A Shrewdness of Apes

An Okie teacher banished to the Midwest. "Education is not the filling a bucket but the lighting of a fire."-- William Butler Yeats

Monday, August 10, 2009

Should parents get to pick their kids' teachers?

Here's the link to an interesting article about whether parents should pick their kids' teachers. Click over and read it while I muse on the fact that the Associated Press has decided to start charging bloggers for blockquoting their articles, and although I am NOT Arianna Huffington I also do not have access to her wealth, so I'm hoping that my tiny corner of the blogosphere escapes notice if I just provide the link from now on. Annoying, yes?

Okay, so hoping that you skimmed the article, let me just say: I have made sure that my children have had or avoided certain teachers, but I have done this sparingly. To be honest, usually my kids are moved into classes by counselors that know me as a former colleague and already know my preferences, so sometimes I get to coast and find out that the work has already been done. I used to believe in NOT doing this, but I (and one of my kids) got seriously burned by my laissez-faire attitude. Now I know better.


As a teacher, I must say that I do get tired of having gi-normous classes due to parent/student requests, so I see the other side of that coin, as I try to wedge thirty desks in a classroom made for twenty-two.

What do YOU think, as both a parent and/or a teacher?

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At 8/10/09, 7:18 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

I'm a 5th grade teacher with two school-aged kids. I fill out the county transfer form each year so that they can come to my school. For the most part, I let the chips fall where they may when it comes to teacher assignments. I have only intervened once, and that was really pre-selection - I asked my principal to consider my son's needs for a firm but loving teacher. We narrowed it down to two choices and he had a great year.

Am I a little nervous about who they'll get this year? Sure. Will I be okay with their assignments? More than likely.

At 8/10/09, 8:22 AM, Blogger Mrs. Chili said...

I'm an educator (college level, mostly, though I start teaching high school this year) and the parent of two girls - one enters seventh grade this year and the other starts fifth.

To this point, I have always left the choice of my children's teachers to the schools. I understand that the teachers know my kids' "school personalities" far better than I do. They also know the teachers in the next grade far better than I do. I let the teachers (and the counselors and the people who know such things) make the choices because I know they have far more information than I.

So far, I've been pleased with the teachers my children have had. If I ever encounter a SERIOUS problem with my girls' teachers, I'll address it, but I don't feel the need to interfere beforehand; the extent of my involvement is the filling out of an annual questionnaire about my girls, their friends, and their learning styles. So far, so good.

At 8/10/09, 8:27 AM, Anonymous Wendy Mueller said...

I teach middle school science, and my special needs son will be in first grade in two weeks. I did request certain teachers both years, so far, and probably will continue to do so in light of his epilepsy and the issues related to that. I think he falls into the exception list the article refers to. (See? I did follow the link!) But when my daughter starts school in a few years, I probably won't be so picky. The teachers at their school are all good, and I think there is a history of "professional courtesy" where the staff knows the teachers' kids well enough to put them in with teachers whose personalities mesh well with both kids and parents.

At 8/10/09, 1:59 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

The negotiating team has suggested teachers who live in district be able to choose the school they teach at for their children. I won't choose that, because I don't want my son to feel like I am looking over his shoulder all the time. Also, as a specialist, I would have him every week for 7 years, I don't know how either of us would feel about that.

I will have some say in which school in our town he goes to, but unless I have a real issue, I wouldn't request a teacher. The only reason I can see requesting someone is because we have a preexisting relationship with the other teacher in a grade.

I wish my parents had known and had requested my teacher in fourth grade, the one I got sucked. When I was going into 6th grade, they requested I be switched from one class to another. I didn't care which teacher I had (they hadn't hired my teacher yet), but there were only 4 girls in the class I was assigned and 10 in the other. I think the school should have made it more equal.

At 8/10/09, 6:04 PM, Blogger Kim said...

I've pretty much left my kids' teacher assignments up to the school. Part of the problem is that in their program (gifted at a regular, non-magnet middle school) some courses only have one teacher. I spent much time going round and round about the middle school gifted language arts teacher about his (lack of) curriculum, but the only other option was taking them out of gifted.

As a teacher, though, I have seen the impact of parent pressure on their students' placement. In my department we have one teacher who is not only weak, but also known and hated by parents and students alike. The administration will evenly distribute students at the beginning of the year, but as the year progresses, her classes get smaller and smaller, and the other teachers of the same subject have classes that get larger and larger. That's not fair, but I lay the blame on administration for shifting the kids with no regard for the receiving teachers' class size.

At 8/10/09, 6:24 PM, Blogger teachin' said...

I don't have children but as a teacher, I can see both sides. We have a teacher at my school whom I truly believe is atrocious; if a parent asked that their child not have that teacher, well, I'd have every sympathy.

On the other hand, I think sometimes parent requests for one teacher or another can be unreasonable. I had a parent say she was going to remove her daughter from the school if her daughter was assigned to my class. This was because Mom taught her daughter that the word "spic" was acceptable to use when referring to undocumented immigrants, and I told the girl it was not a word that was ever okay to use. Clearly I am a bad teacher. I assume not every request would be based on such issues, but I'm also sure that some would be just as absurd and shouldn't necessarily be honored.

At 8/10/09, 6:27 PM, Blogger Cheryl said...

I'm both parent and teacher. As a parent, I have a hands-off attitude. As a teacher, I think the process is best left to the school unless there is a really good reason. What parents hear about teachers at the elementary level may or may not be true. A well-liked teacher might be all warm and fuzzy, but not the best at teaching. A particular teacher's style may not be the best for your kid, even if it was great for someone else's. And the class that works for your child may have just as much to do with the other students in that class as it does the teacher.

At 8/10/09, 11:59 PM, Anonymous Jonam said...

kids love gamed based learning.

At 8/11/09, 9:30 PM, Blogger Mrs. T said...

My initial reaction as both teacher and parent is "hands off". However, there have been 2 times (one for each daughter) where I requested that they not have a particular teacher because of that person's personality and classroom practices. (I subbed in the school, so I had an idea of what went on). I've also been on the receiving end of it- having huge classes, while one of my colleague ends up with fewer kids altogether than I have in just one of my classes. I'm going to go with my usual cop-out: everything in moderation.

At 8/12/09, 11:22 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

I'm a parent. I think I should have input on the teachers my kids get.

At my kids' school, there is no questionnaire. The current year's teachers aren't even supposed to discuss next year's placement with parents. I noticed that most of the teachers say they get some form of input. I have also noticed at my kids school the teacher's kids never get the awful teachers.

I stopped thinking the school had my kids' interests in mind the year they put my oldest in a situation where she had no chance of learning anything that year.

I will pull my kids from a bad teacher's class and from a class that is set up so that my kid can't learn. That is my responsibility as a parent.

And, if a teacher is so awful that parents pull their kids from the class throughout the year, the administration needs to do something about that teacher. The kids shouldn't have to suffer year after year.

At 8/12/09, 12:55 PM, Blogger ECHC said...

Kim and I are in the same boat, and I hate it. But we can't make administrators do their jobs by placing ineffective colleagues where they can do no damage.

Having said that, I have told my children that "blaming the teacher" is never an excuse. Even in the two instances in which I had problems with the teacher not contacting me regarding struggles, nonetheless I made it clear to my kids that it was THEIR responsibility to be honest with us and tell us there were problems.

Anonymous, why are you in a district where there are so many bad teachers? What are they doing that makes them so awful?

At 8/12/09, 4:46 PM, Blogger MommyProf said...

Offspring is GT, so most years, I don't get a choice. The one year I did, I found out some of the characteristics of the teachers and wrote the principal a note stating that I thought she would well with a teacher who had those characteristics, and got her prior year's teacher to recommend this as well. I really try to not helicopter too much.

At 8/13/09, 9:40 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...


I don't know that my district has more bad teachers than most. When I was in high school, I had a world history teacher insist that Karl Marx was a Soviet dictator, my nephew had a teacher misdiagnose him with epilepsy. He was just staring out the window daydreaming because he already knew what she was teaching. Those teachers were in different districts than my kids. There are bad teachers everywhere.

Admittedly, some of the problem is that my kids are GT and the district religiously practices heteregenous classroom groupings. The first really bad year, my daughter was in a classroom with two kids who were retained, another child who didn't speak a word of English, except for one other child, all the other students ranged from below grade level to way below grade level. About the only thing my daughter learned that year was to read under her desk. We had MANY conversations with the teacher. The teacher had no idea/interest in how to deal with a bright kid. So my daughter was ignored for an entire school year. By Christmas she asked to go to a different year. By Easter she was in tears every morning before school. We are never doing anything like that again.

Two years later she had a teacher who told me it wasn't his job to deal with kids like her. We moved her out of that classroom.

Given the district's philosophy about bright kids (i.e., they don't need/deserve help/resources) it is imperative that they find a teacher who is at least somewhat sympathetic to their needs.

I have IEP/504s for my younger ones, which provides some protection, but my oldest is unprotected. I have to be her protector.

I would LOVE to be able to trust the school system to put them in appropriate classes where they could learn. I just know that that isn't reality.

At 8/13/09, 3:10 PM, Anonymous Liz in Virginia said...

I am a mom of three, and I have done it both ways at the elementary school level; so far I have never interceded at the middle school or high school, but we're not done yet! I have to say that while for the most part I trusted the elementary school principal/staff to take my own personal kid' needs into consideration, I do feel that parents' concerns should be considered. I am the only full-time advocate for my children -- a job I take very seriously; I would hope that school administrators show as much respect for my profession as I show for theirs.

At the middle and high school level, it seems a little different because GT placements and specific course needs limit the placement options. I also think that as the high school years progress, my kids should learn to become their own advocates.

At 8/15/09, 11:33 PM, Blogger Mr. Duez said...

Your question resulted in a really interesting classroom discussion in Philosophical Chairs - http://www.scribd.com/doc/12410807/Using-Philosophical-Chairs

"Should students be able to choose their own teachers?"

The kids were decidedly FOR choosing their own teachers. One of their arguments was - if a teacher didn't have any kids who wanted to be in their class... maybe they should be replaced by someone who is good at their jobs? Kind of harsh - but the mind of a 15 year-old.

At 8/17/09, 3:19 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

As a student studing in university, and y opinion would be why should parents do the choosing for their kids.... every teachers have the same skills as other teachers do which is teaching and improve a particular child in being confident in what they do..... pareants i would recomend you, yes you can do the choosing for your child but their are certain times when you have to let your child pick what he likes and you are to be their to guide him,.........

At 8/17/09, 10:52 PM, Anonymous Jen said...

I've never actually asked that my children get a certain teacher. However, I was a parent that volunteered (and did whatever was asked, whether it was cutting out laminating, reading with a group, helping out with a project, stapling) and I tried my very best to be supportive and helpful.

My idea was that, generally, this could only help if I ever felt I needed to make a request. It also helped because in certain cases where my kid didn't get the teacher that was in vogue for that year...I saw reasons why my kid was better off in a different classroom.

Here's hoping though that my going into 2nd grader has a great teacher for a great year. He had a mediocre teacher with a difficult class in an unpleasant school for K and a would-have-been-better with a different mix of kids 1st grade teacher at the school to which we moved him.

We like this new school MUCH better, but I kinda feel like he deserves a really good year. There are some changes re programming, especially around gifted services coming up and I've got my fingers crossed for a perfect storm of good things this year! If not? Then I'd consider a plea to the principal!

At 8/17/09, 10:53 PM, Anonymous Jen said...

Uh, to clarify, I have two older kids and then a younger one...that's why some of that is more in the past tense and then I end up talking about a 1st grader!

At 8/19/09, 10:18 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

"every teachers have the same skills as other teachers do which is teaching and improve a particular child in being confident in what they do....." Is this supposed to be sarcastic?

People are different and have different personalities, strengths and weaknesses. One teacher might be great for a particular child and terrible for another.

The cold hard reality of elementary school is that some teachers are not good with certain types of kids. Some teachers don't like/don't want to teach bright kids. Some teachers don't like/don't want to teach lower level kids. If the school practices hetergenous classroom grouping (an atrocity for another post), then there will high and low level kids in the same classroom with a teacher who has to decide which end of the class they will throw under the bus.

As a parent, it is my job to do everything I can to make sure my kid doesn't get thrown under the bus. Which means I need to lobby for the appropriate teacher for my kids and get them out of classes where the teacher doesn't want to teach them.

Who else is going to look out for them?

At 8/29/09, 4:24 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

I have to say that this discussion touched a nerve with me....I'm a teacher and for the first year, I had a student transferred from my class into another class due to parental request. This has never happened before---I've prided myself on always being the teacher that parents requested, rather than vice versa. My frustration with these requests is that they so often depend upon a parent's perceptions or personal feelings about a teacher rather than an accurate reflection of their teaching. This particular parent may have had legitimate concerns (I'm certainly not perfect) but she hadn't brought it up when I'd taught her older child and all interaction s with her and her child had seemed pleasant both at the time and subsequently---I got the feeling that she was frustrated that the older child was admitted to the GT program (something out of my hands, largely). Truth is, teachers and administrators do give a lot of thought to placement of children in classes. Mistakes get made sometimes but they do care and aren't just picking names out of a hat. Found this out myself because my darling daughter will be attending first grade at my school this year. If I'd requested a teacher (which I didn't), I would have probably picked one that I had a good relationship with. Funnily enough, she has been assigned to the teacher that I would have ranked third on my list of teachers. When I said something to one of the teachers, she said, "Oh, she'll be great with so-and-so! That teacher is great with children like your daughter and they all adore her!"


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