Care and Feeding is Slate’s parenting advice column. In addition to our traditional advice, every Thursday we feature an assortment of teachers from across the country answering your education questions. Have a question for our teachers? Email email@example.com or post it in the Slate Parenting Facebook group.
My fourth grade daughter just received her class assignment for the year, and for the second year in a row is alone in one class while the other three girls in her squad have the same teacher. My daughter is heartbroken. While she did make a classroom pal, she spent most of last year mooning over all the perceived fun her friends were having without her. Luckily, we did not have a mean girl situation, with the three excluding my daughter, but she is sad and anxious about them all being together without her again.
Is it ever OK to request a teacher change for such a trivial reason? For what it’s worth, both teachers are great and equally “desirable” from a student perspective.
—Tween Mom Drama
Dear Tween Mom Drama,
It’s unlikely that a change will be made now that the school year has begun, but it can’t hurt to ask. My suggestion is to go into the meeting with the goal of ensuring this doesn’t happen again next year. By explaining your rationale and respectfully requesting the change this year, you’ll almost guarantee that it won’t ever happen again. Play the long game.
And who knows? Maybe you’ll find a deeply empathetic administrator who suffered the same fate as a child and is willing to lift mountains to make the change. Unlikely, but it’s certainly worth a shot.
In the meantime, I’d offer lots of support in helping your daughter make connections with her new classmates, whether it’s through arranging play dates or offering gentle encouragement. When you meet with her teacher, I’d also ask her how she might help your daughter forge some new friendships with like-minded classmates. Teachers have plenty of opportunities to help kids make friends—through seat assignments, group work, classroom jobs, and more, and she could be a wonderful ally on the social front. Good luck!
—Mr. Dicks (fifth grade teacher, Connecticut)
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I’m currently having issues with the accessible parking at my son’s school, which I need to use to drop my son off, and many other parents need as well. There has been a parent without a disability placard parking in one of the two spots for over 30 minutes. The security officer is unsure what to do, and the principal (who is new to this school) was curt when I brought it up. So far their solution has been to block the spots with cones and for me to get out and move the cone when dropping off my son. That doesn’t seem like a great solution. I don’t know what to do, or how to bring this up. I’d like to avoid calling the cops on a parent, but is that my only recourse?
—Isn’t There Another Way?
Don’t call the cops—surely the first step is to speak with the parent who keeps parking there.
Talk to the principal again and let them know this cone solution isn’t working for you. If the security officer is outside during morning drop-off, they can speak with the parent in question. If the family actually does need accessible parking, the school can advise them on how to get the appropriate parking placard. If they do not, the officer can tell them where to park instead. And if the security officer isn’t available to help, I’m sure the school can figure out who the parent is and call them. Of course, you could have this conversation yourself if you arrive and the parent is in these spots again. I know it’s the school’s responsibility, but that may be the quickest solution.
I don’t know what things are like in your area, but where I live most schools are short-staffed. I’m guessing that’s why the school put the cones there instead of following up with the parent, and it may be why they aren’t eager to help you. If they don’t address this parking problem, I’d let the school you know intend to file an ADA complaint. In my experience, schools are more afraid of costly fines than the police. That will motivate them to make sure everyone parks in the right place.
I hope this is resolved soon! Have a great school year.
—Ms. Holbrook (high school teacher, Texas)
We’re only one week into the school year and my first grader has already started complaining that she’s bored at school. Frankly, she sounds like a jaded office worker. I ask her what she did and learned, and she answers, “Nothing. It’s so boring. We’re doing the same thing that we did yesterday. It’s all the same.” She enjoys her friends and has fun in her after-school program, because “they do fun things.” What should I do at this point? Talk to the teacher? Wait and see?
For context, she went to a very academically oriented preschool and spent some time there doing their kinder program last year when schools had shut down. She’s now in our neighborhood public school. It’s possible that what she’s learning now is a bit repetitive, but I truly don’t know.
—Jumping the Gun?
If you’re one week into school, I would wait. School always starts a little on the slow side because teachers don’t know how much kids have retained from the previous school year, and this year is going to be an especially rocky start. So much learning was lost last year, not to mention that kids who were virtual need to rebuild their stamina and reacclimate to in-person school routines. Teachers need to take some time to get kids on the same page before the year kicks in.
Once routines are established, the year will pick up, and she will be less bored. While it’s possible that her academically rigorous preschool covered the content that’s being reviewed for the first month of school, I’m confident the academic pace will start to increase. If she’s still bored a month or two in, you might check in with the teacher to see what the plan for the year is. But first, give it some time.
—Ms. Sarnell (early childhood special education teacher, New York)
In these difficult times, a lot of kids don’t have enough to eat—food insecurity is a huge problem. I live in Canada, and there are no hot lunches or food at my kid’s school because of COVID. Two of my friends are teachers at our school, and they purchase snacks with their own money, and stock them for their students. They call social services if things are really bad, but a lot of times it’s not bad enough for a referral to an already-overtaxed system (the social workers can’t get to it because there are too many kids in more dangerous spots).
What can I propose for our school? I can’t fix the world, but kids can’t be learning hungry, or worried about their preschool-aged siblings at home who are also hungry, and it’s not fair to put that all on the backs of teachers.
Dear Helping Hands,
Thanks for this important question. I’m not sure what resources are available in your school district, but I’d start by reaching out to your school administrators or counselor. Given their familiarity with the community’s resources, they may be able to offer you some guidance on how to be most helpful.
If they don’t have any fruitful suggestions, I’d turn to fellow parents. I have seen some schools’ parent-teacher associations, or PTAs, facilitate double lunch drives where families who can afford it bring two lunches, one for themselves and one for a student in a different class. The school would need to play a big role in the facilitation of a program like this, so you would need your administration’s approval. Another idea would be to start a food train specifically for the families who need support, so long as you can determine a way to do so (perhaps with the school counselor’s help) while affording families in need their privacy. Finally, help get the word out to your school community about local food banks, shelters, and other resources. You can do this through flyers, emails, and newsletters distributed through classroom teachers. Thank you for the work I’m sure you will do to fight hunger in your community.
—Mr. Hersey (elementary school teacher, Washington)
More Advice From Slate
I live in a large city and am lucky to have the choice of multiple different public elementary school options. My child will be entering kindergarten, and it’s the time of year where I’m supposed to attend open houses and put together a ranked list of my preferences for a school choice. Apart from the obvious differences, like different art/music/after-school program offerings, what kinds of questions should I be asking the principals and prospective teachers?