Tuesday, June 14, 2011

Consecutive Years

When I was in primary school I never had the same teacher for more than one year. Some students did, but this was rare. As a teacher I have also never taught the same class for consecutive years. I have often thought about whether or not it would be beneficial to have my students for two years in a row, either as a whole class or as part of a split where the older half would move on after two years and the younger grade would take the place of the older ones when the next bunch joins. I have just read 'Learning Together Through Inquiry' by Kathy Short and several other authors. Quite a few of the teachers who contributed to the book spoke of having their students for more than a year, or as part of a split. They seemed to heavily favour it.

I can see some of the benefits. A lot of time would be saved at the beginning of a year that is usually used as 'getting to know you' time. Obviously it is very important to connect to your students on a personal level and this cannot be done overnight. You would also have a good idea of the different ways that each student learns. At the start of the year time needs to be set aside for pre-assessing students for specific skills and abilities. This could be heavily reduced if you had a good idea of where they were coming from. The dynamic of the class as a collective and what they do and don't respond well to is another thing that takes time. If you have the same students from the previous year you can get straight into the curriculum and not have to worry about a lot of the aforementioned. Time is at such a premium in our crowded curriculums and this could be one way of finding some more.

A situation where it may not be beneficial for students to have the same teacher for consecutive years could be if the student and teacher do not have a strong relationship. Perhaps the teacher is ineffective, perhaps the two personalities don't mix, perhaps there are other reasons. There are many occasions where people work with each other purely on a professional level without any social connection and this may also happen in the classroom. Although, in Primary School especially, I think this would very difficult. There would need to be a lot of trust between the teacher-principal-parent triangle for things to work in this situation.

In progressive systems of education (eg. Finland) teachers regularly have their students for more than one year. I am sure this is practised in quite a few systems around the world but I hardly hear of it - unless a school is under-staffed and teachers are forced to combine classes. I can't think of any International Schools that follow this system. I wonder if this model is considered in many schools? Is it too difficult to manage? Proven to be ineffective?

Next year I have a teacher joining my team that has taught in the grade below me this year. It is possible that she'll have some of the same students in her class and I'll be interested to hear her opinions on this subject.

1 comment:

  1. I'm also interested to know how this works out. As a specialist teacher I have taught the same children for the past 2 years here in Grade 2 and Grade 3, and I'm hoping to have them again in Grade 4. The same is true of the students I taught last year in Kindergarten who are now in Grade 1. For me I would say I definitely see advantages, as I know the students well and I know what they are capable to and how to stretch and challenge them.

    As you mentioned Finland, a country hailed as having a near perfect education system, believes in keeping students with the same teacher throughout primary school - though there are often 3 teachers to each class so it's not just dependent on one teacher. When I was in Holland I was interested to learn about the Vrije Scholen, which are Steiner schools. Here the teachers move up with the same class throughout primary school too.

    Advantages of keeping children with the same teacher for a number of years have focused on the increase in instructional time and that the needs of individual students are better met as the teacher is more familiar with each child's strengths and weaknesses. Another advantage from the point of view of the students is that they are in the same class with the same peers for many years and this can lead to stronger relations. In most of the international schools I've worked not only are the teachers changed each year, but the students usually have to cope with a very different combination of students in their classes from year to year too. I've often thought it better not to shuffle students in these schools, as the high rate of comings and goings probably provides enough of a change for them.