Answer: As a general rule, parents do not have the right to select the school staff who will be working with their child. However, there may be ways that parents can influence that decision.
This question is usually asked by parents of children in elementary school. The situation in middle and high schools are complicated by scheduling limitations (only so many sections of a particular course are offered at any given point in time), the requirement that secondary teachers are highly qualified in the content area in order to teach a core subject, and the practice of organizing middle school students and teachers into “teams”.
Elementary school principals are typically responsible for assigning students to specific teachers. It is expected that this process is not done randomly. Principals have lots of information available to them to help make that decision. They can consider student factors such as age, gender, skill levels, discipline history as well as teacher input and recommendations. Teacher characteristics, experience and training are also usually taken into consideration.
Once classroom assignment decisions have been made, most principals do not want to deal with a lot of parents who are unhappy that their child did not get assigned to the most popular teacher at that grade. They often worry that the floodgates will open if they give in to a parent’s request to add “just one more child” to Miss Suzie’s class. This is understandable. The principal is trying to make sure that all teachers are valued and seen as competent, and that there is an equitable (not necessarily equal) distribution of the student population. A parent who pushes the issue too hard can find themselves on the losing end of a power struggle.
So, what can you do to help get your child assigned to a teacher that will be a good match? Or at least avoid a worst-case scenario? Some kids can go with the flow and will be fine with almost any teacher. For that child, it will probably be safe to let things occur without any interference. However, if you have one of those children who is not going to be okay in every situation, or will not do well with every teaching style, it is best to be proactive. It is always easier to influence a decision before it’s made, than to change it after the fact.
In late spring, try to set up a face-to-face meeting with the principal to talk about your child and his educational needs. Share information about what makes your child unique. Discuss relevant personality traits, past experiences, learning style and disability-related issues that you would like the principal to think about when they are deciding who to assign as your child’s next teacher. You can talk about classroom environment and teacher traits that will allow your child to function at her best. You can also mention past situations that did not work well for your child. Be careful to not put down any past teachers! Instead, you can talk about teaching styles, amount of classroom structure, authoritarian versus nurturing approaches, physical environment requirements, health and safety needs and any special issues regarding interaction with other students.
Unless the principal is new to that school, they should know their staff well enough to know which teachers are a good match for your child and which will likely lead to disaster. Leave a written summary of the key points that you want the principal to think about. The actually classroom assignments may not be made until weeks or months after your meeting, and your document can be a much-needed reminder of the things you talked about. If you learn that the decision will not be made until the end of summer, consider sending a greeting (by phone or email) expressing that you and your child are looking forward to the new school year, and thanking the principal for taking the time to meet with you earlier to talk about your child. If you send an email, it might not be a bad idea to attach another copy of the reminder document. Play that one by ear though, and skip the attachment if you think that the principal might consider it too pushy.
Remember, the goal is to get a good situation for your child, not for the principal to feel like you are trying to tell them how to do their job. Diplomacy and effective advocacy are often about knowing when, how, and how hard to push.