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Back to school: Look closely at your child’s class schedule

For students in middle and high school it is extremely important for parents to keep up with the courses that they are taking. The classes should offer the right amount of challenge (not too easy, not too hard). They should be preparing your child for whatever their goals are for life after high school. More importantly, the courses need to be chosen so that they meet the graduation requirements for your school system. With many schools using computer programs to create schedules for students, it’s not hard for the needs of individual students to be overlooked.

For many students who have disabilities, course selection is even more critical. For some students it will be important to make sure that they are placed in the course sections that are co-taught by both regular education and special education teachers. This can offer real-time assistance and support to help students be successful with grade-level material. The co-taught classes can be selected in the areas most likely impacted by the student’s disability. Sometimes the assumption is made that, because the student has an IEP, they should automatically be placed in the lowest level course available. This approach would keep many students from building on their strengths to reach their full potential. Students who need support in some subjects can also take typical or even honors classes in subjects that are areas of strength for them.

These days, most high schools are using block schedules that cover the entire content of a course during a single semester. It may be important to make sure that the courses that will be most challenging for your child are not all piled into the same semester. With thoughtful planning, the school can create a schedule that spreads the work load out more evenly. For example, your child can take two really hard classes at the same time plus a support class and an elective in an area of interest. This kind of planning from the very beginning will usually allow students to complete all of their graduation requirements within 4 years so they can graduate with their peers. Even if they have to pick up a summer class or return for an extra semester, the goal is that the student experiences success and gains knowledge that will help them throughout their life. The extra time will be well spent.

Parents also need to look out for other kinds of scheduling problems:

  • Make sure that courses are taken in the right sequence. The level1 course should come before the level 2 course.
  • Make sure that your child is not assigned to a course that they have already successfully completed. With rare exceptions, they will not earn course credit the second time around.
  • Make sure that your child was not placed in an elective course that they have no interest in, or one that is a poor fit, just because there was space in that class. Forcing an extremely shy kid to take a drama class will probably not end well.
  •  Make sure that your child is on track to graduate when expected. Your child could be taking math and science classes that are counted as “electives” that do not meet the graduation requirements for that subject area. If your child comes up short by missing even a single graduation requirement, they will not get a diploma. At least once a year have your child’s guidance counselor review the courses that your child has taken and compare them to the courses required for graduation.

Read your child’s class schedule carefully as soon as you get it.  If you see anything on that doesn’t look right, contact staff at the school immediately.  Go to the school in person if you need to.  The sooner any problems are corrected, the easier it will be for your child, and the better their educational experience will be.

FAQ: Can I pick my child’s teacher?

questions-and-answersFAQ:  Do I have a right to choose my child’s teacher?

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.