It’s the time of year when we all need to get organized and plan ahead for the next school year. One of the big issues is teacher selection. Giving parents a voice in teacher selection is a great way for schools to set up a positive partnership with families.
Many parents like to request teachers for their children, especially in elementary school, and many schools allow parents to participate in teacher selection – but most principals do not allow parents to request a specific teacher by name. Instead, parents are asked to describe their child’s educational needs and the teaching style that has best suited their child in the past. Principals also rely on the recommendations of the current teachers.
For many years, parents and educators believed that matching learning styles (auditory, visual, kinesthetic, etc.) and teaching styles was an important consideration in teacher selection. More recent research has suggested that this is not so – matching learning and teaching styles does not have a significant effect on academic achievement. But let’s look at another kind of teacher/learner match – one that is more behavioral and emotional in nature, but can still make or break a child’s ability to learn in a particular classroom.
Teachers differ greatly in how they run their classrooms and interact with their students –what we will call “classroom environment”. What are some of these differences?
Some teachers are quiet and calm. Others are energetic, enthusiastic, and loud. Some teachers require their students to stay seated and refrain from talking; others tolerate a good deal of movement and “busy” noise. Some teachers are strict and use consequences to maintain discipline; others use positive behavioral supports. Some teachers are spontaneous and grab teachable moments; others are more organized and predictable. And children have the same sorts of differences – differences that aren’t good or bad, but can make a classroom either a very difficult place or a very happy place for a child.
One of the things my son Colvin disliked most about school was its predictability – its sameness. Following the same schedule every day and having the same routine in the same classes just bored him to tears. When he had a teacher who was spontaneous, creative, and a little disorganized, Colvin thought he’d died and gone to heaven! Not knowing what was going to happen every day kept him interested and engaged in learning. But other students are completely thrown for a loop in the same unpredictable environment that Colvin loved – they can’t function well academically or behaviorally.
There are also several good reasons for classroom placement decisions that are social/emotional rather than academic in nature.
When a parent has personal issues with a particular teacher, it can be almost impossible for the adults to be partners in learning. If the child can’t be the center of the parent/teacher relationship, it’s best to place the child in another classroom.
Sometimes a child needs to be separated from certain other children. Maybe the children are friends and get in trouble together, or maybe the child’s negative behavior is supported by an adoring audience. Sometimes there is a bullying or teasing situation that needs to be addressed. Divide and conquer!
Sometimes a child needs to be in the same class as certain other children. Children who are painfully shy, or who have learning or emotional problems, benefit from having at least one child in their class who is a friend and will stand up for them.
Occasionally the school knows in advance that a teacher will be leaving before the school year is over, which can be particularly difficult for some children. Children who have problems at home or who struggle at school really need a stable school environment.
The last thing I want to mention about teacher requests is when it’s appropriate to stop making them! I do believe that it is appropriate for parents to be involved in teacher selection when their children are in elementary school. Children spend most of the day in one class, and teachers are caretakers as well as educators. But in middle school and high school, we need to start preparing our children for life – and that means learning how to deal with lots of different kinds of people and situations. If students have teachers they find difficult, they’re not spending the whole day with them and they’re learning an important life skill. So unless there are special circumstances, parents really need to let go of teacher selection as their children enter middle school.
Assignment: Classroom environment
We’re going to figure out what kind of classroom environment is best for your child. Be sure that you’re thinking about your child and not yourself! It’s very common for parents to favor the classroom environment that they find most comfortable – and it’s often not the same one that their child prefers.
Here’s an example, using my son Colvin. I’ve stated characteristics positively – saying what he needs instead of what he does wrong.
Classroom Organization Classroom Discipline
Needs flexibility and change. Responds to humor
Likes active learning and discussion Responds well to positive reminders
Enjoys group work Consequences must be immediate
Tolerance for Movement/Noise Teacher Personality
Needs high tolerance for both Likes drama and humor
Needs to move in and out of his desk. Likes a fast pace and high energy
Busy movement/noise, but not chaotic Needs a personal connection
Now it’s your turn!