Jockeying for teachers
Should parents get to request certain teachers for their children?
How to get the right teacher for your child
When you choose a school for your child, you are, in essence, choosing every teacher for your child. So keep in mind the following:
1) Do you like the teachers? Would you be comfortable having every teacher in the school teach your child? If not, think about what you will do if your child gets someone you are not happy about.
2) What’s the school’s philosophy? Ask about its teaching practices and culture. If there is a strong, cohesive philosophy, chances are there won’t be much difference between teaching techniques. Likewise, if the teachers work collaboratively, they will probably develop similar methods, creating fewer discrepancies between teaching styles.
3) What’s the student-placement policy? Ask about the school’s policy on student placement and if it allows for parental input. Schools with highly involved parent bodies often have a process in place for considering parents' requests.
Wondering how to influence your child’s placement?
1) Ask about classroom assignment. If the school has a policy for incorporating parental input, follow it. If not, speak your mind and emphasize your child’s particular needs rather than the attributes of a certain teacher.
2) Write a letter to the principal. Explain why you’d like your child to experience a certain kind of learning style.
3) Talk with the principal. If you have had experiences — good or bad — with a specific teacher, speak directly with the principal, explaining that while you understand it’s not your decision, you think your child would do best in another classroom.
4) Talk with the teacher. Ask the current teacher which classroom your child should be placed in the following year. Let her know your concerns and preferences. (She might disagree with you — and, in fact, be right about your child’s needs — but either way it’s a worthy conversation.)
By Carol Lloyd
“Mommy,” my 10-year-old daughter recently asked as we walked home, weighed down by first-week-of-school lunch groceries. “Do you think it’s right that Pam’s mother always does that?”
“Always does what, honey?”
“Since kindergarten, she always makes sure Pam gets a certain teacher.”
In the last weeks of summer, my daughter has overheard enough school scuttlebutt to know that many parents are anxiously awaiting their children’s teacher assignments. She also knows (gleaned from conversations with her gloating peers) that some parents seem not to await those decisions so much as dictate them.
Not knowing what to say, I equivocated. “Uh, Pam’s mother is very involved in her children’s education.”
“But Mommy, that’s not my question. Do you think it’s right?"
Leave it to my daughter to cut to the heart of a touchy issue as we’re walking across four-lane traffic and dragging 50-plus pounds of fig bars and pippin apples.
As parents in a big city with a competitive school lottery, we know the importance of choosing the right school for our children. We scrutinize test scores and critically discuss finger paintings in the hallways. Then school begins, and suddenly we realize that the most significant issue — which teachers our kids spend a giant portion of their waking hours with — isn’t our purview at all.
Why getting good teachers matters
Recent research supports the idea that we should be concerned about who teaches our children. In a study of Tennessee teachers, statistician William Sanders discovered that after three consecutive years, students with low-performing teachers scored 50 percentile points behind similar students with high-performing teachers. Educational economist Eric Hanushek of Stanford University found that students with a teacher in the top 5% gained a year and a half’s worth of learning. Those with teachers in the bottom 5% learned only half a year’s worth of material. The most effective educators can provide children up to two grades of learning, whereas with the least effective teachers, students typically gain only a half year.
An explosive new investigation of teacher effectiveness in the Los Angeles Unified School District by the L.A. Times suggests that parents should care even more about who teaches their children than which school they attend. After surveying one measure of teacher effectiveness, the Times found that the “quality of instruction typically varied far more within a school than between schools.” In other words, there are good teachers — and bad ones — in all sorts of schools. Getting your child in front of the good ones can make a lasting difference.
Should parents have a say?
Still, I didn’t know how to answer my daughter’s question. At our elementary school, such requests took place privately and were publicly discouraged — the dirty little secret of highly involved parents. But what’s wrong with a parent doing the right thing by their child? Isn’t that what this nation needs in order to turn around public education: an army of parents hell-bent on improving student learning, one student at a time?
In search of other opinions, policies, and personal stories that might cast light on my confusion, I surveyed a range of parents, administrators, and teachers with a few simple questions: Should parents have a voice in classroom assignments? If so, should it be a formal process that invites all parents to describe their children’s learning needs? Or is this another case of meddlesome helicopter parents getting in the way of educators doing their jobs?