The XX Factor

Should You Choose Your Child’s Class?

DoubleX is starting a new partnership with the Washington Post magazine. Each week our contributors will argue over a certain question, and we invite you to join in. This week: Should parents make special requests about which class their child is in?

Hanna Rosin : I remember sitting outside my daughter’s school in a car one day with a friend, agonizing. Should we ask for another teacher or not? Ultimately we resisted temptation and drove away, which is what I always do. It’s so hard not to get sucked into the playground gossip- That teacher’s a yeller! She made a kid eat by himself on the floor one day! She hates active boys! He ignores shy girls! The kids in her class all get into Harvard!

But it’s a mistake to succumb, for the same reason it’s a mistake for a single girl to make a list of everything she wants in a boyfriend and then go shopping for that guy. Relationship alchemy is complicated. It involves all sorts of connections and tensions you can not predict. Teachers have particular relationships with particular children, not generic relationships with types of children. Maybe the informant mom was especially sensitive. Maybe the teacher was stern, not irritable. And maybe (gasp! we can’t admit this!) the teacher just did not hit it off with that particular kid.

But that doesn’t necessarily say anything about what that teacher’s relationship with your kid will be. My oldest child is in third grade now. Every year I have thought about lobbying for a particular teacher, or to have a particular friend in her class. And every year I have resisted. I never once regretted that. She’s had teachers who were slightly petty, and yellers, and also teachers who favored her.  What happened? Nothing. She learned that-gasp!-adults are flawed, too.

Ann Hulbert : My mother likes to tell this cautionary story about parental meddling. I came home in tears at the end of second grade, bearing my class assignment for the next year: I’d gotten the old ogre who had driven my older brother to a new school. This tested even my mother’s staunchly non-interfering instincts. But I-or so the flattering tale goes-told her someone had to endure this meanie, so it wasn’t fair to try to switch. When I arrived in the fall, the ogre had retired and I ended up with Miss Jones, a dynamo I totally adored.

KJ Dell’Antonia : Absolutely not-except sometimes. We adopted a 3-year-old this summer, and she’ll start preschool with her brother, also 3, at their 5-year-old sister’s school, which has two classrooms. Who should go where? Not only did I request that our new daughter be put in her older sister’s room while her brother got a fresh start, I also asked the school to put my son’s best friend in his class. I wanted our newest child to have her sister’s support, without her brother feeling that everyone he loved was in the other room. Generally, kids should learn to cope with the classroom they’re dealt, but when something big is happening at home, there are good reasons to make school at least feel easier.