Cross Country Checkup

Classroom placements can be tricky, but don't go to the principal's office first: experts

As students across the country head back to school, anxious parents may have questions: What if my kid's teacher doesn't make the grade? For some parents, a request to place their child in a different classroom is the obvious answer.

Some parents take to social media to criticize teachers, classroom placements

As students head to school, some anxious parents ask what happens if their kid's teacher doesn't make the grade. (Shutterstock)

As an elementary school principal, Faizel Rawji expected a handful of parents to complain about which classroom their kids landed in each year.

Sometimes it was two or three. Other times, it was as many as 10.

"[At] newer schools and newer communities, in my experience, there tends to be a greater kind of emphasis because the history is not there," he told Cross Country Checkup in an interview.

Often, parents will approach the situation based on their own negative experiences in education or based on hearsay from other parents, said Rawji, who is now the head of international education for the Sea to Sky School District in Vancouver.

"That's a bit of a tricky conundrum to be in," he said.

As students across the country head back to school, some anxious parents are asking themselves, "What happens if my child's teacher doesn't make the grade?"

For some parents, a request to place their child in a different classroom is the obvious answer.

Psychologist Jillian Roberts often speaks with parents who are struggling with teachers that they feel are too academically demanding, or perhaps lead a class that doesn't offer the same opportunities as another.

While Roberts understands that some parents have concerns going into the school year, she encourages parents to give kids a chance to advocate for themselves.

"If a parent is trying to step in on a situation like that, what they're actually doing is being a lawnmower parent," the B.C.-based child psychologist said. She describes lawnmower parenting as an attempt to make a child's live as "easy and stress free as possible."

"Children do need to have experience with demanding situations, with challenging situations, situations that aren't sugar-coated."

Dr. Jillian Roberts is a child psychologst, author and University of Victoria associate professor. (Kelsey Goodwin/Submitted)

Social media criticism 'inappropriate'

According to Roberts, parents frequently swap negative stories about teachers on social media that fuel other parents' concerns.

"Then other parents reading that [are] not wanting their child in that class because there's a Facebook group about how bad that teacher is," she said. 

"That's absolutely completely inappropriate."

Rawji said teachers are increasingly being criticized on social media.

"The danger there is that ... people vent on social media and they rarely actually say great things on social media," he said. "I think it's a bit of a dangerous place to get information from."

Faizel Rawji is the head of international education at the Sea to Sky School District in Vancouver and a co-author of The Insider's Guide to Education: K to 12. (Faizel Rawji/Twitter)

Rawji, who is also the co-author of Insider's Guide to K-12 Education in B.C., has spoken with many parents who are concerned about their child's classroom placement, particularly at the beginning of the school year.

As a father, he said he understands that a new school year and teacher can be disruptive to kids, especially in situations where a student may have friends in a separate classroom.

He encourages parents who visit him on Sept. 1 to come back two weeks later if there are still concerns.

"Almost 99 per cent of the time, I will not have somebody return on Sept. 15, so it's a bit of acclimatization," he said.

Child vs. adult problems

Rawji said introducing students to different teaching styles and approaches can be good for development.

"I may connect to a teacher that's a great hockey player because I'm a great hockey player, but I might not learn a ton from that teacher. Just because we're aligned, it doesn't mean I'm learning," he said.

When it comes to ongoing issues, like Roberts he encourages parents to allow their children to advocate for themselves. If that doesn't work, he suggests parents speak to teachers with an open mind.

"Have conversations that don't have your filters and bias at the front," he said.

So when should parents get involved?

Roberts suggests parents "thoughtfully" consider the difference between "child problems" and "adult problems."

In cases of bullying, discrimination, inappropriate relationships and abuse, Roberts said parents should connect with school staff.

But in simpler situations, children can work through playground disputes and homework woes on their own, she said. 

Getting involved with a student's teacher prematurely can have negative impacts not only for the student but the teacher-parent relationship as well.

"When a parent comes in and is micromanaging what the teacher is doing, they're ... projecting this perception that they don't believe the teacher is competent," Roberts said.

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