in the fall but it was so time consuming that the student usually liked their teacher by the time it was done. That was at the district level and it was really rare… I had maybe 3 in 20+ years.

  3. The principal at the school where I have 2 children actually takes specific teacher requests from all the staff at the school, members of the PTA board,as well as teachers at other schools that have children at our school. As you can imagine the “star” teachers are always packed with these children. There is a group of 8 boys, all sons of teachers and PTA, who have been in the same class kindergarten through 5th grade. I volunteer at the school 2 hours a week and at every special event. My daughter has an IEP due to autism, but has never been placed with these “star” teachers even when a request had been made. Just this week a new student came to the school with the condition of severe anxiety. She was placed in the strictest teachers class because the teacher she should have been placed with was over the maximum allowed because of all teachers’ kids the principal placed in that teacher’s class. The parent met with the principal, but ended up pulling this little girl out of the school to be home schooled. Essentially, the situation is that the kids who need the skills of the best teachers with the teaching styles that match their needs are being taken by the “friends” of the principal – I believe this is a disgrace!

    1. Amen. May I ask what state this is? It sounds so much like “my” school I could bet money on it! However, there are many schools like this is the US. Sadly, kids are not really the most important reason for the placements at most schools. It’s all about what the principal thinks and if you ever make a principal mad at you for speaking out, watch out! Because, some hold grudges when you disagree with them and you will pay the piper until you retire.

  4. Kelly-
    I feel for you. And as a former principal, this is another reason why I liked putting the student placements into the hands of the prior year’s teachers. Not only were they aware of the needs of their students and the best match of the teacher for the following year, it also got ME out of the loop of ‘favoritism’ of placements. I can honestly say that I had a mostly professional staff when it came to truly placing kids based on needs. I’m sure there were some back-door deals with parents who really wanted their child with a specific teacher the following year (I know lots of teachers developed close and personal relationships with families of multiple children) but I also know the class placements were made as a ‘team’ of teachers. And the individual teacher had to be able to justify to her/his teammates why this child would be best placed in that specific classroom.

    All in all I believe it worked out for the most part but the bottom line (and one that I held fast to) is that it had to be the best match for the CHILD. We were there for the child. Sometimes it was really hard not to burn out the really, really good teachers year after year because often those with the best skills are the ones who we would love the place the most difficult students with. Or the ones with the most needs. But I can tell you the gems in my school could handle any child and each year were up for the challenge of a new class…said, ‘bring them on’ no matter who was in it. Boy, did I love those teachers!! Good luck to you and your precious daughter!

  5. Our school honors parent request and I prefer it for the most part. I teach middle school and it cuts down on tension later on. If a parent doesn’t want me as a teacher for whatever reason, I’m okay with that and it reduces conflict over the child.

    What gets under my skin are honoring student requests mid-year. While some requests are valid, we are getting a number of them which are nothing more than the child’s manipulation of the system to be in a class with friends. When such requests are granted, students feel empowered and tend to become academic and behavior problems.

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