Want to Change Your Child's Classroom? Talk to the Teacher First
It seems like just when you get the hang of your child's homework and class party policies, it's time for summer vacation. And it's only natural to feel out of sorts the first couple of days or weeks of a new school year -- there is a lot to get used to, after all. But before you spend the second day of school lobbying for your daughter to be in the same class as her BFF, take some time to understand that the school has put some thought into where your child will succeed.
Moving a child around after starting with one teacher can cause disorder not only in your child's class, but in other classrooms in the school, as well.
"I think that it's a big decision," says Barbara Chester, principal of Cherry Park Elementary School in Portland, Ore., and president of the National Association of Elementary School Principals. "It can be disruptive to a child and to the parents and to the class and to the teacher. First of all, I would hope that there has been good communication between the parents and teacher to start with."
Early in a school year, parents often will march into the principal's office demanding a child is removed from a classroom, Chester tells ParentDish in a phone interview. And, while she says it's "totally appropriate" for a parent to approach the principal about any concerns in the classroom, the first question from the principal's mouth is likely to be "Have you talked to the teacher?"
If parents answer no, Chester says, she will still speak with them to help them "process their concerns." But she lets the parents know she will be relaying their concerns to their child's teacher. Frequently, when the principal approaches the teacher, it's the first time the teacher claims to have knowledge of the parents' displeasure.
"We're a partnership," Chester says of the parent-teacher-principal relationship.
According to the U.S. Department of Education, if a parent doesn't agree with something in the classroom, setting up a meeting among the teacher and the parents -- with or without the principal in attendance -- is one of the first recommended actions. Even though the parent is the child's advocate, each party in the meeting should listen to the other and hear all the concerns expressed. The school's final decision should reflect what supports a child's success, which may not always match what the parents believe are in the child's best interests.
Chester says she sometimes will remind both parties to "shut up and listen," adding that, in her experience, after the conference among the teacher, parents and principal, "99 percent of the time, they work it out. But the parents are always welcome to come back and talk about what is the best situation for the child."
Parents should also talk to other parents. That's how Nancy Hall, of Connecticut, discovered her daughter's tales of her fifth grade teacher berating students in front of the classroom weren't fables. She says the experience that was so intense that children were sent to the nurse daily in fits of tears and were making appointments to see therapists.
"Once we started to talk to each other, that was the part where the light came on," she tells ParentDish in a phone interview. "If another kid was bullying my kid as much as this teacher did, I would be there in an instant."
Hall says she finally managed to move her daughter in March of the school year. The experience prompted the family explore other options, and the following year Hall's daughter enrolled in a different school.
"The most important thing is to be a good advocate for your child," Hall says. "From the beginning, we were in there saying there is a problem with this. I think we waited too long to make the change. ... Band together with other parents and be on top of what's happening. The really important part of this is that we had each other."
Some schools have addressed classroom placement with standard policies and procedures. Cascade Ridge Elementary School in Sammamish, Wash., posts its four-page guide online, including a form to request a re-assignment and a set of six questions to which parents need to respond. The school also spells out the process used in assigning students to a classroom: Balancing the students' academic or leadership skills, work habits or behavior factors; rapport among students; balance of boys to girls; and information provided either from other teachers or during earlier parent-teacher conferences.
Cascade Ridge's policy makes it clear that after two weeks of school, parents may meet with the classroom teacher to discuss and work to resolve any issues. Before placing a formal request for a placement change, the parent and teacher devise a strategy, which is put in writing and includes a reasonable interval to put the plan in place.
When Suzanna Bortz's children were in elementary school, she wrote a letter each year advocating for her children, even though, she tells ParentDish in a phone interview, she was "discouraged to write the letters."
A special education teacher who has worked in schools since 1979, the Orange County, Calf., mom requested her son be moved from an eighth grade U.S. history classroom into a gifted class. She and her son met with the teacher and administrators, but were denied a placement change.
Finally, Bortz says, at the end of the first quarter she went into the school and told the school administration he wasn't learning and, because her son was taking other gifted classes, made the argument that his history class should be a gifted class, as well. The school agreed to the change and, according to Bortz, he blossomed under his new teacher and hopes to major in history when he finishes high school next spring.
Bortz, who, as a teacher, once requested that one of two high-energy brothers be moved from her own class, understands the need to establish lines of communication.
"I think it is good to talk to the teacher -- then the problem can be worked out," she says. "Then that is good for the child, too. You talk about it and work it out. And hopefully it is fixed. And if you, as a parent, don't feel you have been heard, it's good to go to the principal. I think it is good to get support somewhere."
Chester says she has rarely moved a student to a different class -- maybe only six students in her 28 years of experience. But if a principal does agree to a change of classroom, Chester says, the parents need to think about what they are going to say to the child about the change.
"The parents need to have the language of why the move is happening" she says, so that the student understands and can feel more comfortable about the change. "Look before you leap. Moving your kid is a quick fix; letting us work with the kids so they can learn to problem-solve is long-term."
Related: Make the Most of Parent-Teacher Conferences
Start by teaching him that it is safe to do so.