Newspaper article St Louis Post-Dispatch (MO)

Making a Great Match for Student, Teacher; Parents Want Top Educators, but Principals Discourage Blatant Requests; EDUCATION

Newspaper article St Louis Post-Dispatch (MO)

Making a Great Match for Student, Teacher; Parents Want Top Educators, but Principals Discourage Blatant Requests; EDUCATION

Article excerpt

When Amy Mayfield found out who her daughter's middle school teachers would be this year, she was disappointed to see it was not the same team that was really good for her older child.

And when she and her husband called the principal to request a change, they realized they weren't the only ones asking. She told them they were the fifth parents to call that morning.

"You have to ask, because it's your child and you want the best for them," Mayfield said.

For many parents, navigating the principal's office to get the teacher they want for their child is daunting, especially when most schools frown on that type of jockeying.

Instead, some schools ask that mom or dad fill out a form or write a letter with information about their child's struggles or successes - without specific teacher requests - to use when they start to make class lists.

"I don't want anybody to be unsuccessful, but I also don't want (requests) to be based on some type of negative assumption about their teacher," said Megan Stryjewski, principal at Concord Elementary in Lindbergh Schools.

Schools may be heading to a future in which administrators are armed with detailed statistical information that compares the effectiveness of teachers. President Barack Obama's administration - along with many states - are moving toward teacher evaluations that are based at least in part on how well teachers help individual students increase their performance on state standardized exams. But education officials have been hesitant to make that kind of detailed data broadly available to parents.

In the meantime, parents have been sizing up teachers and shopping for the best ones on their own.

It's a kind of dance that culminates this time of year as many of the region's schools open their doors to the new school year.

Parents have scoped out the best teachers, based on their own knowledge or maybe what they hear in the car pool lane and at the playground. Some might have been a little stealthy on their child's form, describing the characteristics and background of - but not naming - the teacher they have heard is good.

Administrators who try to perpetrate the idea that all of their teachers are good are not helping, said Peg Tyre, author of "The Good School: How Smart Parents Get Their Kids The Education They Deserve."

A first-year teacher is a valid concern, according to research that has showed they tend to be less effective than those with even a little more experience. Parents can ask principals about extra support for the teacher.

"Don't shy away. Inform yourself. Go in and say in a very openhearted way: 'I know this is true. You know this is true. How do we go forward to create the least bit of disruption?'" Tyre said.

For parents of students who struggled last year and are not reading at grade level, "tell them, 'I need your very best people,'" she said.

At Concord Elementary, the child's previous teacher plays a big role in helping decide whose class each will be in the next year. Stryjewski and her teachers develop the classes together by starting with big pieces of paper, moving children's names from one list to another as they work. …

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