Originally created 08/06/99

By special request



Julie Weatherbee attributes her third-grader's honor roll status to teachers she has hand-picked at Blythe Elementary School.

This year however, the school voted to abolish the 15-year-old practice of allowing parents to request certain teachers.

Now Mrs. Weatherbee is concerned that her son won't get the teacher she feels is best for him.

"There are only three third-grade teachers and the one I want is a teacher who shows interest in the kids and has a motherly instinct that my son has picked up on," Mrs. Weatherbee said. "He's an A-B honor roll student, so it's not like I'm requesting a good teacher for a bad student. I just know that this particular teacher would be better for my child."

Mrs. Weatherbee's request is part of a trend taking place nationwide. Whether a certain teaching style has caught the eye of a parent, or a child is complaining about a "mean teacher," principals are often bombarded with requests for specific teachers.

Most requests come from parents of elementary pupils, but some parents of middle schoolers also lobby for a particular teacher.

"It's a hot topic among our 28,000 members," said June Million, spokeswoman for the National Association of Elementary School Principals. "It's a huge responsibility. Principals talk to each other all the time about ways to handle it."

Ms. Million said there's no consensus on whether such requests should be granted.

"Normally schools are open to hearing from parents about the type of teacher their child will work well with," Ms. Million said.

Ms. Million said parents should not base their requests on rumors about a teacher's performance but should observe the teacher and talk to the principal.

Mrs. Weatherbee said she has watched her son's teachers and says parents who are involved in their child's education are more likely to make teacher requests than others.

"I look at it this way, if a child is not happy, he or she will not want to go to school," Mrs. Weatherbee said. "Choosing the teacher is something that has worked for us."

But it didn't work for everyone, said Blythe principal James A. Williams.

"We got rid of the policy for several reasons, but mainly because it was unfair to the teachers and unfair to a lot of parents because we couldn't honor everyone's request," Mr. Williams said.

Daisy Price, a teaching assistant at Blythe, said most teachers were glad to see the policy go.

"From working in the school for the past 15 years, I could see where some teachers got all of the `good students.' Then there were classes with `the leftovers,"' Mrs. Price said.

Mrs. Price said the policy wasn't advertised, but parents could request a certain teacher during registration.

Child-development experts say letting parents hand-pick a teacher may not be best for the child.

Warren Umansky, an Augusta child-development specialist, said that unless the student has a learning disability that a specific teacher has expertise in, he wouldn't recommend preferential requests.

"Children are more adaptable than parents give them credit for," Dr. Umansky said. "If there is no particular reason that would benefit the child, I'm not in favor of preferential placement. It becomes a popularity contest and chaotic for the school."

IN RICHMOND COUNTY,

the school board cannot allow principals to honor parents' requests for specific teachers, but principals have some discretion since there is not an official policy, said public relations director Donald Porter.

At A. Brian Merry Elementary School, administrators let parents request teachers.

"Amazingly enough, I haven't seen much of a problem," said principal Beverly Arnold. "We have equal number of requests for all teachers in every grade level, so it usually balances out."

Next year, however, when National Teacher of the Year Andy Baumgartner returns, Mrs. Arnold said the school will probably have too many requests from parents wanting their child in his class.

"I don't have that big of a problem with parents requesting teachers," Mrs. Arnold said. "What I don't honor is requests to have students in the same class as their friends or siblings."

Parents usually know what teaching style is best for their child, Mrs. Arnold said. But the principal's choice often works out.

"I've had parents tell me, `You were right. That teacher was best for my child,"' Mrs. Arnold said. "I feel real good about the caliber of teachers and teaching in all of our classrooms."

At Richmond County's middle schools, requests for specific teachers are even harder to accommodate because students are assigned to a three- or four-member team of teachers. The team teaches science, social studies, math and English.

"We get requests via telephone or mail," said Dana Harris, assistant principal of Sego Middle School. "But we try not to honor them unless there are substantial circumstances for placing the student with a specific teacher. We think all of our teachers are quality teachers."

COLUMBIA COUNTY SCHOOLS

vary in how they deal with the requests.

At the elementary level, some schools accept parents' top three candidates and try to honor one of the choices.

"It's impossible to sit there and say we're going to let parents make requests and honor that," said Superintendent Tommy Price. "But we are working with parents."

Several principals said a parent sometimes requests that a child not be placed in a particular teacher's class, Mr. Price said.

In those cases, the child has usually failed the class or there is a conflict outside the school setting. That's more often the case at high schools and middle schools.

"If we honor one, we feel like we've got to honor all of them," said Charles Nagle, principal of Riverside Middle School. "We do look at certain situations. We don't want a bad situation."

IN AIKEN COUNTY,

board of education members have given principals discretion in such requests.

Gloverville Elementary School principal Dwight Smith wrestles with recurring requests each year but is able to fulfill very few. Of the five to seven that he gets every summer from concerned parents, he is able to accommodate only about two.

"With a school that has only two classes for each grade level, we have to be pretty rigid with parents -- meaning that pupils often just fall with the teacher they are given," Mr. Smith said. "But if the parents convince us that a child really needs to be placed with a particular teacher, and has the evidence to prove it, we'll do what we can to satisfy the request."

Peggy Trivelas, newly appointed principal at East Aiken Elementary, said she hasn't fielded many requests for a certain teacher simply because most parents trust the professional judgment of the administration.

"We do our best to match personalities," she said. "Everybody benefits when teacher and student have a good working relationship."

While most principals say learning is helped when they are able to pair pupil learning with a particular teaching technique, Rebecca Koelker doesn't encourage such requests.

"I think all the teachers I hire are excellent at what they do," said Ms. Koelker, principal of Greendale Elementary. "Good teachers will adjust to the individual needs of the student. Most parents are confident in our teachers and know that they are above board. But when I do get request for a particular teacher, I only grant legitimate ones -- what's best for the student and his particular needs."

Staff Writers Peggy Ussery and Chasiti Kirkland contributed to this report.

Faith Johnson covers education for The Augusta Chronicle. She can be reached at (706) 823-3765 or faithj@augustachronicle.com.