Teacher Assignments – The Worst Day of the Summer

Yesterday was one of those days that I dread as a parent.  It was the day my children received their final report card for the 09-10 school year, which included the name of their respective teachers for the 2011-2012 school year.  Of course, the kids and their parents were excited to not only learn who their teachers are going to be, but also which of their friends will be in their class.  As a result, our cell and home phones were buzzing with calls, texts and emails all afternoon.  My wife, who was sitting in a Pittsburgh airport, had partial list of students for each of the kids classes, all based on incoming texts and emails.  (We do not solicit lists of names from others.)

I have no problem with the kids calling (and texting when older) their friends to find out “who has who”.  The social side of school is very important to them and they need to satisfy that part of their lives. They are trying to find out who they will be close to next year – not necessarily in a learning sense, but in a social sense.

The problems come when parents call other parents, send out emails with comprehensive lists of students, start wikis for other parents to add their child’s name to class lists or simply barrage their friends with a series of text messages seeking the placement of each child.  Their reason may be social as well, but I know that that is not always the case.  Unfortunately, some are not looking at the make up of their child’s class as an opportunity to learn from a diverse set of learners, instead they are looking for potential road blocks – the kids in the class that are going to impede their child from getting an “A”.

This bothers me in two ways:  First, there implies that the success of any child is dependent upon the make up of the class.  I admit that it’s too simple and naive to think that classrooms don’t have personalities and that some can be more challenging than others, but learning, whether individual or social, is very personal and requires an acceptance of ownership on the part of the learner.  Students need to own their learning.  By introducing classroom dynamics as a hurdle to personal learning, I think we begin to deflect that ownership away from the student and more toward the class.  I tell me kids all the time, “your success in school is under your control, regardless of who is your class.”

But, here’s my bigger issue, when these lists are created and disseminated, limits are created.  As of today (June 25, 2010) there is a list of 20 kids in each of my kid’s classrooms and for the next 9 weeks, the assumption will be that those are the only learners in that classroom.  As Will Richardson will say to teachers, “You are not the smartest person in the room if you are connected to the internet.”  The same should hold for our students, “You are not the only learner (and teacher!) in the room if you are connected to the internet.”  My fear is that kids and parents will only see the 20 names on the list as the only learners in their classrooms without understanding the learning needs to occur in a “global” classroom.

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2 Responses to Teacher Assignments – The Worst Day of the Summer

  1. Amy Cantone says:

    Tony – I think you bring up MANY good points in this blog. It seems as though each of the schools in our district has a different policy and practice regarding this information being handed out – however, the parent reactions are often the same regardless of when or how it occurs. I wish more parents would read this and reflect on how they view and handle this process.

  2. Dave Sherman says:

    Great post. As an elementary school principal, the day I send out the class assignments is the worst day of the summer for me! Inevitably, I get calls from angry parents requesting classroom changes (which I will not do).

    For the reasons you mentioned, we do not hand out the class assignments for the next year in June. Instead, we send them home in August, two weeks before school starts. When schools give them out in June, some kids are happy all summer with the teacher or the class, and other kids are upset all summer. That is not fair. In my mind, all students should share the “class placement anxiety” all summer.

    At the school in which I am the principal, the most important issue to parents is whether their child has a “friend” in the class. This is to “ensure” that they are comfortable and can learn better. I do not subscribe to this line of thinking. I believe that friends in the class become more of a distraction than anything. They can play with friends at recess. In class, they need to stay focused.

    I really like your comments about students owning their learning. They should not depend on others to make them successful. Students need to face challenges in order to build character and self-esteem, and to become self-directed learners. I plan on using your ideas in August when the parents call me to complain that “not one friend” was placed in their kid’s classroom.

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