You gave it a good shot: You waited a few weeks, kept your tone positive in front of your child, and made sure you spoke with the teacher constructively about your concerns. But things still just don’t seem right, and the rest of the school year looms. Each night, as you try to fall asleep, your mind races with all the reasons your child's teacher is a bad fit. Every bone in your body tells you to request a change.
What should you do if you get to this point: make a fuss or sit on your feelings? It's a tough call, experts say, because even if you do raise a stink, once the school year begins, it's unusual for kids to be moved to another classroom. In the vast majority of schools, switching classrooms is a rare and extreme course of action. “It’s not a practice I’m by any means in favor of,” says Nancy Davenport, president of the National Association of Elementary School Principals. “I’m not sure it sets a good example for parents or for children.” Furthermore, because everyone in a school community tends to hear about it, the practice “also leads to wholesale ‘musical classrooms’”—not a positive step, either.
Laura Clark, M.A., a school psychologist at Juana Briones School in Palo Alto, says that in addition to causing tension at school, switching classes can actually hurt the kid a parent is trying to protect. “It’s so hugely disruptive to the child,” she says. “It’s not something I would do unless I felt we had no choice.” Still, if your child is suffering in a classroom, you’re hardly going to sit by and be silent. What can you do?
The first step is always to talk with the teacher, and if it’s a serious issue, give it more than one conversation, experts advise. If you’re still dissatisfied, it’s time to get the principal involved. Be sure to get specific. What is it exactly that's bothering you? Is it the fact that a teacher's methods don't mesh with your child's learning style? The way the teacher is handling a bully, or social situation? A negative attitude towards your child? Come prepared. “Talk to me about the kind of child we’re seeing…I’m a listener, and so if people come in to talk to me about their issues, I’m paying attention. I’ll try to work out whatever they’re upset about," says Davenport.
While a conversation with the principal may not lead to a switch, often her intervention can turn a corner decisively. Especially with kindergarten, when everyone is new to the system, misunderstandings can easily arise. A principal can step in to listen to both sides, and make changes. Complete change may take a little time, of course, but with good teamwork, the situation will steadily improve, sending a positive message both to your child and to the whole school community.
It takes quite a lot for most schools to make the leap from talking it out, to moving a student to a different teacher. Still, in a few very extreme cases, says Clark, a they may make a switch. Why?
• Special Needs. Especially in kindergarten, as kids encounter school routines for the first time, unexpected special needs can arise. If a child needs a specialist, or a special kind of physical setting, a move may be appropriate.
• Health and Safety. Once in a very great while, a classroom setting, or a particular group chemistry, poses safety problems for a child. A child with a severe nut allergy, for example, may need special kinds of ventilation, or proximity to the nurse’s office. A principal would work closely with staff members to assess the situation and determine what’s best.
• Irreparable Relationship Between Parent and Teacher. This is the most delicate judgment, says Clark, and one that she would only make “as an absolute last resort.” But if parents and teacher both agree that a situation has become profoundly unworkable, a school may consider a change. In nearly two decades of work in the field, however, Clark cautions, she has made this judgment only two or three times.
So if you’re worried, where does this leave you? Don’t be surprised if your school resists moving classrooms…but don’t despair either.
No matter what, say both Davenport and Clark, nobody expects you just to sit back and go mute—the school wants to hear your concerns and insights about your child. And they’ll do everything possible to help you work it through. It just may mean intervention other than a classroom move. Still, regardless of what happens, you can rest assured: just like you, educators really want your child to thrive. And they'll partner with you to make it happen.