Saturday, February 22, 2014

The Teacher/Student Fit!
By: Janna

I was a student of Dr. Frank Hewett (of the engineered classroom fame) at UCLA in the early 1990’s. He had a theory of the P-E fit where he explained most behavior disorders were not in the person but came from the person not fitting in well with their environment. Ever since then I have been very cognizant of the context of teaching and learning and behavior. In my mind, I see more of the “Teacher-Student Fit”. Not all students fit well with all teachers and not all teachers fit well with all students.

This brings me to my point, the myth of the “highly effective” teacher. I am considered a good teacher and I made great gains with students with special needs when I was a public school teacher, and now with my university students. But no matter how wonderful my evaluations say I am, I am not “highly effective” for 100% of my students. Every semester, there are usually a few in my class for whom I am really only an average teacher. Either they do not like me or need me very much or they have other distractions where my class never resonates as the most amazing experience in their lives. I am fortunate that the majority of my students let me know I inspired them in one way or another but I certainly do not reach every single person in my classes.

I also make mistakes. In the past 3 years there are 2 students I feel that I did not catch their problems in time to help them in my class. In these two cases, one student was saved in later classes by other faculty members, and one was not. I have kept tabs on him and he is doing well now at another university.

The point is that even effective teachers are not effective for all students. I often placed my children into classes with teachers who had excellent reputations. I found these teachers were fabulous with my compliant high achieving daughter. But in one case, the same teacher who was wonderful with my daughter was a mess with my son. She kept accusing him of misbehavior for months before we realized he had a vision problem and kept getting out of his seat in the back of the room so he could see the board. Even after he had glasses she really just never “clicked” with him and is made for a difficult year.

Maybe the reason no one talks about teacher/student fit this is we do not know how to measure it. But the reform movement keeps trying to identify highly effective teachers with test scores so we can give them more students, and fire those ineffective teachers so they no longer harm children. The flaw in this reasoning is the effective and ineffective teacher may be the exact same person; it may just depend on their fit with each individual student.


  1. Janna,

    Spoken like a true teacher! And you knew Frank Hewett! I still have his book!

    This is all so well said but I especially like the part about your children with the same teacher and differing reactions. I have known teachers who I thought were the worst, but other parents adored them! It would seem like schools could do a better job of matching personalities and needs etc.

    But thank you for writing this!


  2. Thanks Nancy. We seemed to have thrown out common sense for data. The sad thing is I love data - but only used with caution, understanding all of the possible error in test scores and using it as one of multiple sources of information on which to base decisions. The idea of making high stakes decisions about people using only one new limited and possibly flawed data point violates good assessment practices.