Joco Diversions

August 13, 2013

Emily Parnell | In the teacher lottery, we’ve always found winners

If one thing determines the climate of the school year for any child, it’s the teacher.

“Who’d you get? Who’d you get?” have been the first words out of everyone’s mouth the last week and a half, my own included. We’re talking about teacher assignments.

We were in the parking lot of the St. Louis Zoo when we received our classroom assignments for the year. We couldn’t wait another day, so I made a phone call to our dog sitter and asked her to open our mail.

It’s the dawn of the school year, and if one thing determines the climate of the school year for any child, it’s the teacher. This is particularly true at the elementary level, when kids are still at the age of needing a little bit of nurture throughout the day.

Many parents enter the new school year with preconceived notions of who their children should, or will, receive. We have never filled out the end-of-year survey in which parents carefully tailor their words to hopefully land their kids in their preferred teacher’s class. I just trust that the school has my kids’ best interests in mind, and that their previous teachers knew them well enough to place them in the best environment for them. But I always make a guess — just for kicks. I’ve been very consistent in predicting both of my children’s new assignments. My predictions have been wrong 100 percent of the time, this year providing no break in my losing streak.

With my daughter, my younger child, I follow a formula in my predictions. I always assume she’ll receive the same teacher her brother had. This seems to be a tradition at our school — kids of the same family usually get the same teacher as they move through the grades. We, however, have been an exception to this rule. All three years, my daughter has received a different teacher than my son had.

Sometimes I puzzle over this anomaly. Is there a stigma attached to our family? What goes on in the planning meetings where the teachers huddle to divide the kids into new classes?

“We dealt with the Parnells for a year, and that was enough. YOU have to suffer through them next year. Do you have any idea how many times that mother let her child came to class without his red folder? EIGHT! I can’t take it anymore. They’re your problem now.” Perhaps some hair-pulling and shin-kicking ensues until the loser finally surrenders and tearfully writes “Parnell” on their list.

Or perhaps there’s a prize awarded. Some sort of competition entitles the teacher to choose a favorite for the upcoming year, and they choose our daughter. Maybe she’s their first draft pick.

It’s harder to make assignment guesses with my son, as I don’t really know the teachers of the older grades. I know the rumors, though. There’s always a particular favorite — one who wins the parental popularity vote. Then there are the teachers who come with side notes and caveats and mixed reviews of one type or another. And you always have to throw in the wild card — the new teachers with no history at the school.

My kids have been assigned to teachers from all three categories, all with no input from me. Quite honestly, for one reason or another, we have loved all of their teachers. Whatever the system is, it’s worked for our family, providing both my kids a good blend of academic and emotional support. Their teachers have respected — even appreciated — their quirks. Some years, they’ve been separated from favorite friends, but they’ve made more friendships as a result.

As we head into this year, I know little about one of my kids’ teachers, and nothing about the other. Once again, we will not repeat a teacher, which makes us all a little sad: We get attached to them. But it’s exciting to find out what the new year will hold and discover opportunities for both kids to learn in their new environments.

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