Ensuring a Good Teacher Fit

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While I’m busily getting ready for the next year of homeschooling, Life as MOM contributor JessieLeigh offers some great suggestions for public schoolers to find the right teacher for next year.

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As we move into the summer months, we put the 2011-’12 school year behind us. Classes are over, report cards are sent, teachers are bid adieu. We welcome and relish the summer months and August or September still seem so far away.

While it is true that abundant sunny days of freedom are in our immediate future, this is still the time to be thinking ahead. No, you needn’t rush out and buy back-to-school supplies — those will get marked down later in the summer. However, you may very well want to start thinking about placement.

If you live in a tiny district where each grade only fills one class and, thus, there is only one teacher per grade, this will not apply to you. But, for most of us, there will be more than one teacher assigned to each grade level. In many cases, one of those teachers may be a better fit for your child than another.

So, how do you ensure your child gets a good teacher fit for next year? There are several pretty basic steps that can be taken to move things in the right direction.

Plant seeds early.

This tip might be too late for this year, but file it away for the future. Throughout the year, when you attend conferences or speak to the current classroom teacher, try to plant seeds for the next year. Mention qualities in a teacher that you feel are important for your child’s personality and learning style.

  • Does your child thrive in an artistic, creative environment?
  • Are you raising a little one who craves structure and predictability?
  • Do you have a motivated self-starter or one who needs more constant encouragement?

Teachers are people and they have vastly differing methods and styles. Keeping an open dialogue with the current teacher will help to get your wishes and observations on the table.

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Do your homework.

Talk to parents of older children. Listen to their feedback about the various classroom teachers. Be careful to listen to why they liked or didn’t like a particular teacher.

“She gave too much homework” might not be an issue for you, whereas, “He plays very obvious favorites and it’s hard for the kids” may be more of a concern.

We all have different kids and different worries. Pay attention to the reasons so you can decide for yourself. The most well-liked, popular teacher may not be the best fit for your child– doing your homework will help you make that determination.

Write a pre-emptive letter.

Many schools welcome “placement letters” written by parents during the Spring and early Summer months. Bear in mind that most principals appreciate a run-down of your child’s needs and learning style more than a blatant “we want Mrs. Jones” sort of request.

If you’ve done your homework and talked to the current classroom teacher, you probably have a good idea of what traits belong to which teacher. Mention those. Alert the powers-that-be of any concerns you have and any definite no-no’s.

Find advocates.

If possible, get some school employees on your side. Whether it’s the classroom teacher, a guidance counselor, a therapist, or a coach or activity director, finding someone IN the system who will speak up for your child can be helpful and add weight to your request.

Don’t panic.

If, when the teacher assignment arrives mid-summer, you’re upset or dissatisfied, do not panic. There is still time to rectify the situation, but it’s important that you remain calm and clear-headed.

Call the school and request a meeting with the principal. Be prepared to state your concerns and what you’d like to see done to fix it. If there are more than two teacher options for that grade-level in your school system, make sure that you’re willing to consider your “second choice” teacher, too. Schools cannot always accomodate every placement request, but they’ll usually do their best if you’re open-minded and reasonably flexible.

Your child spends a lot of time in the classroom. Having a teacher who is a good fit can help make it a happier, smoother, more productive year of learning.

What tips do you have for ensuring a good teacher fit?

— A mother of three, including a 24 week preemie, JessieLeigh is a determined advocate for even the tiniest of babies. She can be found celebrating life’s (sometimes unexpected) miracles and blessings at Parenting Miracles.

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  1. As a public school teacher, I read this very carefully! These are very good points that parents should pay attention to- I appreciated that you pointed out that most schools have specific procedure for placement requests. When this procedure is followed, it makes the process much easier for everyone.

    Also, a bit of insight about how placement happens: In most cases (at least where I’ve worked!), current classroom teachers get a large amount of input into which classes their students are put in. They usually group together students who work well together, separate those that don’t, and look at personality matches. Classes are set up to be a good mix of gender an abilities. If you don’t get your first choice, don’t get upset! There’s likely good reason that it didn’t happen. It is completely possible that the teacher/administrator saw a better fit, or needed students like yours to really round out a class!

    Like the author said- be involved early on. If you’re really passionate about getting (or not getting) a certain teacher, be involved in the school. A parent that shows up out of the blue in August is much less likely to get what they want. Make sure the school sees you as a ally, not an enemy. You may be looking out for your child, but nobody likes being attacked!

    1. Great added insight, Kelly– thank you! “Make suer the school sees you as an ally, not an enemy” <– I think this is one of the very most important things we need to remember as parents. I remain convinced that a good part of why I've had such good experiences with our school is that I make sure I'm on the same team… even when I disagree. 🙂

  2. I’ve found that by being very involved in the schools, I have a lot of insight in who the good teachers are. The years that I requested a certain teacher made the school year go so much smoother. If at all possible get involved in the PTO/PTA. You have an opportunity to speak directly to the principals, and they get to know who your kids are. The people that volunteer also seem to get the first dibs on chaperoning field trips.

    Our school district has a system where you can request up to three teachers for your child on a certain date. It is first come, first serve only up to so many spots. If it is really important to you, you get up at midnight and send an email to the principal with your request.

    1. Being involved is definitely key– if you’ve consistently demonstrated active involvement and engagement in your child’s education, your opinion will likely hold more weight. 🙂

  3. I teach in a school that does not allow requests, but does allow input on where your child should not go. This might be due to a family conflict between two student families, a conflict outside of the school involving a teacher, a teacher who has too big of a connection to your child(like a neighbor they see more like grandma), etc. The school allowed requests years ago and it got very chaotic. Some of the parents would work together to all request the same teacher to create a class that they viewed as a class without “problems”.

    1. Our school also does not allow “requests”, per se, but they do welcome insights into what “type” of teacher/setting would be best for a particular child. Clever parents can do a pretty good job specifying without naming names. 😉

  4. My mom found that our teacher placements went a lot smoother once she got elected to school board…somehow the school knew the best matches without any intervention on her part.

    For us, we’ve gone private and based on that our teacher options are more limited. We’re playing it year by year. I hope DC continues to love going to school every day. These matches are so important.

  5. I absolutely agree about the matches being so important– I’m already trying not to fret about my son’s second grade year. There’s only ONE teacher I’m hoping he doesn’t wind up with. I’m very confident that his current teachers/coordinators will get him in the right place, but, still… *fingers crossed* 🙂

  6. I truly believe that it’s important for our kids to experience all types of teachers and learn to deal with different personalities. Just a note to please be careful in requesting teachers that you aren’t slotting your kids with the same types every year. Your children will have all kinds of bosses and co-workers in the future. They NEED to experience and learn to deal with all kinds of personalities growing up to learn flexibility, patience, adaptability skills, figuring out how to interact with different authority figures, get along with a boss and co-workers who are not going to be cut from a cookie-cutter mold like themselves. Life is full of people that your children will need to have to deal with, whether on the playground, in school, at work, at church, in community activities, etc. To be successful in life they must learn to be flexible and adaptable, be able to deal with change, make connections and get along with others they may not especially always like. Sometimes having a teacher with an opposite personality or way of teaching is what they need in order to learn new ways of interacting and doing things so they can become well rounded, well balanced individuals. My 2 kids had several teachers that I was warned about, both of which ended up being great fits for them at that particular point in time and helped them grow in different ways as individuals. In first grade my daughter had one of the best teachers in school, yet she came home most days telling me how boring school was. (The teacher concentrated her extra efforts with kids who needed extra help and thus didn’t have time to provide extra help to the kids at the top end who were excelling.) My only request with either of my children was to tell the principal that story and ask that she be assigned for 2nd grade with a teacher who would challenge her in the classroom so she wouldn’t be bored. If you feel you have to request due to special circumstances, discuss the reasons why and let the principal place your child based on the criteria, not a teacher’s name. The principals know their teachers better than you ever will, even being active in PTO.

    1. You raise some excellent points here, Pamela. It IS important that children learn to work with various personalities– that’s a part of why I think so many schools strive to achieve balance and diversity in the classroom. And you are correct in that the principals know their teachers better than I– I would just also note that I know my children better than the principal ever will. That’s why open dialogue and involvement is so critical, in my opinion. Working as a team is so key.

    2. While I agree that kids need to learn to be adaptable there are times when not stepping in or making requests can be extremely detrimental. Teachers in Elementary school can have life long effects on a child learning and the wrong fit can be very damaging. This is where knowing your child is so important and being an advocate for them is absolutely necessary. It might have to come down to you being very firm on requesting a certain teacher or not having a certain teacher.

      1. There were two teacher options for my kid’s kindergarten teachers. One I knew would be an excellent fit (I had worked with her). The other I had seen snap at and correct students in demeaning/threatening ways regularly. The adminstration said they just had different styles. I wouldn’t leave my child with a babysitter who made them feel like dirt let alone a teacher day after day. The given that children should feel safe and not demeaned in a classroom in not always a given. The bad teacher has been there 30 years.

  7. One comment from my brother-in-law on a schoolboard has stayed with me. He says that “just another one of those hysterical moms” does not seem to have as much impact as a couple.

    I know it’s not fair, for many reasons, but that seems to be the way it is.

  8. In my dd’s school teacher placement is extremely important as your child has the same teacher and assistant teacher for 3yrs. It isn’t as easy as toughing it out for a year with a bad match. While it is nice that the previous teacher selects the best placement for your child’s next teacher and each team of teachers meets together to work out class placements, it can be rough if the teacher was not a good match. You hope they pick the right choice and that when they do the team shuffle that it works out.

    We are lucky that our school is fairly small (under 400 kids in pk3-6th).