30. Parent Requests, Part One

The issue of parent requests not to have certain teachers is a difficult one, and I’ve faced it both as a parent and as a teacher. This article will tell you how it feels to one teacher, and my next article will tell you how it feels to one parent. We’re both the same person, but the issue can bring up powerful feelings, depending on which way you’re looking at it.
At the end of my first year as an elementary school teacher, and even during the year, there were parents who wrote to the principal that they did not want their children in my class. In fact, there were so many parents who felt that way that I ended up losing my job. During that year, I also realized that I had stumbled on to the kind of work I wanted to do with my life. I wanted to spend my life teaching young children, and since I also wanted an income that would support my family, I wanted to teach in a public school. So I had one of the most painful experiences I’ve ever had.
It was comforting to learn, later, that every teacher deals with parents who say their children are having or have had wasted years. Even a teacher I nominated as MTA Teacher of the Year had had the experience. We try to do the best job we can, and we try to keep getting better. Some people tell us we’re doing miracles with their children, and we drink in the appreciation. Some drink it in more easily than others, but appreciation is never wasted.
But that one letter or conference that talks about the wasted or destructive year really hurts. For new, insecure teachers, it hurts even more. And the more a teacher cares about teaching, of course, the more it hurts.
There are plenty of reasons for those letters and conferences. There’s the one on the parent’s mind – that the child really is having a wasted or destructive year, or could, if the child is in that teacher’s class. But there are plenty of other reasons. Maybe you’ve heard from a friend, “Don’t put your child in that class.” You want to do the best you can as a parent, and any advice you get is treasured. Maybe your child is having a bad year, you don’t know why, and you unconsciously hope it’s because of the teacher. Maybe the teacher is just right for your child, but not for you.
Whenever I list reasons for people’s thoughts and behaviors, I know I’m probably missing some important ones. I’m not trying to answer all questions. I only hope to shed some light. As we live, we sometimes do and say things that hurt other people. I like to think that people aren’t trying to hurt each other; they’re trying to live well, and some of their efforts incidentally cause pain.
As a teacher who has been both requested and avoided, I want to make sure parents know about the pain of being avoided. Knowing about it may not change the final outcome; as a parent, you want to do what you think is best for your child. If that means some one’s feelings get hurt, so be it. But it’s important to know that we teachers care about the work we do, and like children, we get hurt when someone says we’re not doing it well.

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