The nature of the relationships between a student and his or her teachers has a great effect on that student’s attitude toward school, and on how well a student performs in a particular class. Genuine respect for a teacher on the part of a student makes the learning process a more positive experience. A series of problematic relationships with teachers can lead to a very negative attitude toward school and learning. Some students, who do quite well with some teachers, have problems with other teachers that interfere with the learning process.
A teacher has a great deal of control over the atmosphere in the classroom. Some teachers prefer, and some types of learning require, tightly controlled surroundings. Other teachers function quite well in a less structured setting. Some students need, or their parents prefer, the support that a rigid, disciplined class- room offers. Other students perform better in an environment that allows more freedom.
There are significant and honest differences of opinion among educators with regard to which educational approaches and instructional strategies are most effective. A particular technique or approach may work well with some students and not so well with others. Some people have been taught to read through the whole language approach, others have learned through the phonics method, and still others through a combination of the two methods. Some students work best in groups, others prefer to work independently. Some students learn very effectively from lectures and discussions, other students seem to benefit more from simulations, role-playing, or other alternative methods. Students who read poorly may need alternative approaches more than students who read well. Just as learning styles vary from student to student, some teachers are more comfortable with, and/or more adept at utilizing, certain strategies and methods as opposed to others. Teachers should be free to employ the techniques they feel are most effective. Most teachers also have areas of expertise that may or may not match the interests or needs of a particular student.
It is very important to do everything possible to ensure a good match between the personality and learning style of a student and the personality and teaching style of a teacher. Students, with the consent of their parents, should be allowed to select the teachers with whom they want to work. This is done at the college level without noticeable problems. There will be practical limits to the range of choices that can be offered within a particular school, but we should offer students as much latitude as possible in making this important decision.
As long as teachers are assigning grades subjectively, some students would elect to take classes from teachers with a reputation for being less demanding. In some cases, parents might even side with their children in this regard. In that situation it is the student who is being short-changed. Little, if any, harm would come to the institution of public education from acquiescing in this matter.
Of course, this problem could be eliminated if grades were based, at least in part, on standardized test scores. Students would then have an incentive to select the teachers who could best help them master the material in a given subject area. By employing pre- and post-tests in each required subject and providing students and parents with information regarding the average improvement shown on the tests by groups of students as a result of working with a particular teacher, we could help students and parents make informed decisions. We would develop an effective evaluation tool for one aspect of a teacher’s performance in the process.
One potential flaw in this regard is that if standardized testing is the primary basis for assigning grades, there would be even more pressure on teachers to focus exclusively on the aspects of a course most likely to be tested. Concepts and topics beyond the minimum requirements enrich the quality of the education offered by our public schools. The best teachers are those who have the skill and knowledge to take students well beyond minimal expectations. This is another reason it is important to keep the list of standards and objectives to be tested as short as possible. Considering the importance of the relationship between a student and his or her teachers, as well as the need to fundamentally alter students’ perception of school, the benefits of allowing students the opportunity to select their teachers far outweigh the risks.