I was the oldest child in my family. Throughout my elementary years I waited with baited breath to find out who my homeroom teacher would be, and as I got older I wondered and fretted over which math or English or science or history teacher I would have. I didn’t have the benefit (or downside) of having older brothers or sisters telling me who was good or bad, strict or crazy; all I had to go on was the reputation the teacher had in the school.
Most of the time, the teachers with bad reputations didn’t deserve the severe criticism they were getting and the “good” ones were often less challenging for me.
I hear my own kids talking about this or that teacher, who is lazy or great or really hard or whimsical, and I realize that things have changed very little. I am sure some of the teachers are duds and I am sure many are terrific and I have faith that a few are downright fantastic.
What seems different now is the fact that parents are actively intervening on their child’s behalf when it comes to teacher assignments. My parents wouldn’t have dreamed of talking to the principal or guidance counselor to hand pick which teachers any one of us had, and in the long run I think that was a good thing.
I didn’t always have the “best” teacher and once when I really did have a genuine dud my parents complained (along with many other parents) and the teacher only lasted a year at my high school. But in having had a broad range of teachers with different skills, styles, strengths and weaknesses throughout my school years, with the vast majority being good or great, I was able to learn and grow with each one. And most importantly, I wasn’t that much worse for the experience.
I am not suggesting that a great teacher can’t have a life-changing influence on a young student and that each of us should have the opportunity to have great teachers. I am not saying that mediocre teachers should just be tolerated or worse that bad teachers be allowed to continue teaching. What I am saying is that one teacher isn’t going to ruin your child’s educational experience.
I am not saying that if you have a child with learning disabilities, significant emotional issues, or special needs that you should just accept what the school is offering for your child’s education. What I am saying is that for the typical or bright child, they will learn even with the “bad” teacher.
Why shouldn’t parents intervene and advocate for the most perfect fit for their student?
First, parents aren’t in the classroom with their child. They don’t see their child in action. They may think they know who the best fit would be for their child and be dead wrong. Some parents worry that a strict teacher might intimidate a young student or worry that that same teacher won’t be warm and nurturing enough for their sensitive child. In my experience and the collective experience of my friends, patients, and colleagues, parents are often wrong about this in particular. On the other end of the spectrum, parents may have a class clown type of child and worry that the teacher the child has been paired with is too flexible and loose in the classroom.
All I can say is this: trust the system. The teacher your child had all year helps choose the teacher for the next year and knows your child’s strengths and weaknesses. Often he or she knows well what works and what doesn’t when it comes to motivating your child to learn. Trust the teacher.
Second, often parents talk a lot about their concerns when they feel a child has been poorly matched with a teacher. This discussion usually happens at least some of the time with the child in earshot and has the potential to influence the child’s view of the teacher as well. It also causes the child to hear your perception of their own strengths and weaknesses and why you feel the fit may not be a good one, and that is not a good thing for a child to understand at such a young age. If you are unable to change the teacher assignment your child will then be in a classroom with a teacher they know you don’t respect and that can be even worse.
Lastly, because one year will not make or break your student, try to just take the teacher assignment in stride and allow your child to learn an important life lesson: sometimes your supervisor (teacher) isn’t the best fit for you but the job (learning) still needs to get done.