It’s August, and if you’ve got kids in elementary school, chances are you’re combing the local paper each day for news of classroom assignments. It’s an annual ritual as fraught with anxiety as the visit to Santa: spreading the paper out on the kitchen table, scanning the columns of small type, finding your kid’s grade, searching in the alphabetized lists for your last name … and then, bam! Either nirvana (“Oh, thank God, you’ve got Ms. Conklin”) or despair (“Nooooooo! Not Mrs. Constantine! Anyone but Mrs. Constantine!”). And then, resigned to your — and your child’s — fate, you pour another cup of coffee and call your best friend to kvell or kvetch, depending on the circumstance.
That’s the way it went in the American educational system for years — for decades! Eons! Until, well, parents became insane micromanagers of every aspect of their children’s lives, including this one, and took to working the system, calling principals to demand that their special little snowflakes be removed from the fetid cesspool of Mrs. Constantine’s third-grade classroom and transferred immediately to Ms. Conklin’s Elysian field across the hall. And principals, harried beings that they are, tended to acquiesce to such demands, since Mrs. Constantine’s classroom could always be filled with kids whose parents either a) retained some modicum of faith in how professionally trained educators would deal with the children entrusted to their care; or b) didn’t give a rat’s damn.
Alas, this happy state of affairs wasn’t to last. According to a Wall Street Journal article that includes a helpful “Do’s and Don’ts” list (“Don’t threaten to get a teacher fired”), you parents have ruined it for everybody by going to the well one too many times:
“I’ve had parents get angry and pound on my desk” to protest their kids’ placement, says former principal Trish Doasinski of Scottsdale, Arizona. Some pull out the violins, she adds, saying such things as, “When Billy saw he had Mrs. Smith, he was in tears. We’ve had the worst weekend of our lives. It’s been horrendous.”
Current and retired principals say they have seen parents threaten to quit the PTA or PTO, withdraw their child from school, or band together with other parents to get a teacher fired. Some take their complaint to the top, storming district offices to meet with the principal’s boss.
Now schools are fighting back, evolving strategies to remove parental angst from the teacher-assignment process and Just. Say. No. to frantic moms (c’mon, it’s mostly moms) who insist that 180 days of Mrs. Constantine means the end to all their Ivy League dreams. Some are flat-out banning reassignments no matter how parents howl or what bribery they use. In fact, they’re insisting that when it comes to education, they know what your little snowflake needs even more than you do.
This will not end well.
But imagine for a moment if it did. Imagine if instead of marching on the principal’s office and demanding reassignment, a disappointed parent sat a disappointed child down at that kitchen table and said, “Honey, you know what? You can’t always get what you want in this life, and sometimes you just have to make the best of it. The principal said he isn’t going to change room assignments anymore, so I guess we better look on the bright side. Hey, Bethany and Aidan and Tyler are in Mrs. Constantine’s class with you. I bet you’ll have a lot of fun.”
But that would send the wrong message to the kid, wouldn’t it? How would he or she ever learn that if you just scream and boss and throw your weight and money around long enough and loudly enough, you can get your way?