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Teacher Assignments? Call Scooby Doo!

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Maureen Downey of the Atlanta Journal—Constitution’s Get Schooled blog pondered why schools often keep teacher assignments a mystery, when a little information could go a long way to ease a parent’s mind.

My system sends a letter in late July telling parents that their child has Mr. X or Ms. Y, but gives no other information. Since systems go to the expense and effort to write a letter to each parent and mail it, why not include something like: Timmy will have Mr. X, who comes to us from Elm Street School in Charlotte, N.C. where he taught fourth grade for six years. He is a graduate of UGA and GSU. Mr. X is a former high school soccer player and looks forward to playing with the students at recess.
Can anyone explain why systems don’t seem to have this down to a science? Are there implications in this issue that I am not seeing?
7 Comments

Actually--there are simple and logical explanations for why schools do not routinely send letters introducing teachers.

First--many schools do not have solid information on how many students, precisely, will show up on Day One, and exactly who their teachers will be. In large systems, the "first week shuffle" is common, and often extends through the first month, as student loads are in flux and teachers are moved around. This syndrome is made worse by tough economic times, of course.

Second--writing up glowing reviews of all teachers is probably not as easy as Ms. Downey suggests. For parents who are new to the system (kindergarten and first grade parents, move-ins), the written descriptors are not likely to have anything to do with teachers' actual value in the classroom, but might engender a round of horse-trading.

Her sample--Mr. X-- would sound pretty good to mommies who love the idea of a male role model who plays soccer. No principal wants a run on her office asking for a different teacher because the kid next door was lucky enough to get the soccer guy. And when Mr. X, the low-seniority teacher, gets moved to another school, the principal has a real problem on her hands.

Don't get me wrong--I think parents should have some input into who's teaching their children. In small towns like mine, simply telling parents the teacher's name will suffice--the parent network will supply enough details. The larger the system, however, the more difficult it becomes to satisfy everyone or provide lots of advance information.

why assign this job to the school system?
Nancy Flanagan's points are well made!
But this kind of letter isn't all that hard for the teacher to write for himself or herself either! Why not suggest that to the principal in your school? Does your school have website, blog, or newspaper? Those all might be excellent vehicles for teacher introductions. Teachers have a lot to do, but most find a way to introduce themselves to parents. But if you need it in writing, why not help get that accomplished. A concerned parent like Ms. Downey, particularly with her background could do everyone in her school a favor by creating and editing a special edition of the school newspaper, just for this the purpose of introductions. Or someone could create a Google Document that teachers could all sign on to edit, where teachers could share these personal tidbits about themselves-shortly after school begins!

Having teachers post a little info about themselves good, but in the times that we live in now... you never know who or where that information might be used. as stated above, many times teachers do not know where they will end up. There are times when we are asked to move even after school has been in session for a month. At a meet and greet is a great way for parents and teachers to get together.

I have a slightly different take on this, although partially in agreement with Nancy. Withholding teacher information helps to build the impression that every teacher is just the same (as in just as good as) as every other teacher. I recall that in the few years in which teachers were all still scrambling to take enough workshops to become "highly qualified," our local teacher's union took an activist stance to prevent letters going home to parents (as required by federal law) of students taught by teachers who were not "highly qualified." They termed the requirement "embarrassing."

Certainly there are many ways to provide parents with enhanced information regarding their childs'teacher--website profiles, teacher letters of introduction, system-generated information sent in letters. Even the first week shuffle can be overcome (although the ease with which we accept that as a condition of schools is still troubling), if it is thought to be important. In the end, parents aren't much trusted by schools. They are not seen as having a legitimate need, or in some cases any desire, to know who their children's teachers are, or as tara points out, what nefarious uses they might have for such information.

If, and when, schools are serious about building relationships with parents, the barriers to sharing information can be overcome--and sharing will be seen as a valuable endeavor.

I believe that parents do have a right to know information about the teacher their child will share a year of their life with. I also believe that students and teachers have personality conflicts sometimes, so it does help to know a little about the teacher. I must say that I do agree that teachers should be respected the same across the board.

I just came across this blog, very interesting to read, i agree with Mrs.c its important that parents have rights to know the information about the teachers.

Margo/Mom: "In the end, parents aren't much trusted by schools. They are not seen as having a legitimate need, or in some cases any desire, to know who their children's teachers are, or as tara points out, what nefarious uses they might have for such information."

Wow. That's quite a leap from Downey's complaint about not knowing more about her children's teachers. I agree that posting complete information about staff-- whomever is confirmed at the time-- is a great idea, including putting the information on-line. Parents deserve to know as much as possible about the people who will (likely) be teaching their children. That builds trust. My point was that most school staffing is not settled in mid-summer, much as parents would like it to be--not that schools don't trust parents.

Complexity of scheduling is compounded in secondary schools where students have multiple teachers, and class size caps are tight. Scheduling--and getting solid information out to parents--is like a Rubik's cube: each scheduling move impacts other students' schedules. And schools are understandably loathe to make scheduling promises they can't keep.

Even staunch early proponents of NCLB have lately been admitting that the "highly qualified teacher" language therein was an elevation of credentialing over the substance of excellent teaching. We all want content experts in front of our classrooms, but many teachers who were highly qualified on paper were no such thing in front of children. A school leader who was "serious about building relationships with parents" would trust their own judgment about a teacher's competence, rather than paperwork hoops. It is for that reason that schools--knowing more about teacher's actual abilities and success-- wanted to be very cautious about labeling good teachers "unqualified." And--ironically--vice versa. A law that did nothing to clarify what effective teaching actually is...

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  • Nancy Flanagan: Margo/Mom: "In the end, parents aren't much trusted by schools. read more
  • Spanish school in Valencia: I just came across this blog, very interesting to read, read more
  • Mrs. C: I believe that parents do have a right to know read more
  • Margo/Mom: I have a slightly different take on this, although partially read more
  • tara: Having teachers post a little info about themselves good, but read more

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