Thursday, June 14, 2012

Double, Double, Toil and Trouble (Sometimes)

As I've mentioned in this space, I looped for the first time this past year, keeping my 2010-11 darlings for another year.  Two years is a long time to spend with any group of kids, especially a group of high school kids going through the dramatic changes that take place from 14 to 16.  Herewith, now that the year is complete, is my reflection on whether or not you should consider doing something ostensibly crazy like this if you ever have the chance.


  • Looping works really well for a certain subset of kids who need and want more stability and predictability than others--think your fragile, awkward kids who tend to withdraw rather than explode.  I developed something of a Mom-like vibe with some of these kids.  All that time and same-ness allows some of them to open up and form relationships, with the teacher and the classmates, that might be hard for them otherwise.
  • Starting a new school year without the weird "getting to know you"/establishing routines and expectations period really does allow you to get more done.  You know them, they know you, everyone knows how it rolls.  In many cases, the especially loyal and vocal kids start to take on some of the classroom management roles themselves, which saves you a lot of grief and effort.
  • If you want to increase rigor as the second year goes along, most kids are responsive to that because they already trust you and have seen the results of their hard work (ideally).
  • And, honestly, it can be a lot of fun.  By the end of this year, I would be worried about getting observed in one of my classes because our conversations had become so convoluted and full of inside jokes that no one would know what was going on.
But there are drawbacks, too--serious ones.  Here are the pitfalls to keep in mind.
  • Familiarity can breed contempt.  If there's a kid who doesn't like you (or, heaven forfend, if the feeling is mutual), the cracks will really start to show in that fourth semester.
  • On a related note, the experience can teach you more than you ever wanted to know about how kids see you and relate to you and how you feel about certain groups of kids.  I had some recurring problems this past year, especially in the second semester, with a handful of young lady students who were not getting the stellar results they always had.  They took it out on me and I perhaps took it a little too personally.  That wasn't good for anybody.
  • Despite vows from administration to work with you on this little looping experiment, school is a real place with real kids and real concerns.  You will still get kids new to the school, or kids who had personality conflicts with other teachers, and they will be dropped into a group of 27 other kids who have developed that crazy-close barnacle-like environment with you.  You have to work hard to bring those kids into the fold so they don't feel like spare wheels.
  • Remember those delicate withdraw-y kids I mentioned above?  They have opposites; namely, your kids who will, if they're having a bad day, throw chairs and scream profanities.  These kids perhaps benefit from having more of a rotating cast of authority figures.

So would I do it again?  I think I would.  I'm returning to ninth grade next year, and I'm already thinking about planning to stick with my new group for two years.  I really liked most of the kids and I think looping made enough of a positive difference for most of them, and for me.

But, as always, your mileage may vary.
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