classroom assignments

library_0080Class assignments should go like this: a child is matched to a teacher based on the likelihood that they’ll be a great fit. If there have been bullying incidences, these should be addressed. Any special needs, an IEP, done. A fair mix of ethnicity and ability. Check, check. Done and done.

In some schools, you’ve got the bloodline to consider. If an older sibling had a particular teacher, your younger child may be grandfathered in with that same teacher, unless a parent De-requests a teacher their older child had, in writing, by submitting say, “I have experienced this teacher and don’t think s/he will be a good match for my child.” Mind you, just because a student’s older sibling had a spectacular year with a favored teacher, it doesn’t guarantee that the student will be placed with that teacher. Because, logic would dictate, if enough parents play the “Say My Name” Card (see below), there won’t be room for the grandfathered siblings. Also, the older sibling, for example, might have been a handful-and-a-half, and needed to be placed with an orderly teacher who could keep tabs on her, whereas the younger sibling is an agreeable, easy child, but overly self-regimented and afraid to color outside the lines, someone who would benefit more from a teacher who believes that a little bit of chaos breeds extraordinary creativity. Without an older sibling in the mix, though, you’re left without any say in the matter whatsoever. Or are you?

Schools advise that you not request teachers by name to your existing teacher, nay to any teacher, nor to anyone. No names. Instead, they recommend that you submit any comments about which your child’s existing teachers may not be aware, in writing, by a specific date, to the principal. I happen to have two friends who are principals, and I was told that parents ignore this, full stop. They say whatever they feel like saying. They request teachers by name, cherry pick which friends they’d like to see in their child’s class, you name it. They mention it to the teacher at the end of the school year and to the principal. But, alas, there are last minute changes sometimes, and a teacher thought to have been teaching solo becomes the co-taught teacher. And then, what good was that name request when your other “request” was that your child NOT be placed in the co-taught environment? Still, I’ve heard many argue, you might as well, just say the names anyway. The worst that can happen is they tell you not to. At least you were heard.

As much of a name dropper as I am–oh, and I am–I’ve never requested a teacher by name (I’ve wanted to, but I wouldn’t because they ask you not to, and we’ve respected that).  Instead, as specifically and succinctly as we could manage, we described what our children needed based on their personalities. Their existing teachers agreed wholeheartedly. Both lefties, our children are day dreamers, easily absorbed in the world of stories. Kind Sir, a child without a jealous or mean bone in his body, favors imaginative play above all else (creating stories in a pretend world using objects from around the house, playing rocket ship on a playground). He’s bright and loving, genuinely happy,  very comfortable in his own skin.

Little Miss is unquestionably creative, sees the negative space in objects, is always described as an out-of-the-box thinker, and she’s a pisser—In Preschool, she chose to dress up like Haman instead of Queen Esther for Purim because “All the girls are going to be queens, and how boring is that?” But man, oh, Manischewitz, is my girl sneaky. Not mean vindictive sneaky, but, oh, I spilled some stuff. Hmm. Instead of cleaning it. I’ll just kick it under the counter and hope no one notices. La di dah.

If a tree fell in the woods, and no one heard it, it’s because Abigail is the one who cut it down. She needs a teacher to not only tell her not to cut that shite down, but to stop her from kicking it down the hill and burying it, or at the very least, to show her why it’s wrong, then to get her to research her options, and guide her toward recycling. Of course, so much of this happens at home! AT HOME. AT HOME. AT HOME. And man, do we work on correcting, on guiding, on boundaries, on consequences. But pairing that girl with a lenient teacher is a disaster of a pairing. Little Miss will test boundaries and needs someone FIRM who will “STAND AND DELIVER” her ass. Someone who will EXPECT MORE from her. Who will damn well expect her to read the entire passage, yes now. No, there is no bargaining. This girl will try to negotiate and bargain her way through anything she finds challenging. She needs someone who won’t bargain.

There’s no easy way out of this. She pulls all the excuses out of the book when she knows she can. At home, we don’t tolerate it, but we have seen her get away with unfinished, sloppy work when she’s not pushed at school. This year, she needs a teacher who won’t give in. Someone who will expect greatness and make her do it again. When no one keeps an eye on her, at least at first, she just won’t do it. Instead, she pretends to do the work, does a half-assed job, just enough to get by, but not her best, not what she’s truly capable of, just to see if she’ll be called out on it. If the teacher is tired, Abby gets away with it. If the teacher asks her to correct it, Abigail pulls out the theatrics. Do it again? “But I’m so tired, I couldn’t possibly. Truly. I’m in the depths of despair.” Yes, these are her exact words. She needs someone who will inspire her to take pride in her work. Ideally, it’s someone magically creative who can connect with her, a kindred spirit who impresses Abigail, forcing Abigail to seek the teacher’s praise (I said ideal here, as in “Practical Magic, flips pancakes in the air, two different colored eyes,” not that I would ever submit this to a school as some unrealistic parent wishlist)! Sadly, when Abigail believes she has the upper hand, she stops working for it and gets lazy.

What happens when you adore the teacher but can’t stand the kids your child is paired with? Great, you’ve got the very best of the best, the “it” teacher, the “have to have” teacher everyone wants, but you’re also paired up with drama-inducing kids, the kids who make your child not want to go to school. The kids who make your child upset every day? The kids where there’s always a story. One could argue that if the teacher’s that good, s/he won’t stand for it, and s/he’ll cut it all out, quick. But you can only control so much AND teach AND inspire. Would you rather have the lenient, pushover teacher who likely won’t inspire your child academically (but who won’t let him fall behind) with the sweet, kind, wonderful classroom full of peers–Or the brilliant teacher with the handful of shit-stirring kids?

It seems like a damn near impossible job, and I truly feel for principals everywhere, especially this time of year. If I were a principal about to celebrate Labor Day Weekend (just after class assignments are sent out but before classes officially begin) I’d likely head with close friends and family to a remote cabin complete with wifi access and a wall-mounted flat-screen. As the scathing emails came in, the drinking game would begin. The word “unacceptable” would be an “All In” drink word, forcing everyone in the room to do a shot.

And now it’s time to step away from the device. Because this is second grade. You psycho. You nut farm. When you look back upon your own second grade, actually your entire elementary school existence, what mattered most?
That you didn’t fall too far behind.
That a learning disability, if one existed, was discovered (I had one, and SHOCKING, it wasn’t discovered, and I survived).
That you weren’t tormented by any bullies or frenemies who ruined your confidence.That you developed and continued a love of learning.
To know how to keep organized, and to learn how to learn, how to go about attacking problems, and methods to use when one strategy doesn’t work.
That girls shouldn’t feel intimidated to speak up in their classes, that they should be called on just as much as the boys, especially in math.

It wasn’t until middle school when I really needed to learn how to study. So, whatever happens, whomever they’re assigned to as their teachers, I will try to remind myself of this. I will try very hard. Just as I was taught to do in school… to try my very best.



  1. It seems like there are some teacher-student-classmate pairings that would be ideal. I can also see a flip side to this coin, where there are some teacher-student-classmate pairings that would be horrendous (bullying, etc.).

    Like so many other things in life, it seems like most of the teacher-student-classmate pairings would fall somewhere between these two extremes. It also seems like parents would get a lot further with school administrators if they reserved their requests for pairings that are horrendous instead of just less-then-ideal.

  2. My child has been in kindergarten for 3 weeks in a public school. Long before that awe-inspiring first day milestone I’ve been a “pick your battles” type of person. Including with schools, teachers and administrators. I think, personally, that’s the best way to be the best advocate for your child. When it comes to teacher-student pairings I think you’re right that there are so many variables- and unknowns -that trying to trump the system isn’t worth the downsides. And as I am being reminded, public schools do have to shift students around when the enrollment is not as expected so all that angst/noise could be for nothing.

  3. I have taught in a public elementary school for 15+years and here is some additional insider info for all the VERY busy moms out there…

    1. When we read those placement letters about all your requests (this friend, that friend, but not this friend with that friend, and oh, please place with this boy, as long as this other girl is with them too, a sensitive teacher, structured teacher, a strong math teacher, a gifted writing teacher, a calm teacher that gives enough 1 to 1 time, a ‘magically creative’ (classic) teacher, ‘a kindred spirit that impresses’ (wow) teacher, someone that will not allow my child to get ‘lazy’ (yes, we LOVE to make our students lazy!), we know that the reason you are making these absurd requests, is because you know you are not providing it at home or worse you are too lazy to provide it at home. Think about that for a minute.

    2. Once you start satisfying/providing your 300 requests at home, then school will be everything you and your child want it to be.

    3. How about making the simple request that your child feels successful, confident, happy, and safe in school? Look at your child’s teacher as your teammate, not as the excuse for your child/life not meeting expectations.

    Happy First Day of School!


  4. I am both a teacher and a parent. As a parent, I totally sympathize with your desire to give your children the best school experience possible. As a teacher, I know that is just completely unrealistic. Every September after the class lists are released the parent phone calls begin, demanding their child be placed with Teacher A or separated from Student B. If we even attempted to honor these requests it would begin an endless game of musical chairs that inevitably will leave some people unhappy. It also creates unrealistic expectations for children when you lead them to believe that they can create a conflict-free bubble of a classroom. They need to learn to deal with teachers that have different styles than their own. This will prepare them for high school, college and the work force. They have to learn to coexist with classmates that are difficult to get along with. This is another important preparation for the ‘real world’. I fear parents try so hard to protect their kids from encountering conflict that they fail to prepare them how to deal with it.

  5. I’m with you on the hopes, the dreams, the wishlist. But your kids go to public school, correct? I’m stuck on there being any ability to request teachers or kids whatsoever. WIth or without some kind of secret circle, underground kind of way. Is this an overprivilaged Long Island thing where parents start throwing around words like sue, politics, who they know? I know it happens in camp, but you pay, a lot, for that.

    Because you know- I live in NJ and I know A LOT of teachers. And they will be the first to say that you can request till the cows come home and no one gives a hoot. They are not moving, changing, or entertaining your requests for teachers or classmates. In any district- not just mine. Not that I asked- E is starting K and there is one teacher in his school for it. The other grades have 2-3 teachers a piece but no team teaching that I know of thusfar. I live in a upper middle class town where there is a lot of complainy-complaining and desire for preferential treatment but it doesn’t appear to happen in this type of scenario.

    Back to your original question, I think the teacher and the mix of kids is equally important- but you just have to hope for the best. Ethan had the wrong teacher and the wrong mix last year so I’m hoping for better this time around. Good luck with your mix!

  6. Teachers, teachers, you should save your breath. These micromanaging moms of today are NOT going to accept advice from you a mere TEACHER. Our school was so inundated with requests that a rule was established –no requests. Period. No way. My kids survived & dealt with it. Good & bad. 7 yr olds, shy, aggressive, etc. will manage. I believe many of the issues are caused because the kids hear the parents voice. I have 3 great kids, educated(2 lawyers/one chef) nice people. They dealt with learning disabities, bullies and mean girls, strict teachers, awful teachers, and sweet, loving teachers. I also never did projects. Ever. I remember standing at an open house surrounded by art school quality looking at our child’s pathetic amateur creation.His teacher came up to me & said, “He got an A, good for you!” Rolled her eyes at the room and walked away.

  7. Now that the kids are back in school, what do you do all day? Seriously, this is not meant to be snarky, but I’m overwhelmingly curious. Your last book (double meaning?? Who knows) was published 6 years ago. I would almost get it if you wanted to stay home and raise your kids until they were school age, but I’m pretty sure you had a nanny up until you moved back to NY and, well, they’ve been in school now for a while. I haven’t seen anything about you teaching a writing class or photography class. Not much in the way of cooking posts or experiments in anything. If you stay home and scrapbook/watch Ellen, that’s cool too. Do you stay home and obsess about class assignments and extra curricular activities? Maybe you’re writing scripts. Who knows. Those are much less tangible (though not lesser) accomplishments since unless a show makes it to air, there’s not a showy payoff. I’m just curious.

  8. I’ve never made a teacher request. Ever. All my friend moms do. I take the luck of the draw. My kids have survived and thrived in school. Several times enrollment figures have required a new teacher to be brought in over the summer, after the requests have been submitted in the spring. We ended up with the new teacher, probably because we were the easiest to move. Each time these new (and previously unknown)teachers have been fabulous and we were the envy of many. I love karma.

  9. Entirely unrelated to this post, but I was just ogling Sephora’s website, and I realized we haven’t had a makeup post from you in quite some time. Any thoughts on fall colors or new products?

    1. Author

      I have been knee-deep in Girl Scouting, so I haven’t stepped even a pinky toe into a Sephora in months! It’s my birthday month, so I’m due a visit soon. Which likely means a visit to the dermatologist, the hair salon, and Sephora!

      1. How am I supposed to plan my purchases if you are too busy living your life to tell me what to buy? Maybe the Girl Scouts need a makeup lesson!

        1. Author

          I haven’t taken the “Mags & Munchies” training yet… that comes on Monday. I *believe* there is a link to subscribe to magazines (new or ones to which you already receive), and there should be a link to “nuts.” Perhaps the training will have samples. I’ve sampled my way through a tin of chocolate covered pretzels, so far, though that’s hardly what I’d call “sampling.” Ah, the things I’ll do for research.

        2. Author

          Oh, it took me a minute to understand your comment. Not that I need a makeup training class for some mags & munchies training I might have missed, because you don’t know what to buy from the troop… but that the Girl Scouts need a Cosmetics lesson from me… so that I may suggest new Fall Makeup products to you! A little slooooow on my part, sorry! Err, lame. Oops.

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