How to Get the Good Teacher

Getting a good teacher is critical to your child’s success. Did you know that THE BIGGEST factor in student learning is teacher quality??? It’s not what is taught (curriculum), specific ways it’s taught (instruction), or where it’s taught (classroom environment) — it’s the magical teacher who puts it all together. My point? You need to ADVOCATE LIKE HELL for your kiddo, Momma! Guess who is here to walk you through exactly how to do that? Yes, I got you. Read on!

The best way to make yourself heard is by writing a fantastically clear email or letter that screams “I DEMAND YOUR TOP TEACHER FOR MY PRECIOUS BABE” without actually saying that. Because actually saying that? Not going to work. No, this process is all about DRIPPIN’ IN FINESSE (think the Bruno Mars song, not the shampoo), and I know you have some finesse in you, sister.

Before we start, it’s important to let you know that class lists are created by teachers and administrators every spring. You thought only new little bunnies and birdies were born in Spring? Nope, new little classes, too. How cute!

The exact process may differ slightly at each school, but the basics are always the same. First, all the grade-level teachers come together and put students into generic groups (the number is based on the number of classes anticipated for the next year) so that there is an even distribution based on gender and levels of academic achievement. This first step is usually completed by the classroom teachers and does not involve actually assigning a teacher to a group of students – just making even groups.

Next, the list of grouped kiddos go to the school administrators. Principals look at additional factors, LIKE LETTERS FROM PARENTS, to make the next set of tweaks. They shift around a handful of students and then assign each group to a teacher for the next year (this is kept totally secret until the end of summer, BTW). Final changes take place over the summer as new students come in and teachers change, but the original spring groups stay pretty much intact.

Let’s pause so I can emphasize this: It’s so important to be proactive, moms. Once classes are announced, it’s not very easy (read: near impossible) to move a student. Moving one student means throwing off the balance; it also means opening a can of worms for other parents to request changes. Most principals will give you a hard NO if you ask to change once the announcement has been made. It just can’t work like that. Whew, it’s a good thing you’ve got someone to give you some insight ahead of time, right?

So, let’s get back to writing that letter.

Your goal is to talk about the QUALITIES and CHARACTERISTICS you want in a teacher. Link your reasoning back to YOUR CHILD and why he or she needs that kind of teacher (not a specific person!! I’ll discuss that more, so hold tight!). Essentially, you need to say “My child is X kind of learner, so he/she needs a teacher who is Y kind of instructor.”

Before I divulge my secrets, we need to agree on the following:

  1. Teachers have different teaching styles. Students have different learning styles. Sometimes, teaching and learning styles don’t match. A teacher with a different teaching style than your child’s learning style is not necessarily a “bad” teacher.
  2. A “GOOD” teacher will be defined as a teacher with a teaching style that matches your child’s learning style. Therefore, a GOOD teacher for your child might not be a good teacher for your child’s best friend.
  3. Yes, there are some teachers who are just universally “bad” (sorry, not sorry). We will discuss how to avoid these teachers.

Do we agree? Perfect. Then let’s get into the good stuff, shall we?

Remember, we have agreed that finding a GOOD teacher means finding a GOOD match for your child. In order to do this, you need to first figure out who your child is as a student.

Get a sheet of paper and make four squares. Or if you’re techie, get a … whatever you techie people get. Now, label the squares and get to work:

1. Academic Needs – Knowing your child academically means pulling on information you have gotten from previous teachers. Is she a quick learner who is eager for an additional challenge, or is he cautious and needs a little support to pull out ideas? For one of my kiddos, I specifically mentioned needing a teacher who is great at coming up with extra challenges to keep my quick-learning son from getting bored. Another has an IEP and needed a class with extra support – this is a kiddo who needs help to make sure he’s following along and understanding the directions. Two totally different kids, two totally different needs. Who is your child?

2. Social-Emotional Needs – When it comes to your child’s social emotional needs, mom and dad know best. Is you child shy and needs someone with a gentle touch? Does he need a teacher who will be his biggest cheerleader, energetically encouraging him to believe in himself? Someone who is structured and relies on routines to keep things going smoothly? For one of my sons, I emphasized that “he is a relationship kid” and needs a teacher who is going to make him feel like he is the greatest thing since sliced bread. Another needed someone with the patience of a saint who doesn’t get frazzled when an occasional tantrum takes place. My youngest needed structure and someone to teach him that school is not daycare and there are expectations that need to be followed. Who does your kid need?

3.Teacher Strengths – If you had a few words or phrases to describe the ideal teacher for your child, what would they be? Is it important to you that the person is trying new things, a teacher-leader, and research-based? Or is it more important that she’s kind and encouraging? Clearly you can have a teacher with many awesome characteristics, but what is MOST important?
For my kiddos, I always state I need a teacher who is open to regular communication with parents. I send emails, volunteer, and request meetings like they’re going out of style. The teacher better be open to all that or the year is going to be tough for both of us.

4. Other Needs – What else is in that head of yours, Momma? Other kids that he really doesn’t mesh with? Speak up! Someone who has a great attendance record? Say it! And yes, I did make that request for my high-anxiety kiddo. He just doesn’t do well with substitutes.

A word about being NOT-SO-SUBTLE. Sometime there is a specific teacher you want or don’t want. I’ve been there. You can still finesse you way into this one without demanding a certain person. For example, “Ryan is a perfectionist and shuts down when he thinks he can’t be the BEST at something. I’ve observed Mrs. Shane has always been encouraging and feel this trait would help Ryan have a successful school year.”

While this is totally acceptable, I must throw out a word of caution. I’ve read many letters from parents who suggest a specific teacher would be best for their child based on other parents’ experiences. Remember that we agreed that not all teachers are great for all students? So true, Momma.

Also, sometimes what YOU see in a teacher during parent pick-up or hear about a teacher from other parents is NOT what I see in a teacher during classroom observations. Here’s an example. Parents kept requesting NOT to have their kids in this one teacher’s class… let’s call her Ms. M. They thought she was cold and unwelcoming. The truth? Ms. M was an awesome teacher! Yes, she clammed up around adults, but in front of kids she was a rockstar. She was engaging, dedicated, and creative. It’s just that adults were not her comfort zone, kids were! And that’s what matters, amiright?

OKAY! Now that you’ve got your ideas, it’s time to put it all together. Don’t worry about being fancy. Personally, I write my letters in bullet points, just like above. But you do you. Remember to leave your phone number in case the principal needs clarification. Send it off late spring, and don’t be afraid to be a squeaky wheel, and re-send it in the summer if you don’t get confirmation that it was received.

Oh, and those BAD teachers I mentioned? You write this note and show you’re an advocate for your child, and you won’t be getting THAT teacher. Your letter is a clear sign that education is important to you, and your principal gets it and appreciates it. That precious babe is taken care of.

High five.. you did it! Now, let’s go celebrate with a glass of Pinot.


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