Monday, August 16, 2010

Learning About My New Students?

August is coming to a close and soon school will begin here in New York.  A new year means new students, new parents, new personalities, new challenges, new everything.  Each year, at this time, I am faced with a decision - should I talk with former teachers about my new students or should I form my own opinions first? There are pros and cons to each choice.  

Maybe I will meet with former teachers and learn something about a student that will turn me off.  Now I have a preconceived notion about a child before ever meeting that child.  I had a situation like that last year.  A particularly challenging student was placed in my class.  His teacher spoke to me at length about his behavior.  By the time our conversation was done, I did not want this child in my class.  Why go through the hassle?  But, of course, I don't pick and choose.  He came into the room.  I had a difficult time seeing past the behaviors that had been described to me to really see this child.  He turned out to be funny and charming.  And his behaviors were manageable.  But it took a long time for me to see that.  

Maybe I will meet with former teachers and learn something about a student that just isn't correct.  I remember one very bright child I had a few years ago.  His former teacher found him arrogant and rude.  I found him to be the most considerate student I have ever taught.  Where did she see arrogance?  He was smarter than she.  He was smarter than me, too.  So he questioned everything.  I found this exciting.  She found it rude.  

I often find that I feel differently about students than other teachers.  Students who cause trouble are my specialty.  I find them to be a challenge and usually end up favoring them as I get to know them and find out why they cause trouble.  (Shhh.  Don't tell anyone I have favorites.)  But when I talk to former teachers about these students, I hear only negatives.

But sometimes a teacher has been successful dealing with a particular student and his/her struggles.  It then benefits me to speak with him/her.  A simple conversation telling me that "Susie" needs frequent breaks to avoid meltdowns can save me tons of aggravation.

Sometimes teachers have good advice for working with certain parents.  Telling me that Mrs. X has a different last name than her child and insists on us using it is important.  Letting me know that Mr. Y will call every day if I don't send home an email letting him know about his child saves me endless hours on the phone.  And being sure that I understand that a translator is needed when meeting with Mr. and Mrs. Z, helps me get on the right track to a good partnership.

So the problem I have each year is this.  How do you know when you should talk about a child and when you shouldn't?  Sometimes that choice is easy.  I refuse to talk to the teachers who only tell me negative things about the children.  There have to be some good things to say about each one.  But sometimes the decision is more difficult.  How do I know why a former teacher had difficulty with a student?  Maybe it was because his methods of dealing with said student were different than mine would be.  Maybe I will be more successful simply because I try something new.

What to do?  What to do?  Responsive Classroom says to learn about the students.  But I think I will stick with my usual plan....get to know the students on my own.  Be respectful to all of them.  Think the best.  Then when I have struggles, I can go to the former teacher with very specific questions instead of a general, "Tell me about Johnny."

How do you handle this decision?

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