You come to Meet the Teacher Night and stare at the list of classes. Really, that teacher? You so did not want Mrs. Smith for your child. Or you look at that list and realize your child’s bully from last year has ended up in your son’s class.
Or maybe it’s that every day these first few weeks, your daughter has had something bad to say about Mrs. Jones and what happened in class that day.
Or every morning starts in tears because your child suddenly no longer wants to go to school.
Is it time for your child to change classes?
First know that making a switch into another class usually doesn’t happen. Class assignments, unless in kindergarten when the school really doesn’t know your child yet, are well thought out.
Kristina Snow, who is now the director of elementary education for the Round Rock Independent School District and was previously a principal at Teravista Elementary, says a lot of people weight in about which teacher a child gets: the principal and vice principals, the counselor, previous teachers, the special education and gifted and talent staff, etc. They also are looking at the academic and behavioral mix of the class as well as parent feedback about which type of teacher might not be the best or which kids need to be separated. “It’s an intricate puzzle,” she says.
Snow and Teravista counselor Jenna Fleming say that usually at times of high stress parents start demanding a change: the first weeks of school, right before the winter break and at the end of the school year when grades become an issue.
Snow and Fleming don’t want parents to sit on their concerns and stew until they explode in February or March (that happens). Instead, they would like you to first go to the teacher to share your concerns.
Send an email using neutral language and arrange a time to talk to the teacher either by phone or in person before or after school.
Do not go straight to the principal or superintendent before talking to the teacher. Parents are often uncomfortable having the conversation with the teacher, Snow says. “They either let it fester or they come straight to the principal,” she says. “It makes things more tense.” Most principals, she says, will listen, but then will ask the parent “Have you spoken with the teacher, yet?”
“90 percent of the time, teachers and parents when they are communicating with one another, they start to develop a relationship and respect with each other,” Fleming says.
If after you’ve talked with the teacher and don’t feel heard, then you can go to the principal or counselor. Things schools take very seriously are safety concerns and 504 and special education accommodations.
Snow says there are times when she would move a student when there was a bullying situation with another student or the relationship between the parent and the teacher became so hostile it was unworkable. “When you come ready to go to war, it always ends up hindering communication and being able to be heard,” Snow says.
Most of the time, schools won’t move a student because it becomes disruptive to not only that student, but the two classes involved.
Dealing with different personalities also is one of those life skills that kids need to master. “Growth feels uncomfortable,” Fleming says, and there’s a difference between protecting a child from a bad situation and enabling a child to only get the class or teacher she wants.
It might be in the best interest of the child to leave her where she is and help her grow through this challenge, Fleming says.
You also should double check what your child is telling you. Kids can be prone to exaggeration, and while we all want to believe our children, sometimes the way she perceived a situation and the way a teacher did is entirely different.
The stories might even be true but something that the teacher is not aware of: case in point, the time the boys in my son’s third-grade class were told to measure something in the room. Guess what they went in the bathroom to measure? While that wouldn’t be a reason I would want to move my son, it was a story I thought the teacher should know. I’m sure she now changes the directions she gives for that assignment.
Teachers, of course, want to know when a child no longer wants to go to school or is complaining every day. There might be other things, not just the teacher, that are behind it such as trouble with friends, a big change in the expectations that takes an adjustment, or a sign of a mental illness like anxiety.
“Changes bring about anxiety because we’re human beings,” Fleming says. Listen to your child and be empathetic. As those big changes become part of the routine, the anxiety should lessen. If not, then it’s time to be talking to the school counselor or an outside counselor to get some help.
Also don’t believe the rumors or a friend’s impression of that teacher. “Some of the best teachers aren’t super popular, but they are incredible teachers,” Snow says.