Should I Hold My Child Back Part 2

This is the time of year when some parents may be wondering: Should I hold my child back a grade? It is a difficult and challenging question for any parent to grapple with.

Back in June, I wrote a post about retention, and it has been by far, the generated the most commentary, questions, and dialogue. I thought it would be helpful to write a follow up that summarizes some of the points I have been conveying to individual parents who have contacted me.

NOTE: I do not unilaterally disagree with retention. While I generally do not support retention as an intervention to help students succeed, I do believe that every child is unique with his/her own circumstances and needs. Because I do not know the intricate nuances of each child’s situation, I do not, in good conscience, attempt to provide explicit answers so much provide guidance for parents to ask the right questions, look in the right places and seek the best direction for their child.

 

1) Before retention is even a consideration, ask these questions:
What support has your child been receiving this year and what will be provided next year?
If my child is retained, what support would they put in place for him next year?
If my child is retained, how will the teaching be different from this year? Who will my child’s teacher be? (NOT THE SAME TEACHER) Often times, when students repeat a grade, there’s nothing different. If you do something twice, exactly the same way, why would one expect different results?
What support has she been receiving at home or outside of school?
Did your child passed the state test?
What have her previous grade(s) teachers said in regard to your child’s academic performance? Has her academic performance in school event been an issue before?

2) One of the most common questions I have received is: Should I hold my child back in middle school? I think this is probably the hardest question for parents to grapple with and come to a decisive answer about because frankly, middle school can be one of the most challenging times for a child and a child’s family. Peer relationships take precedence over parental relationships and kids begin to care a lot more about their friends than they do about their parents. Thus when retention comes into the picture, kids are more worried about what their peers will think and about being made fun of than about the potential benefits of being retained. Unfortunately, there is no simple answer. Every child has to be considered in his/her unique situation.

3) Does your child have a learning disability? If so, how would retention serve as an intervention? The simplest definition of a learning disability is when what students seem to be able to do or show does not match what testing of their ability shows. This is called a discrepancy. There is a specific measure of of the discrepancy that a child must display in order to qualify for special education services. In short, a child could have special needs if s/he is unable to line up his/her apparent ability with what s/he produces.

4) Provide whatever extra support can be provided at home and/or outside of the home. This could be one-to-one tutoring from a professional, a tutoring center, or working with your child yourself.

5) Document everything: Contact/communication with teachers. what extra support your child is receiving from school, how long he’s been receiving support, progress he’s made as a result of the support. If your school has quarterly assessments or some sort of beginning of the year and end of the year assessment such as the MAP test, see what the data says so you can use it to support your decision. You are very much within your rights as a parent to reject the teacher’s recommendation.

6) If your child is able, discuss the decision with him/her openly. While this is not a decision for your child to make, it is one that you as a family need to make together. If you do decide to retain your child, I highly recommend counseling to be included in the support services for the following year. You child needs to be supported in all aspects–social emotional and academic.

At the end of the day, parents want to do what’s best for their child, and ultimately, I trust that the vast majority of teachers have the same intent. Working together towards this goal will help in making the decision.

Retention is a difficult decision in every situation. Doing one’s due diligence as a parent to research and consider every angle prior to making a decision is the best thing one can do. My heart goes out to all the families who are struggling with whether or not to retain their child.

Does School Size Matter?

People often ask me, “Does school size matter?” In a nutshell…yes, school size matters.

Historically large schools (especially for middle and high school) have been the norm for many reasons. A school building, in and of itself, is expensive to operate and maintain. So the fewer buildings that a district has to pay for, the less capital outlay it is for the district. Secondly, the more students in one building, the more funding for that school. The more students in the school, the more likely it is that the school can offer a robust number of programs. In other words, the more students, it’s more likely that you’ll have a better football team, basketball team, and even math team.

Despite some of the positives of a large school, sometimes in a large school setting, it’s too easy for a student to get lost. Particularly, students who don’t fit the norm and are not well assimilated into school, for whatever reason. My high school graduating class was roughly 170 students. A high school that wasn’t too far away had 1,000 students per graduating class. Take a minute to think about that from a student to teacher/adult ratio. Of course, large schools have more staff members, but that doesn’t necessarily mean that fewer students fall through the cracks.

So why do I think school size matters?

My definition of a small school is any number of students that allows the principal to know each student by name and make a genuine connection. While there are a number of factors that policy makers and such take into account to define a small school, this is what has worked for me. In my previous experience as a school administrator, my brain capacity to remember students by name puts a small school at somewhere between 700-800 students. In my opinion, any student population beyond that is a large school. Why do I feel it’s important for the school building administrator to know every student by name? Because one of the key cornerstones of a successful school is the school culture. When the school principal and administrators, makes a personal connection with each student, it often leads to a whole host of positive outcomes. For one thing, hopefully students will recognize that they are individually important to the school leader(s). Secondly, the more positive adult connections a student makes within the school community, the more likely it is that they will succeed. They’re also more likely to seek adult council and less likely to make poor choices. I wrote about the 40 Developmental Assets in a previous post, which lists positive adult relationships as one of the key assets for successful students.

As an instructional leader, the principal is responsible for evaluating and developing teachers and staff. So, the larger the school, the more staff members for which the principal will be responsible. Sure there are assistant principals who help with the evaluations, but ultimately it’s still the principals responsibility. If there are 100 teachers on staff, and roughly 182 days of school, the principal would be lucky if s/he was able to observe each teacher for one full lesson during the school year. It’s not really what I would call an effective way to develop teachers. A principal of a large school does a lot more delegating, which comes out of necessity.

Like many other things in life, schools are not one size fits all. Not all students need or thrive in a small school setting. There are those who thrive in large settings where there are more peers and offer more niche activities where students can find a connection to school. For example, large schools may be able to offer a fencing club, which is out of the norm and likely not going to be available at small schools.

 

For elementary schools, the ideal size school is 500 students. Just enough to provide multiple classes at each grade level and offer a variety of activities for students. Typically middle and high schools are larger, much larger. This isn’t to say that large schools cannot be successful, because there are plenty that are. But if you take a close look at those large schools that are successful, they’ve taken on the model of a small school. That is, they’ve split up the school into houses (or teams) carefully ensuring that each student is closely connected to a team of teachers and school administrators. Some large schools make sure that the houses (or teams) are located in separate wings, further reinforcing the feel of a small school. These methods are effective and is something I would look for in my child’s middle and/or high school.

So, how important is school size to you? Does it matter? Why or why not? I’d love to hear from you and as always, thank you for reading!

Preventing Bad Posture in Children with Better Classroom Furniture

While classrooms have evolved quite a bit over the past few decades, in many cases, classroom furniture has not. It’s a typical scene from a school classroom: children sit for hours at a time in hard-backed chairs from decades past, arching their backs at unnatural angles, writing in workbooks or reading at outdated school desks, which lack all the comforts of modern ones.

It’s also a scene that some parents have become concerned about, due to the toll this sort of posture exerts on children’s spines and backs throughout their childhood and in later years. Tips on ‘sitting properly’ from an ergonomics perspective tell us that how most children sit in classrooms isn’t correct:

• The lower leg should be vertical to the floor, the thigh horizontal.
• The lower arms should be resting on the desktop in a relaxed position.
• Desks and scholastic furniture should be height adjustable.
• The seat should tilt forward by approximately 2°.
• The seat depth should be positioned correctly: the thighs should not be in contact with the front edge of the seat.
• The backrest should be adapted to the back and support the lumbar region.
• A tilting desktop encourages an upright position that is better for the back.

And while working at their desks, on a computer, children should have a ‘monitor shelf’ able to be lowered or raised, in keeping with the tilted position of the head (reducing tension in the neck), and a keyboard shelf that allows the child to rest his or her arms whilst working. ‘Sight distance’ should also be taken into consideration, as this can produce neck tension when a computer is placed too high, or is too close. Most children are taught how to hold a pencil correctly to reduce hand-cramping and produce fluid writing, but these same concerns aren’t often brought to bear in a more holistic way that takes into account how kids move through their school day, from the desks they sit at, and the chairs they sit in, to where they do their homework.

 

There are some excellent ergonomically appropriate children’s furniture for school and home now being produced, and many parents are advocating schools purchase this furniture; some are even purchasing it themselves for their child to use at home.

Skin Color According to a Five-Year-Old

Children begin to notice the difference in people’s skin color fairly early on. They innocently make comments that an adult would never get away with. Sometimes those comments about skin color are ironically spot on. This is the current understanding of skin color according to our five-year-old.

We watched the second presidential debate together as a family. Although my husband and I typically vote for opposing candidates every election and our kids are still very young (probably too young to truly understand the election process), we thought it’d be a good idea to try to watch at least some portion of the debate and use it as a teachable moment. While we were watching, we explained the election process (very briefly and simply). We also explained that our current president is Barack Obama, the candidate running against him is Mitt Romney, and a debate was an opportunity for candidates to share their views.

I paused the debate when Barack Obama was on the screen.

 

Then I asked Lil Pig, “What is the color of President Obama’s skin?”

My Lil Pig took a few seconds to think about it and then answered, “He’s tan.” My husband and I did our best not to chuckle.

Then I asked him, “What is the color of mommy’s skin?” As he laughed, he said, “Mommy, you’re tan, too and so am I!” I laughed as well. Although I’m Asian and society calls Asians “yellow”, I agree with Lil Pig that I’m more tan than yellow.

The conclusion from this conversation: President Obama, although half white and half black and I, although 100% Asian, have the same skin color.

A few moments later, I paused the debate when Mitt Romney was on the screen.

 

Then I asked Lil Pig, “What is the color of Mitt Romney’s skin?”

My Lil Pig took longer to think about this question and then finally answered, “He’s peach.” My husband and I could not hold back our laughter.

I told him that he was right. Mitt Romney’s skin color looked peach.

The conclusion from this conversation: I wonder if white skin color should instead be called peach.

I know skin color can be very sensitive and difficult but open discussions often help to break the cycle of discrimination. I hope this innocent conversation is just the beginning of ongoing meaningful conversations with our children regarding skin color, race, and ethnicity.

Have you ever had a discussion with your child(ren) about skin color? If so, at what age and how did it go? I’d love to hear your stories! As always, thank you for reading!

Progress Reports

The school year is in full gear, and by now, most schools on a traditional school calendar are hitting the halfway point of the first quarter. That means it’s about time for progress reports. Progress reports used to be mailed out around mid-quarter (or mid-marking/grading period) to students who were at risk of failing. However, these days progress reports are more and more common for all students, not just those at risk.

With the advent of online grading technologies such as Powerschool (my favorite) giving parents and students daily access to grades, attendance, and various other records, it may seem that there is less need for formal mid-quarter progress reports. On the contrary, I believe there is still a value add for official progress reports.

1. Even though online technologies offer parents and students a daily view of progress, not all parents/students access the records. So a paper progress report is still a useful tool for communication.

2. A paper progress report is an official school document, which schools use not only to notify parents/students of progress, but it also serves as a “cover-your-*ss” method for schools. Notifying parents/students of academic progress can sometimes become an issue if parents feels that they were not properly kept abreast of their child’s academic progress, particularly if the child is at risk of failing. A paper progress report becomes documentation that a parent/student was notified.

3. There’s something about receiving an official notification from the school that can serve as a good swift kick in the rear for some students. Even if a student is checking progress regularly online, an official notification may help a student to understand what their grades would be if report cards were issued right now. And if those grades aren’t so great, it’s good to know there’s still time to do something about it.

4. A paper progress report serves as a clear marker for the mid-point of the quarter. It signals that there’s exactly half of a grading period remaining during which time students can raise and/or maintain their grades.

If you have concerns about your child’s academic progress, don’t wait for the official progress report to know. When I was a teacher I always had a couple of students who benefited from a weekly progress report. Of course, this is much easier as an elementary school teacher (who has fewer than 40 students), but it was an effective method of helping parent/students stay on top of their progress. Some parents used weekly progress reports as a way to reward their child weekly for demonstrating academic responsibility. This goes along with helping a child develop a healthy sense of responsibility.

At the middle and high school levels, I strongly recommend taking advantage of the online academic access that many districts provide. Even at the low income schools where I worked, students were required to check their online academic progress using school laptops on a weekly basis. Because access is online, a parent/student can check at a public facility such as a library.

Ultimately, progress report grades/marks should not be a surprise. If it is, then there may not be enough communication with the teacher(s) and/or your child. Teachers are partners in your child’s education. Thus, whether your child is in kindergarten or a sophomore in high school, that communication and partnership remains of paramount importance to academic success.

The First Day of Kindergarten

Months in advance of the start of this school year, we decided to send Lil Pig to the full day kindergarten program at his pre-school. After weighing all the pros and cons given our current family situation (ie. academic needs, class size, our jobs, sister at the same school, cost), this decision made the most sense.

Well, three days ago, Lil Pig started kindergarten. There wasn’t as much hoopla for us since he was staying at the same school with many of the same friends moving into the kinder class. Admittedly, I did little to prepare him or ourselves for starting “real” school. So, much to my dismay when he came home and said that he didn’t like kindergarten because it was “boring”, missed his former teacher, and wanted to return to pre-school, I was surprised and distraught. We consoled and reminded him that he’s a big boy, ready for the exciting adventure of kindergarten. We asked him specific questions to see if we could get to the bottom of his boredom. After about 10 minutes of talking with our 5-year-old, we managed to conclude that he wasn’t bored, but in fact, he didn’t like the academic nature of kindergarten. After all, there was far less play time in kindergarten than in pre-school. This is a portion of the week one newsletter I received from the teacher:

 

This is all for the month of September! For Montessori kindergarten! Rigorous enough?

Like every other parent out there, I wondered if we had made the right decision. Was full-day kindergarten too much or did our son simply need to learn how to be a successful full-day kindergarten learner? I couldn’t sleep that night as I tossed and turned while praying intermittently that the next day would be better.

You see, regardless of how long I’d been an educator and helped hundreds of students (and their worried parents) begin their public school experience in kindergarten, I had momentarily forgotten everything I’d learned from experience.

1) It’s often the parents (me) that have a harder time with the transition than the students.
2) (Most) Kids are incredibly resilient and adapt to change sooner than later.
3) Sometimes it takes time to adjust to a change, even when it’s a good change.
4) Knowing our child, we chose the best educational environment for him.

Yet after one day, I was sleepless with worry because more than anything else I wanted to ensure that he loved school and loved learning.

Fortunately, the next two days of kindergarten were far better. Lil Pig came home a happy camper and better adjusted to the changes of being a big kid. A kindergartener.

What did I learn from all this?

See the aforementioned 4 points. Plus, no matter how old a child, a parent never stops worrying. For those of you parents with older kids perhaps transitioning to middle school, high school, college, or getting married and beyond, you are in the good company of other worried parents and always remember point numbers 1-3 above.

How has the start of the new school year been for you and your kid(s)? I’d love to hear from you and as always, thanks for reading!

Back to School — How to Get Off to a Successful Start

Summer is coming to a close; the sun is setting earlier; it’s time for back to school!

Here are a few simple tips for getting off to a successful start and on into the school year.

1. Build a strong rapport with your child’s teacher(s) right off the bat. Introduce yourself in person, make sure to attend Back to school night (often called Curriculum Night) and then send a follow-up email letting your child(ren)’s teacher know that you and your family are excited for a great year. In your email, share the best way for the teacher(s) to get a hold of you and a little bit about your child that may be good and/or helpful for the teacher(s) to know. And for those of you with middle and high school students, this tip is still very much valid. Be sure to include the specialists (ie. PE teacher, Art teacher, etc…) Taking the time to connect lets teachers know that you’re serious about supporting them and your child in having a successful year.

2. Notify your child’s teacher of any special needs that are out of the ordinary. For example, if your child is deathly shy in a large group, this would be good to let the teachers know in advance so they can be sensitive in engaging your child.

3. Offer your help and support–whether you are a working parent or a stay-at-home parent. Some teachers will take you up on your offer–whether by having you come into the classroom to volunteer or to ask you to do stuff at home (ie. even mundane things like cutting out shapes for an activity or helping them build and maintain their classroom website). Teachers spend a great deal of time outside the classroom prepping materials and lessons so any way to help lighten that load is often whole-heartedly welcomed.

4. Understand that your child is one of 30 (or more) students for which a teacher is responsible. Teaching is a great responsibility and juggling 30 kids along with 30 sets of parents (often more since more and more families are blended) is no simple task. Keep this in mind and extend a little grace when things aren’t perfect.

For children:

1. Get to bed early. Set the bedtime early enough so that going back to school is a smooth transition. Try to avoid too much television right before bed time. Instead go for a book.

2. Have a healthy breakfast. If you need something to go, we love the Jimmy Dean’s lights (they’re breakfast sandwiches made of English muffins, ham, and an egg–microwaveable). Skip the pop tarts if you can.

3. Lay tomorrow’s clothes out ahead of time, put backpacks in the car, pack lunch/snack (if needed) the night before. This will save some time in the morning.

4. Label all your child’s clothing and supplies. I cannot tell you how much schools accumulate by the end of each quarter that never gets claimed and thus, ends up being donated to goodwill. If items are labeled, it makes it easier to return to the rightful owner.

5. Show your child how excited you are for new year and model good behavior at school (ie. follow the school rules). Don’t speak badly about your child’s teachers, administrators, etc… in front of your child. Reserve this for a time when they are not around. If your child hears you disrespecting teachers and administrators, they are more likely to think they can do so as well, which could get them into trouble.

Should I Be Allowed to Choose My Child’s Specific Teacher Part II

In the first part of this two part series, I wrote from the perspective of an administrator who honors parent/guardian requests for specific teachers. For the second part of this two-part series, I’ll share the perspective of an administrator who does not accept parent/guardian requests for specific teachers. There are a number of valid reasons for not allowing this sort of teacher selection to take place.

1. Self selection makes it nearly impossible to create balanced classes. In other words, a class could end up with 5 boys/25 girls or 10 students with special needs or 15 students who are English language learners. When parents make specific requests and they are all honored, it leaves little room for school officials to balance the classes into a heterogeneous mix as needed.

2. I’m a firm believer that perception is reality and as such, many a teacher has been chosen (for better or for worse) based on general public perception and reputation. The problem with this type of selection process is not every good teacher is a good teacher for each child. Don’t just go by word of mouth as a teacher’s personality/style may not fit your child’s.

3. Choosing a teacher can lead to a popularity contest and can breed unhealthy competition amongst teachers. It is imperative in schools that teachers and staff build a collaborative culture. But if parents are allowed to choose their child’s teacher, some teachers simply focus on getting as many parent requests as possible by shaping public perception. It becomes more about politicking than about being a great teacher. At one school where I worked, a few teachers would put their colleagues down and speak poorly of their colleagues in front of parents. Often times what was said about their colleagues were completely false. All this, for the sake of one’s popularity index.

4. Parents/guardians sometimes make the assumption that their request for a specific teacher will be accepted with just as much enthusiasm on the part of the said teacher. It’s important to keep in mind that teachers have preferences, too. And while little Johnny may be the apple of a parent’s eye, a teacher might not feel the same way, especially if little Johnny is a handful. Sometimes it may even be the parent/guardian that the teacher may not wish to have to deal with for an entire school year. Difficult to swallow, I know. But that’s a stark reality. At one school where I worked, the practice had been to allow parents/guardians to select their child’s teacher. In order to balance this practice of “the right to choose”, I implemented a teacher’s right to veto a request. For example, there was a family of 4 sons who attended this school. The children were a handful, but what was worse frankly, were the parents, in particular, the mom. Each year as that family made a request, there was always an equal number of teachers who vetoed the request. Of course, this was unbeknownst to the family, but it seemed only fair that there remained a balance in the business of choosing.

5. The parents who are the most involved and thus request a specific teacher typically all end up in one classroom and that one teacher receives the most outside support while the other teachers and students end up without. As a parent, you may be thinking, “not my problem” and that may be true to some degree, but remember that a school administrator’s responsibility is to look out for every student and every teacher. When all of the more involved and engaged parents end up in one classroom, it creates an imbalance and is a disservice to all the other students. So when an administrator allows parents to choose specific teachers, it can end up hurting students as a whole.

I’ve worked at schools where things were done both ways–honor parent requests or have a policy forbidding requests. From my experience, what is helpful is some sort of balance. I do not philosophically believe that parents should have a right to choose their child’s teacher. In a public school setting, I believe it’s not appropriate. Teachers don’t get to choose their students and neither should parents get to choose their child’s teacher. It’s a slippery slope once that door is opened. However, I do believe that parents/guardians should be engaged in schools and do everything possible to support their child’s learning experience.

One of the things that I ask parents/guardians to do should they wish to give some input into their child’s placement is to write a letter to the school’s principal. This letter should describe a child’s personality and unique needs that may help school officials with better placing a child with a teacher. I have also accepted letters that request not to be placed with a specific teacher. If a family has a good reason such as a previous experience with the teacher that would hinder building a good rapport, I’ve found this information good to know. Most importantly, if you have concerns, have a conversation with your child’s principal and current teacher. Ask them what the policies are regarding selecting a teacher so that you can best support your child’s learning experience. Keep the lines of communication open and honest.

The Complicated Middle and High School Master Schedule

There is absolutely nothing more complicated in the middle and high school than scheduling. Whether it’s scheduling for athletics, use of rooms/meeting space, or bus scheduling, it’s all ridiculously complicated. And the larger the school, the more students; the more students, the more teachers and staff; And thus, the ever more complicated scheduling becomes. Above all, creating the master schedule is the Mount Everest that every school has to deal with during the summer months preceding the start of a new school year.

The master schedule is the schedule that shows what each teacher is teaching (called sections), in which room, at what time (or periods or mods for schools that are on 10-15 minute increments). It also shows what is called the “seat count”, meaning, if you have 1600 students in the school with 400 at each grade level, there should be at least that many spaces (seats) per grade level per period to ensure that there’s space for every student as well as some “give” or flexibility for students who may want to transfer courses. A master schedule typically looks something like this:

 

Add to this:
Teacher teams–in many schools (particularly middle schools) teachers are organized into teams. For example, each team has an English teacher, a Science teacher, a History teacher, and a Math teacher. This team of teachers shares the same students. So if there are 330 8th grader students with 3 teams of 8th grade teachers, each team of teachers would share the teaching responsibilities for roughly the same 110 students. The master schedule has to be arranged in such a way that allows these 110 students to have access to the courses they need from these 4 core subject teachers.

Teacher requests–There’s a whole lot of politics involved when it comes to which teacher teaches what subject and who has the privilege of teaching the accelerated courses versus the lower achieving student courses. Often times it’s the teachers with the longest tenure who get to teach the accelerated classes and the newer teachers teach the general and modified courses. Sometimes teachers don’t want to teach a course that needs a teacher. Sometimes, there isn’t a qualified teacher on staff to teach a course that has high student demand. For example, rocketry was a really popular course at one of the schools where I worked, but once the teacher who taught it retired, the course was scrapped because no one else on staff was qualified to teach it.

Common preparation time/period (often referred to as “prep time” or “prep period”–More and more schools are implementing collaboration and common prep time for teachers. This allows teachers who are on the same team or who teach the same subject a common prep time/period in the event that they need time to meet about students, planning, etc…

Student elective requests–Each student has his/her specific requests for a variety of electives–music, art, world language, video production, computer programming, etc… The more electives a school offers, the ever more complicated the master schedule becomes. Some electives are only offered in one particular period. If that is the case the constraints for scheduling end up requiring hand scheduling (as opposed to computer generated scheduling). At one of my middle schools where I was responsible for scheduling, drama was only offered during one period each semester. So if a student wanted drama, I had to work the rest of that student’s schedule in such a way that would make drama fit.

Class size limits–Every school has a cap that they place on class size. Although for some classes (typically accelerated, advanced placement, honors) are allowed to be larger, administrators have to consider just how large a class can go.

Computerized scheduling v. Hand/Manual scheduling–There are several fantastic software programs out there now that have the capability of handling complicated master scheduling and scheduling of students. I have my favorite, but I don’t want to give out free advertising. Even so, as one who did the master schedule and scheduling of 1000+ students each summer for a few years, I still had about 100 students that had to be manually scheduled, meaning, I had to look at each of those students requests and academic needs and manually create a schedule all the while ensuring that the class sizes remained balanced. Each manual schedule took about 15-20 minutes depending on the complexity of the requests. And after all the schedules were created, I looked at each one to check for errors.

That’s the complicated master schedule process in a very small nutshell. In actuality, there’s a bit more I could write, but this post would end up being 2000 words, well above the recommended 600-800 word ideal blog post. Thanks for reading to the end!

How Are Students Placed In Classes?

Have you ever wondered: how are students placed in classes? How are they separated? What are the factors that are involved? Do the teachers do it or does the principal do it? Can I as a parent have some say in the matter? What about new students?

In all likelihood, you child’s school has a process just like every one of the schools where I’ve worked. At the first school where I worked as a teacher, there were 5 grade level teachers. At this school, the teachers did the bulk of the work in sorting the students into classes for the following school year. Starting in May, we completed a grouping card for each student in our class. These were color coded (pink for girls and blue for boys–yes gender stereotyped colors, but simple for everyone to recognize), 4×6 index cards that included information such as: overall ability level, special needs (ie. Special Education, Gifted, or ELL–English Language Learner), allergies, wears glasses, overall behavior, degree of parent involvement, names of other students from whom to be separated or placed with together, special interests/talents, and space for the current teacher to write any additional information that may be helpful to the next teacher.

Then in June, the teachers at each grade level met to place students into two classes for the following grade based upon a number of factors: student’s personality (and teacher style), individual needs, gender, and balance in ability level and behavior concerns. Teachers typically avoided placement of twins/triplets, members of the same family, as well as any students who may have had difficulty getting along with each other in the past. In my opinion, teachers are best equipped to do placement as they know the students within the school setting and usually know their teaching colleagues in the next grade level. It is a challenging task with the ultimate end goal being two heterogeneous, balanced classes. Then the principal would look over the lists one final time for any adjustments (typically letting us know of any changes) and kept them in her office over the summer.

This has been the process that I’ve also seen at a couple of the other schools where I worked.

The most difficult part of the placement process is that even after classes are created, things change over the summer–families move out of the area, parents/guardians decide to move to a different school, new families enroll, teachers resign and new ones are hired. Each of these factors could easily lead to an imbalance in the classes that were originally and tentatively created.

For example: The fluctuation of student enrollment, could potentially lead to a very imbalanced class. For example:

• One 2nd grade class with 15 returning students and 10 new students.
• The other 2nd grade class having 24 returning students and just 1 new student.
• Imagine then that the class with 10 new students was 8 female and 2 male.
• Imagine what that does to the balance of gender in that class.
• It also throws off the ratio of returning students to new students, which is critical to the culture of that classroom as returning students tend to be readily acclimated to the positive school culture and expectations of the existing school students.

If this type of situation were to occur, those two classes would need to be re-balanced for the long-term success of those classes. This could potentially happen even after school has started.

At the various schools where I’ve worked, I’ve never posted class lists until a few days before school started. My main reasoning for this was because of the ebb and flow of enrollment which often occurs all the way through the first couple of weeks of school. So I would delay the release of class lists until the last possible moment so that it’s hopefully as final as a class list can be. I think it’s worse to release class lists early and then have to move a number of students around AFTER they’ve already come to know what class they were going to be in. In the past, I’ve found that is much harder on students and frankly it’s not critical to announce class lists that early especially knowing that enrollment changes up and even following the first day of school.

Ultimately, the goal for each school is to create balanced, heterogeneous classes, which makes for the most productive learning environment for all.

I’m preparing two separate posts about whether parents should be allowed to choose their child’s teacher. I see both sides of the coin on that one. I’ll also write about the middle/high school process as it’s a bit different.

When does your child find out which teacher they will have for the following year? When would you like to find out which teacher they’ll have?