A good classroom fit is a great benefit for kids with learning and thinking differences. So if your child and his teacher don’t seem to be a good match, you may wonder if it’s possible to change teachers mid-year.
There are many things you can do to improve the situation before considering a switch. You can start by talking with the teacher about your concerns. You can also ask to observe in the classroom to see what’s going on, and what is expected of your child. And you can create an action plan for resolving the issues.
But what if those steps aren’t effective, and you just don’t want your child to remain in that classroom? Here, five experts weigh in on the prospect of changing teachers mid-year.
Is it even possible to switch teachers in the middle of the year?
Bob Cunningham, in-house advisor for Understood: It is possible, but it’s very uncommon. Even if things aren’t going well for a child (or for a whole class), schools are often reluctant to make changes.
Sometimes, they just don’t want to make a change for one parent because that might encourage other parents to ask for changes. Other times, schools want to reinforce the message to teachers that they are responsible for any and every student. No matter why a school is reluctant to make a change, though, there’s nothing to prevent you from making a request to the administration to switch teachers.
Kristen Hodnett, professor in the department of special education at Hunter College: It isn’t a common practice. But if you can make a good case for why it’s necessary, and you’re persistent, you can switch your child’s teacher.
If you’re thinking about this, however, it’s important to know why schools try to avoid this situation. Principals often frown on making changes since it can call negative attention to one of their teachers. And some schools believe it prevents families and students from learning about important problem-solving that can improve the relationship if more time is given.
Ginny Osewalt, former public school special education teacher: Requesting a switch because your child and his teacher aren’t a good match is an extreme step. In fact, switching teachers for any reason during the school year is extreme—and uncommon. Not every one of your child’s teachers will be a good match.
Claudia Rinaldi, chair of the education department and associate professor in education at Lasell College: It’s typically very hard to have your child change teachers in the middle of the year. Principals typically don’t support it.
Kristy Baxter, former head of the Churchill School in New York City: Most schools don’t make a switch unless it’s seen as the last resort. Even then, the school can be resistant to the idea. And a move could be disruptive to your child. He already has friends and knows the class routines, and any change is hard. You have to weigh the pros and cons of a possible change.
But first, it’s important to try to assess what’s happening in the classroom. Is your child afraid of his teacher or does he feel he is not safe in his classroom? Is there a social situation or bullying problem going on that the teacher isn’t taking care of? Does your child feel the teacher doesn’t like him or is ignoring him?
Under what circumstances is it a good idea, and when is it a bad idea?
Bob Cunningham: It can be a good idea to ask for a change when a teacher isn’t following aspects of your child’s IEP or 504 plan. It’s also a good idea to switch if a teacher is clearly unkind to your child or discriminates against him. Or if a teacher is inappropriate when dealing with you.
Asking for a switch because your child is unhappy, his friends are in a different class, or you don’t agree with the teacher’s decisions probably won’t get you anywhere. These are all things that a school should support you and your child in working through. But they will likely not be seen as good reasons for making a change in teachers.
Claudia Rinaldi: It’s a good idea to request a change if you think your child is being discriminated against based on race, language, culture, or on any other basis.
Kristen Hodnett: Switching classes is something to do only when you feel you have no other options. It should be tied to evidence that your child’s self-esteem, health or learning are being negatively impacted.
What’s the best way to go about switching?
Ginny Osewalt: Make a formal request in writing to the principal. Then schedule a face-to-face meeting. Bring along any supporting documentation. That might include copies of relevant work your child has done, and email correspondence you’ve had with the teacher. (Keep a copy of everything you submit for your own records.)
Bob Cunningham: Ask for a meeting with the principal or another school official. Be as specific as possible, and provide detailed examples of the teacher’s actions that have concerned you. It may take a few discussions before the principal is ready to consider making a move. So also be prepared to agree to an action plan to try to work out your concerns.
If your child has an IEP or a 504 plan, you can also address concerns with the team or committee. Again, they may be very reluctant to switch a child’s teacher. But they have the authority to do so when needed. Just like with the principal, be prepared to give specific examples and to present any documents that help to make your case for switching.
Kristy Baxter: Ask for an appointment to see the principal. Come prepared, be specific, bring documentation of your efforts to date and keep the focus on your child’s needs. Try to avoid complaining about the teacher’s personal qualities.
Instead, stress that the teacher’s methods or style of teaching don’t mesh with your child’s learning style and strengths. Explain how the current situation is affecting your child’s ability to learn, his self-esteem and his willingness to go to school. Be firm and clear that you need to see some positive changes in the near future.
Kristen Hodnett: Contact the principal and arrange for a meeting. Prepare an agenda for the meeting that will outline your concerns. Discuss your past courses of action and explain your desire for a change.
A conversation with a principal may not lead to a switch right away. But it will allow for an intervention to be put into practice. If that isn’t effective, it’s important that you make your request for a switch formally.
Schedule a meeting or a phone conference with the principal. Write a letter to provide evidence of your request to switch teachers. In your letter and during your follow-up discussion with the principal, remind them of your problem-solving attempts. Stress the urgency to address your child’s learning needs, and why a switch would be a best course of action.
More Things You Can Do
A good classroom fit is helpful for kids with learning and thinking differences. But switching classrooms isn’t always the best move, or even one that you’ll be able to achieve.