One of the most controversial elements of teacher assignments is whether schools will consider parent requests for specific teachers.
While most systems say they don’t honor parent requests, many principals over the years have told me that they will do so when they can.
Savvy parents get around “no request”policies by asking not for a specific teacher, but for specific characteristics that they maintain enhances their child’s learning. There are a lot of web sites guiding parents on how to request a teacher using this approach. EduGuide offers a sample letter.
On the Great Schools site, parents offer advice on this delicate negotiation. One parent wrote:
At my son’s school, there was one older teacher who had a reputation for being very soft-spoken, and putting on lots of rehearsed “historical re-recreations” of events (dress up in period costumes and recite “old English.”) My son is dyslexic, and doesn’t do well in settings where he either has to memorize lots of lines, or sit quietly and listen to others doing it. I knew almost any other teacher would be better for my son than this woman, but it’s inappropriate to say, “Please avoid Mrs. Smith’s class,” or “Put him with Mrs. Jones.”
Instead, I wrote a letter to the principal stating that “My son learns best in a classroom where there is an energetic and patient teacher, who values interactive discussion and provides opportunities for hands-on learning.” He ended up with a teacher who did things like letting kids prepare historical recipes in class (allowing each to get involved in the process, rather than watching a skit where one student enacted an event as others watched) and it turned out to be a much better placement than if he’d gotten stuck with the old, soft-spoken teacher.
On a gifted education blog, a parent says she begins her letters: “Realizing that historically this school does not accept parental requests for placement, I would like to express my feelings about what I believe to be an issue that could make a very big difference in my child’s success in the coming year. I would like it to be known that, after discussion with Mrs. XYZ, we both agree that she would be the most appropriate teacher for Johnny’s needs and that to place him with another teacher could be cause problems from the outset for him” and then go on to back up my statements.
The AJC took a look at how students are assigned to classes in a Sunday story that was limited to print subscribers, so I cannot link to it. You can read it by logging on to the paper’s iPad app. If you are a subscriber, you can read the article on our e-edition here
But here is an excerpt:
Parent requests are among the many factors school leaders consider when building a classroom roster. Assembling that perfect classroom might not be science, but it involves a whole lot of chemistry, educators say. Academic standing of students, disciplinary issues, race and sex can all play into the months-long juggling act, which usually begins during the previous school year.
“It is a big deal for us to make sure there is a good match going in because it’s going to make a seamless year for everybody, ” said Amy Bartlett, principal at Forsyth’s Sharon Elementary. “The time we put in is well spent to build these classes.”
Bartlett’s team starts around late April creating profile cards for every child at the 1,000-student school — pink for girls, blue for boys. The cards contain a laundry list of information about the students — from how they scored on state exams to how involved their parents are at the school, she said.
Using the cards, administrators create a rough sketch of “balanced” classes, taking special care to make sure one class isn’t loaded with gifted students while another is stacked with behavioral issues. Then, teachers and counselors review the process, and administrators read about 400 letters and emails from parents with input and make changes as necessary.
“I make it really clear to parents that we don’t honor specific teacher requests, but we do honor any information they have on learning characteristics, ” Bartlett said. “We have teachers of all kinds. We try not to focus on teachers, but on the learning style.”
For the most part, education research shows students benefit more from exposure to advanced coursework than from exposure to advanced students, said Robert Slavin, director of the Center for Research and Reform in Education at Johns Hopkins University.
In other words, a second-grader who is above average in reading will fare better in a third-grade reading class, not because the students are more advanced, but because the content is. Conversely, an advanced student won’t regress in a class with lower-performing students, so long as the teacher creates opportunities for more challenging lessons such as special projects or computer activities, Slavin said.
Cobb parent Kimberly Hunt said she gets a good idea which teacher might be a good fit for her child by volunteering at school and networking with other parents. The school doesn’t allow parents to request specific teachers, and she respects that.
A trained teacher herself, Hunt said that, some years, she writes a letter to school administrators requesting an instruction style that lines up with a teacher or two she wants. “Do you always get them? No. As parents are we OK with that? Yes, ” she said. “They do best they can, and I’m always impressed with how they do it.”
–From Maureen Downey, for the AJC Get Schooled blog