The post below on name-requesting teachers is circa 2016. I wrote it before my kids started school. I never published it because… my kids hadn’t started school. It was one of those rare occasions when awareness of my idealistic/self-righteousness kicked in before I put my foot in my mouth. I didn’t have the experience to back it up.
I didn’t publish it in 2017 because I became THAT exact parent. I name-requested (really name-required) Baya’s kindergarten teacher to match who Marin had had.
In 2018, I backed off and rolled the dice.*
Now in 2019, I’ll never say never but I’ve come back around to where I started. Name-requesting does more harm than good. And after dozens of conversations I’m convinced: It’s about us, not them- not our kids.
Exerting influence to get the teacher we want is about our familiarity and convenience. It’s a competitive mom sport like pre-season football. It’s about preserving (or advancing) our relationships, our status, and our sense of control. It’s not about their education. So let’s name-request if we must but call it what it is. It’s what’s best for us parents.
Why Requesting a Teacher Change Is Screwing Up Our Kids (Drafted in 2016, never published)
School is back in session across the country. This means there is a spike in excitement in many households, as well as in needless parental worry. It’s an emotional time for everyone in the house — not the least of which is us moms. Why are we all so anxious?
It’s because we all want our children to do well in everything, of course, but especially in school. To this end we do all sorts of things that we think will help our kids in their school careers, but that sometimes end up hurting them instead and making ourselves into annoying ninnies. Requesting a different teacher because you don’t believe they’re best one for your kid at school tops the list as a well-intentioned intervention that’s ultimately misguided and damaging.
Requesting a certain teacher that you trust (or at least know more about than the assigned teacher) seems like something a responsible parent would do, right? Of course, responsible parents take a keen interest in their child’s education and thus want the best possible teachers.
However, requesting (and getting) a teacher switch hurts kids and makes teachers and school administrators crazy at a time when they should be focused on kicking the school year off right. This request is like when your boss gives you a new side project when you’re already drowning in work. Or it’s like when you’re on a conference call while emptying the dishwasher when your toddler manages to shatter a bottle of red nail polish on the floor- a messy distraction that you just didn’t need.
Teacher changes hurt kids in the long-run because, in adult life, we rarely get to choose the people we work with. Let’s pause for a second and imagine how awesome that would be. Ahhh. Ok, back to reality because it’s not happening. Instead, setting up this expectation that we can be choosy about who we work with could give kids a false view of how the world works. The most successful professionals are skilled in getting along with and making the most of relationships with people of varying interests and strengths. Kids have the capacity to develop this skill from toddlerhood, and should be encouraged to figure out the best way they can to work with others — including their teachers.
Additionally, the request itself sends a strong unintended message about you to the school, the teachers, and your kid.
The school might flag you as high-maintenance or someone with expectations that need to be managed. Now, it’s likely there is already someone way more annoying than you- which is to your advantage. However, you don’t want lumped into the ninny category because you don’t want the principal to hesitate at all before reaching out. You want the freest flow of information possible between yourself and the school.
As for the teachers, you likely hurt one’s feelings while making another feel awkward and on-the-spot to perform to your liking. You don’t want this either. You want your kid’s teacher to be comfortable and confident in her abilities, and you want her to know that you feel comfortable and confident in her abilities. A teacher feeling bad or under a microscope doesn’t lend itself to outstanding job performance.
Perhaps most damaging is the message you send to your child. Consider pulling your child aside and saying “Honey, you know I love you but I’m not confident in your abilities. Unless I intervene and create the exact right conditions, I’m just not sure you’re good enough.” Hopefully, no parent would actually say these words out loud. But this is precisely the message your child absorbs as the subject of your meddling. You won’t always be able to make everything easy and ideal for your child, and she needs to know that.
The other thing to consider is that school administrators and teachers go to great pains to create balanced classes. What surprised me to learn is that administrators say they think as much about the match between student and teacher they do about the make-up of the class as a whole. They want a positive, cohesive peer group for all of the children because much of their experience is interacting with their classmates — not just the teacher. So, administrators design classes with kids at similar skill levels to form reading and math groups. They create classes with a mix of genders and races. They try to avoid lumping the handful of kids with behavior problems into a single room. And they even try to make sure each kid starts the class with at least one friend. It’s like arranging the seat assignments for your wedding reception times 1,000. It’s hard, and there are often changes made to classes right up until the last minute, because of late registrations and hiring. In other words: school administrators know what they’re doing when it comes to assigning teachers — certainly a lot better than you do.
Even with some awareness of the school’s complex balancing, moms still crave input. Moms in my community are often irked by the fact that they’re not told who their child’s teacher is until right before school starts. That’s intentional. Not only are there late changes happening, administrators want to reduce the amount of time they spend in distracting back and forth communication with parents like you when you lob that first email or make the call with the common line, “pardon me, but we’d like to discuss the possibility of moving our child to Ms. So and So’s class.”
If you think it’s just you making this request, think again. Some schools get dozens of change requests each year. If you’re thinking about requesting a change, consider this first.
You likely formed your opinion about the different teachers at your child’s school from neighborhood chitchat. Often, moms talk and issue each other stern warnings about certain teachers over wine at mom’s night out. Facts, context, and nuances become secondary to impressions formed by different families.
Other times, the information is your own firsthand experience gained from an older child in the house. This is equally problematic because all children are different, and teachers — like all professionals — grow and change each year. Because of these biases, it is difficult, if not impossible, to make a rational, educated assessment of the optimal teacher/kid match.
But that assessment is likely much better left in the experienced hands of the school administrators. What if there really is a teacher out there with a style that perfectly matches your kid? So what.
If you’re wrong, you lose. One neighbor of mine shared that she’d requested a teacher change because she learned that the assigned teacher was fresh out of school and inexperienced. In retrospect, she’s so thankful that the request was denied because her daughter had her best school year yet with the originally assigned teacher, who brought a lot of energy and enthusiasm to her new job and was incredibly invested in each child.
If you’re right, you lose too. By denying your child the opportunity to build an important life and relationship-building skill early on, you’re forcing them to learn those lessons later on, in a more high-stakes environment. Or, even worse, they may never learn those lessons — making them poor communicators and difficult for others to work with.
The alternative to requesting a teacher change is to work with your child and their teacher, and play the hand you’re dealt, to the very best of your and your child’s abilities. Direct your energy to working with your child, the teacher, and the administrator, to make this the best school year yet for everyone. Appreciating and trusting your school builds confidence all the way around, and sends the best message to your kid, their teacher, and the administration: “You can succeed under any circumstances. I believe in you and support you.”
*Note: There was no actual risk here. We are so, so fortunate to live in a district where every teacher is Olympic caliber. We can’t go wrong.