Monday, April 28, 2014

Thinking of Requesting a Specific Teacher for Your Child? Think Twice

How hard should I push to get my daughter the teachers I think will best fit with her learning style?

There are really two questions here, so I will address them in order. First question: How hard should you push to ensure your daughter is assigned to the teacher you feel is best for her?
School administrators had much to say on this topic. Most responded that “it never hurts to ask,” and encouraged parents with a preference to let administrators know about their preferences early in the process. All of the administrators, however, wanted parents to understand that not every request can be accommodated since “a class might be full or over-enrolled, the student’s schedule might preclude scheduling that class, or a host of other reasons.” A few mentioned specific policies, indicating that this is a topic that comes up often.

Zach Galvin, vice principal of Natick High School, in Natick, Mass., asked that parents give credit to administrators’ experience and judgment in pairing teachers and students.

Parents, when choosing the “best” are actually shielding their children from positive experiences and growth. I always counsel parents to slow down, let the student and the teacher match happen. There is also a very real concern that parents think that they are the professional in a capacity to choose which teacher is best and far too often I am quickly asked to make a second change because a parent-chosen teacher ends up not being the “best” that the parent thought.

Now let’s get to the second part of the question, about making sure students have teachers who match their learning style.

The terms “learning styles” or “modes of learning” refer to individual preferences about the sense through which one receives and learns new information, and there is debate over whether these styles or modes exist. Consequently, there is also debate over how much time and effort teachers should invest in teaching to a particular style.

Traditionally, these styles or modes are classified as visual, auditory or kinesthetic. The idea is that people learn differently from one another and have a preferred style or mode, one that helps them learn more easily. Daniel Willingham, a psychology professor at the University of Virginia and author of “Why Don’t Students Like School: A Cognitive Scientist Answers Questions About How the Mind Works and What It Means for the Classroom” agrees that we all have our own particular mix of abilities and talents, but explains that there is no specific data to show that children learn better when information is delivered according to a preferred style or mode. In other words, we may have disparate abilities, but the mode through which information is delivered has no bearing on how well we learn that information.

Whether or not you agree with Dr. Willingham’s conclusions, it is my belief that parents should encourage their children to experience a wide range of teachers, with a wide range of teaching styles. Students will be faced with a wide variety of teaching techniques, formats and styles throughout their academic career, and it is a good idea to know how to interpret and learn from all of them.

Or, as Mr. Galvin concluded in his email to me: “Let the professionals do the work. Let the students find their way, and then, if things are not working out, look to match for a better experience. Education is not always about being a better, or the best teacher; it is about the experience of learning.”


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