Stressed About Your Child’s Teacher? Five Lessons from Classroom Placements

Every August, there is great anticipation, a rite of passage, for parents and children, finding out what classroom and teacher they have for the upcoming academic year. It is a rite of passage I remember well as a child. Once my sisters and I heard the lists were up, typed and taped “old school style” to the front of my elementary school, we’d drop everything and drive to school. My mom was a good sport, knowing the anticipation of the class lists, she’d take us to our school, stopping mid-activity to find out our class placement. It didn’t matter if we were wearing bathing suits or popsicle spattered tank-tops and grass-stained shorts, once the lists were up, we’d head to school. My sisters and I would run up to the doors, scanning the lists, searching twice, once for our names and teacher then rescanning to see who and if our closest friends were in our class. Inevitably, there was excitement and relief, and disappointment and worry, depending on what teacher you had and what class your friends were in.

Fast forward today, and I am back in the August rite of passage, except the players have changed, and it’s my children who are anxiously awaiting teacher placement letters. Except instead of driving my daughters to the school, my younger daughters are stalking the mail carrier, daily, for the letters to arrive. So much so, that my third grader, proclaimed her letter arrived, only to be disappointed when it turned out to be a statement of updated medical benefits. Seeing her name, my daughter tore into the letter, only to be confused reading “this is not a bill” covering the document instead of her teacher’s name.

False alarm.

I get it; boy do I understand! Waiting for teacher letters is exciting, nerve-wracking and challenging. In the modern world, when the teacher letters arrive, it’s a firestorm of social media updates and a texting frenzy! Everyone wants to know, who is in what classroom and with which teacher.

Within minutes of learning teacher placements for my middle schoolers, Instagram fills with screenshots of schedules and comments, and they are giving me updates much akin to watching a race or sporting event, shouting out who is what class and with whom. And my younger daughters do not have a phone, so for them, my phone starts alerting me to a flurry of texts and social media posts of friends and teacher placements. And holding my breath, as the information rolls in, the internal dialogue I share with many parents, “Oh, please let them have at least one friend in the classroom!”

As my third grader finds out her placement, she states, “Oh, I wanted the fun teacher, Mrs. Smith.”

To which I respond, “Well, Mrs. Doe is fun and nice, your sister had her in third grade, and it was a great year.”

And she says, “Yeah, but I heard she gives a lot of homework, and Mrs. Smith lets you practice cursive using shaving cream and dress up for Halloween; she’s the teacher everyone wants.”

Which leads me to this point, every August, the rite of passage of teacher placement can elicit a sigh of relief or a wave of disappointment. Here are five life lessons about teacher placements:

1. Life is About Adaptation. Teacher placement is a life lesson in adaptation. Getting a teacher your child may not have wanted, is great practice to adapting and coping with the natural part of living in a social community; there are many different personalities and people you child will encounter and deal with in life. Having the experience of being in a classroom with a different teacher is great practice on learning skills to deal with a variety of people.

2. You Get What You Get, and You Don’t Get Upset. Ok, I know this can seem over simplified, but truly, it’s a life skill to make the best of any situation. Of course, there is disappointment and frustration when we don’t get what we want. But guess what? If you haven’t already learned, life can throw us many disappointments. The key to thriving is making the best of the situation we are in, which also holds true for our children.

3. Change Your FOMO (Fear of Missing Out) Thoughts. At the core of not getting the teacher you may have hoped for, is a fear of missing out. What parent doesn’t want their child to have the best teacher and a positive academic year? If you perceive your child isn’t placed with the “right” teacher, then you are starting out the year with a FOMO attitude that you will pass to your child and every learning experience with that teacher. Instead of comparing or focusing on FOMO, concentrate on the positive, instead of the loss. And if you want more “fun” activities in learning, then feel inspired to create those at home with your child. Change your thoughts on this one, and look for the positive in your child’s teacher placement.

4. Develop Good Coping Skills. The new year can bring normal anxiety for many children. Children have real concerns about being placed in a classroom without a friend, unsure of how to navigate the bus or lunchtime and what do during recess, and how to make new friends. Spend time with your child actively problem-solving how to manage your child’s concerns and worries. Having a plan and developing coping skills to manage anxiety and uncertainty is a valuable life lesson.

5. Be a Role Model. Children learn so many lessons in the home, especially how to cope with stress and disappointment. Keep an open dialogue with your child about his/her thoughts and feelings about teacher placement. Find ways to be encouraging and focus on problem-solving anxieties instead of increasing fears by expressing anger, frustration, and negativity. Of course, if you have those reactions, talk to a supportive adult to vent, but hold off expressing these thoughts to your child. Your child will take many cues on how to cope through your example.

And it’s important to remember, as a parent, you have every right to advocate for your child and help him/her succeed in the classroom. But be careful assuming your child will have a less than stellar year because of class placement. You never know, the teacher who is a dream come true for one student may not be for another. As the new academic year starts, it’s good to remember that some of the best lessons in life, happen outside the classroom and in the home.

© Copyright Dr. Claire Nicogossian 2016

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