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The Best Teachers Get The Best Classes

Dr. Patricia Nan Anderson

Development & Learning

Now that school has started again, the usual comparison of children’s teachers begins too. Maybe you hoped your child would get a particular teacher this year and maybe you got your wish. But maybe you got another teacher, one who doesn’t come with a lot of recommendations. You might be wondering, how teachers are assigned to their classes.

Research has long demonstrated that schools that serve different populations of students get different sorts of teachers. But now a study in the Sociology of Education of the Miami-Dade school district shows that even within the same school, some teachers get better classes of students than others. Your own child’s classroom might have more or fewer of high-achieving students, well-behaved students, and students who are independent, creative learners.

Researcher Demetra Kalogrides reports that teachers who have more power – because of their years of experience in the school or their leadership roles – tend to be rewarded with “easier” classes of better students. At the same time, other teachers with less experience, who graduated from less-prestigious colleges, and teachers who were women, Hispanic or black, were more likely to be assigned lower-achieving students. These patterns were the same at both the elementary and secondary levels.

Previous studies have shown that high-quality teachers can significantly improve the success of the students they teach. In addition, it is more likely that new teachers assigned more difficult students may leave the teaching profession in frustration, leading to greater teacher turnover at the school and reducing overall teacher quality.

These trends may not be at play in your child’s school. The researchers found that schools with fewer experienced teachers and schools under a lot of pressure to show improvement are more likely to assign the best teachers to the most challenging classes. But what if you fear this trend is going on in your child’s school? What should you do if you think your child’s teacher isn’t so good as another teacher in the same grade?

  1. Be visible to your child’s teacher. Be friendly but let her know you are paying attention. Children whose parents are engaged are more likely to get individualized help.
  2. Be helpful. If you can, volunteer in your child’s classroom. Show up for parents’ night. Especially if your child’s teacher is new, she needs all the positive vibes you can send her way.
  3. For many inexperienced teachers, the biggest problems are classroom management and discipline. If your child’s teacher seems especially unreasonable, coercive, or punitive, act quickly to bring this to the principal’s attention. No child should spend his days in a fearful situation.
  4. If you have other questions or concerns, talk with the teacher first. Go to the principal with your worries only after you’ve discussed things with the teacher and no progress was made.
  5. Be ready to fill in the gaps in your child’s education, by supporting learning at home, or, if things are really out of hand, even switching to another school.

Understand that assigning children to classrooms is an imperfect science and every great teacher once was a new teacher. Certainly young, vibrant teachers with new ideas can be more effective than more experienced but burned-out ones. So don’t jump to conclusions.

But as the school year gets underway, it’s time to get involved in your child’s education. No matter who your child’s teacher is, parent involvement is a key to school success.

© 2013, Patricia Nan Anderson. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed. Ask for Dr. Anderson’s new book, Developmentally Appropriate Parenting, at your favorite bookstore.

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Dr. Patricia Nan Anderson

Dr. Patricia Anderson is a nationally acclaimed educational psychologist and the author of “Parenting: A Field Guide.” Dr. Anderson is on the Early Childhood faculty at Walden University and she is a Contributing Editor for Advantage4Parents.