On Friday, August 14, I sent out the class assignments via email to all of the parents and students in my school. In past years, I would send the infamous emails at 3:59 pm, and hit the road toward home at 4:00 pm. Why the rush to get out of the building as quickly as possible after sending the email? Because I wanted to avoid the onslaught of phone calls and emails from parents asking for a change in their child’s class placement. Then, I would force myself to not check my email and voice mail all weekend in case there was a message from an angry or upset parent.
But this year I did it differently. I hit the send button at 9:33 am. I finally realized that the old phrase “You can pay me now or you can pay me later” (from an old Fram oil filter commercial, remember?) truly rings true in this case. Instead of spending the weekend worrying, I decided to face the fact that I could either run and hide (Saturday and Sunday) or I could deal with the inevitable head on.
Over the years, I have found that parents have one of two reasons for calling me immediately after the class lists are sent home . The first, and by far the more popular reason, is due to friendship or peer issues. The second is related to teacher concerns. Before I write further about these two issues, I do want to explain that in the spring, I send out a “Goals/Concerns Form” for parents to complete. This is an optional form that allows parents to share their children’s needs related to academics, behavior, and socialization. We do not allow parents to request specific teachers, however, I will let parents request to NOT have a teacher if an older sibling had that teacher.
Regarding the teacher concerns, 90% are based on neighborhood talk or soccer field discussions about teachers. Mostly, parents hear about other children’s experiences with a particular teacher, and they automatically assume that their child will have the same experiences. This, however, is not true. Each child’s relationship with a teacher is different than any other child, especially since the other child was in a different class during a different school year. I firmly believe that children benefit from experiencing many different teaching styles during their 13 years in school. Having a clone of the “perfect teacher” each year does not teach children how to overcome obstacles and challenges that different kinds of teachers present.
Regarding the peer concerns, I feel very strongly that children must learn how to get along with all kinds of people, and that the “comfort zone” of having best friends in class is not necessarily the best way for children to branch out and befriend others. Sometimes there are students in the class who are not so nice, well-behaved, or respectful, and parents feel the need to protect their children from these students. In the long run, this is not how the world works. We all will undoubtedly come across others who are not so friendly, and we need the skills and strategies to deal with these situations. The controlled environment of a classroom is the perfect place to learn these skills. Plus, I like to tell parents that their child’s “next best friend” might be sitting in their new classroom.
In both cases, parents will ask me to change their child’s class placement, and I will say no. Why? Well there are a number of reasons (e.g. classes are balanced academically, behaviorally, by gender, etc.), but the most important reason to me is that moving a child to another class teaches him a very bad lesson: “When you are confronted with challenges and adversity, you can simply run away and not face the problem.” It also gives children the false sense of security that their parents will always be there to rescue them,which of course, is not true.
I listen carefully to the parents’ concerns, I take careful notes, and I follow up on every child throughout the year. Based on many years of experience as an administrator and as a parent, I try to allay their worries, and often I can. Many times parents will seek me out at the end of the school year to tell me that their fears never came to fruition, and their child did have a good year. Ultimately, that is what it’s all about.