Dear Principal Hotline,
Each year my school staff and I work hard to identify the best placement for our students. We are open to parent requests and try to give parents an opportunity to share what type of learning environment they think is best for their child. However, we don’t allow them to request a specific teacher. That said, we are flexible about how we use that rule since certain circumstances are understandable. For example, once we found out that one of our students had a sibling who fought constantly with one of our teachers. It’s just easier to keep that student out of that class. Why rock the proverbial boat?
That said, this summer, parents have made phone call after phone call and sent email after email to me saying they have extenuating circumstances and must have a certain teacher next year. I mean, I get it. Some teachers have a reputation for being excellent, and others are considered more difficult. I understand why parents make the request, but the truth is that sometimes it’s just impossible to give them what they want.
More than once I’ve had parents get upset with me and demand I do what they want. They have even gone as far as calling the superintendent’s office. The really vocal ones are all over Facebook, which can be painful for teachers and detrimental to the school’s reputation. This can also incite new calls from parents who were previously okay. It’s spiraling out of control at this point. I’ve been called uncaring and unemotional, which has made me feel bad about myself.
I need a new plan with lots of tips for different ways to handle different issues around placement. Any advice?
Can’t Always Give In
Dear Can’t Always Give In,
Since it seems like you’re stuck at the bottom of the hill and about to be trampled by what was once a tiny snowball, let’s look for a shovel.
What is your district’s policy regarding parent requests for teachers?
If the policy states parent requests can only guide your decisions (rather than dictate them), don’t worry about calls to the superintendent. It might be frustrating if someone reports you for following the rules, but you probably won’t be punished for adhering to a clear policy.
If, for whatever reason, there isn’t a district-level policy in place, email the superintendent (you want a paper trail). Ask her what she feels is an appropriate solution. You’re probably not the only administrator experiencing this issue, so she may already have an answer.
In the meantime, draft a clear and concise explanation of the policy you’d like to uphold. Accommodating requests by parents in certain, reasonable situations is okay. However, having a vague policy that only exists in your head can be problematic. Exceptions without clear boundaries create misconceptions.
Maybe you want to prohibit siblings from having the same teacher, regardless of how many years there are between them. This would alleviate requests from parents asking for the same teacher every single time they have a child enter a specific grade. You’ll also avoid the inevitable complications when placing a student with a teacher whom that student’s parents already dislike due to past experiences.
Again, be clear that you have a policy prohibiting parents from requesting specific teachers. Put it in writing. Make sure you address situations that may warrant exceptions (e.g., accommodating students with special needs).
Here’s a brief list of items I might include in a classroom assignment policy:
- Siblings will not be assigned to the same classroom.
- A student will not be assigned a teacher if a sibling was assigned to that teacher in a previous year.
- If a family knows a teacher outside of school, their student will not be assigned to that teacher.
- A student will not be assigned to the same teacher more than once.
Distribute your policy, in writing, to all parents. Have them sign and return a slip stating they’ve read and understand the policy.
The key here is transparency. Parents want to know that their children are cared for and that class assignments are fair. The better everyone understands the process, the more likely they are to accept it.
However, you will always have parents who do not agree with the policy and will be very vocal about it with you. The truth is, handling these phone calls come with the job. My advice is to listen, meet their needs when you can, but also clearly explain the policy. Parents want to be heard, and that is something you can do for them.
And if there are those circumstances that are out of the ordinary and require a deviation from the policy, use your best judgement. You are the leader of the school in part because of your ability to make difficult decisions.
Let these decisions be informed by policy and also by your intuition.
As always, breathe, don’t take it personally, and remember you’re not alone in handling these requests.
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Plus check out 8 parent Phone Calls Every Principal Can Expect.