Q: My 5th grade son is in a classroom with a first-year teacher. She’s scattered and unorganized and doesn’t seem to have the children’s best interests in mind. I’ve tried to discuss my concerns with her, but she was rude and dismissive. Several of the other parents I’ve talked to are concerned too. What should we do?
A: First of all, a huge thank-you for taking your concerns directly to the teacher! You have no idea how many parents skip that very important step. It’s always best to try to remedy a situation at the ground level (i.e., in the classroom) before taking it to the higher-ups. And though I understand why you consulted other parents, please tread carefully when doing so. A well-meaning fact-finding mission can quickly escalate into a he said, she said mob of angry parents. Nobody wins when that happens.
Now to your question: First-year teachers are a mixed blessing. They’re fresh out of college, so they have enthusiasm and a whole host of exciting lessons they’re eager to try. But they’re also flying solo for the first time without the built-in support of a supervising teacher. Few teachers look back on their first year without cringing, so perhaps your child’s teacher is struggling under the weight of her new responsibilities.
That being said, it sounds like your concerns were met with indifference. It’s time to go to the next level since the teacher obviously needs more support in order to meet the students’ needs. Call and schedule a meeting with the school’s principal or vice principal. Share your concerns, but do so as objectively as possible. Support your claims with as much evidence as you can (graded papers, notes home, etc.). Encourage other parents to do the same so that school authorities understand the issue extends beyond just one parent.
Once the principal has heard from several parents, he or she will address the problems through more frequent classroom observations. Most new teachers are assigned a mentor, so the principal will work with the mentor to provide additional support to hopefully address the problems. If the concerns are particularly grievous, the teacher may be placed on an improvement plan. Failure to show improvement could result in termination. Remember though: the teacher is on contract, so termination is always the last resort after all other improvement methods have failed.
Meanwhile, support your son’s education as much as you can by helping him stay organized and current on assignments. Just because the teacher is unorganized doesn’t mean your son has to be!