Parents know how key a single teacher can be in their child’s education, but schools say the best outcome for kids is the result of a group effort.
We have all seen those teachers: the effervescent leaders who shine just a little brighter at the front of the room, as if all the world is their stage. Or it’s the older individuals who are remarkably attuned to the musings and mumblings of their young students.
As a student, you may have recognized those teachers and their positive impact on your educational journey; but more likely, you could only fully discern their significance with the added benefit of hindsight.
Now, as parents, we encounter these teachers again, and we may even seek them out for our child’s educational experience. Why are we drawn to them? Is it nostalgia? Is it merely the desire to give our kids the absolute best opportunity we can provide? Will one teacher promote more growth for our child than another?
Meet Mrs. Sexton
“It’s a great job. I get to take on new kids each year, whom I get to know with every assignment and every activity we do, and we just see how far we can go,” says Mary Sexton, a third grade teacher in her 17th year at Mariemont City Schools.
Sexton works hard for her students. From helping them find “just right” books for their daily reading assignments to only assigning homework she is confident her students will consider practice rather than work, Sexton strives for learning to be a win-win situation for everyone: the child, the teacher, and the parent.
“I spend the first six weeks of the school year building community and getting everybody to invest in each other. It just takes time,” she says, citing building individual relationships with each student as her key to a successful school year. “It’s about having constant conversations. My students know I care about them and I notice things about them.”
Sexton wants students to pick their own books to read, their own topics to write and to work at their own pace.
She sets up expectations for behavior by incorporating “thinking areas” (her class’s term) in her classroom: little nooks where students, of their own volition, can go for a couple minutes to regroup. The areas are out of sight from the class but contain no distractions (like books), so the student wants to return to the group.
There are times when Sexton employs their use, too, whispering in a student’s ear, “Why don’t you go take a break? We’ll be happy to have you back when you’re ready to follow the rules.”
Halfway through the school year, how often does Sexton employ this tactic? “These days? Rarely.”
With four classes of third graders in two different elementary schools, the grade level teachers team-teach some of the curriculum so they can incorporate outings for the entire grade. They visit Findlay Market to observe the cultural impact of immigration, or the Mariemont municipal building, where students are assigned the roles of mayor and council members so they can discuss and vote for special initiatives for government.
Landing the Right Teacher
Exactly how do you go about ensuring your child gets a teacher like Mrs. Sexton? The surprise answer: you don’t, really.
“I think the community trusts us. The people who work here want to be here. If they [parents] need assistance, they know that we are here to provide it,” says Shannon Kromer, Director of Curriculum and Instruction (K – 12) at Mariemont City Schools.
As a parent herself, though, she says she would not request a teacher for any of her three kids. “Someday, my kids will have to come into contact with people that they are not going to love every second of the day. They have to learn how to deal with it and to adjust,” she says.
Of course teachers have different teaching styles, and children have different learning styles. But Kromer cautions against labeling by learning style, too.
“Every kid is an individual, and most kids are a combination [of learning styles]; for our teachers, it’s more about knowing your student, and being able to adjust,” says Kromer.
Teachers who know their students advocate for them. For example, if the second grade teachers at Mariemont notice a student struggling with reading or writing, they will recommend that student be placed in Sexton’s class, since Sexton started in special education, and employs a highly systemic approach to reading, writing and spelling for her entire class.
Schools or school districts may have a formal teacher request system, or may issue a proactive school-wide request for parent input at the end of the school year, but that doesn’t necessarily guarantee placement.
“Last year, I filled out the school-wide requests we received for my kids, largely based on other parents’ recommendations and what the kids had heard,” says Robyn Mullen, mother of four, three of whom attend St. Antoninus. “One request was granted, one was recommended for another teacher because of an accelerated reading level, and one didn’t get either of her choices.”
Jennifer Aquino, Head of Lower School (18 months-grade 4) at Cincinnati Country Day (CCD), initiates their class placement process in April. Among other things, they consider the students’ learning style, personality, the peer groupings that work and don’t work; as well as the teacher’s communication or organization style.
Aquino also utilizes a Parent Input form for information about their child’s personality or preferred teaching styles, but specifically asks parents not to include names of teachers.
“A lot of times parents think they want a particular teacher by reputation or by what they see at a surface level, or perhaps interactions they have had with that adult on an adult level, or with a sibling,” says Aquino. “But we want to make sure … we are looking at each child as an individual, and we are looking at each teacher as a style.”
Aquino says they go through several drafts of the class placement charts before assignments are settled. “We are very deliberate,” she says.
This carries over into teacher selection per grade level, as well. “I tend to set my grade levels up with teachers with very different approaches to learning and classroom management to ensure that regardless of what grade a child is in, they’re going to have a teacher that matches their needs,” says Aquino.
Working With Your Child’s Teacher
Regardless of classroom placement, our job as parents is to maintain open lines of communication with the teacher, and by extension, the administration.
If something doesn’t feel right, bring it up to the teacher so everyone knows about it. Especially during the transition periods.
“Often, it’s not so much about the teacher or the matching, as it is about something else, like peers,” says Aquino. In the past, CCD has offered projects involving cross-grouping classes, so struggling students get fulfillment from working with their friends in the other class, while also getting to know their new classmates. “It helps them find a little bit of comfort and security while they’re getting used to new and different things.”
If your child attends a school where the parents and teachers are on a first-name basis, where teachers send home regular updates, where there are focus groups for parent feedback, and where there’s a sense of community and trust, then you will see growth in your child; because the community is committed to your child, regardless of who’s leading the classroom discussion.
“I think any time a child has multiple adults trying to help them become the best person they can be … there’s never anything bad about that. And I think the more they [students] see people on the same page, and working together to help them, the better,” says Kromer.