Q: My son wants to be assigned a particular fifth-grade teacher this fall because she coaches the school's robotics club. There's a "no requests" policy, but we can submit a profile of our child for consideration. Should I just call the principal and ask for that teacher or complete the profile and take our chances?
A: Don't call. The school's policy is clear: no requests. You won't be doing your son a favor.
The school encourages you to provide a profile, so use that process to make your case. Get specific: Describe your son's learning style, personality traits and social skills. Describe his successes and challenges from previous years. Is he organized or still learning to plan work? Does he make friends easily or is he shy? Describe why he's motivated by his robotics club experience.
Before you send in the profile, take a moment to reflect. It's impressive that your son is interested enough in his education to ask for a particular teacher. But why is he running this show? Acknowledge his wish, but don't cater to it. Otherwise you may set him up for disappointment, says retired Maryland principal Shirley Harden.
Just because the teacher runs the robotics club doesn't mean that she's the fifth-grade teacher best matched to your son. Tell him that you will let the school know what teaching styles work best for him and that you have confidence that the principal will make a good match, says Harden.
"Presumably, if your son continues in robotics, he'll get to work with her anyway," she says. "Explain that as learners, we benefit from different teachers' styles."
Harden reminds parents that a teacher is but one factor in a child's success in school.
"What you do at home every day is as important as what happens in the classroom," she explains.
Her get-ready-for-school advice?
-- Plan now for success: Look up the fifth-grade curriculum and build excitement by showing him what he'll be learning. A couple of weeks before school begins, transition from the summer schedule to the school schedule.
-- Build more downtime into each day. Don't schedule school days so tightly that he doesn't have at least a good half-hour to nurture independence and imagination (without digital devices).
-- Schedule evening meals together: "Enjoy each other's company and chat about the school day," says Harden. "Ask questions that get him to think: 'What surprised you today?' 'Who did you meet that was interesting?' 'What do you think your teacher will ask tomorrow?' Don't underestimate the value of these daily conversations."
-- Join in at school: Volunteer in ways that fit your interests and schedule. Consider joining the PTO or getting a membership to the School Improvement Team.
"When it comes to creating class lists, trust me: Principals, counselors and teachers put tremendous thought into them," says Harden. "Parents should have some faith in the process. Educators don't want mismatches any more than parents do."
So send your son off to school with confidence in his assigned teacher. If several weeks of school have passed and you don't think it's working, then talk with the principal.
(Do you have a question about your child's education? Email it to Leanna@aplusadvice.com. Leanna Landsmann is an education writer who began her career as a classroom teacher. She has served on education commissions, visited classrooms in 49 states to observe best practices, and founded Principal for a Day in New York City.)