Kids need the same teacher for more than one year

Humane, personalized, caring education

More repressive classrooms, more kids on drugs

Our government has waged the “war on drugs” for more than 40 years, with the devastation of lives from the war far outweighing the destruction from drugs.

Now we are intent on flattening our kids’ psyches in test-obsessed classrooms that demand more and more repression of natural childhood and adolescent behavior and more and more boredom and meaninglessness. And how do we get kids to behave?

Drugs. 11% of all school age children need ADHD drugs. 19% of high school age boys need ADHD drugs. 10% of high school girls. Overall a 53% increase in ADHD drugged kids in the last decade. $9 billion in ADHD drugs sold in 2012, from $4 billion in 2007.

You have to wonder, why do parents send their children to an institution that can be tolerated by the children only when they drugged?

You also have to wonder, what will it take for the folks with power over school policy to see the correlation between the repressive, test-driven system they love so much and the fact that millions and millions of kids need to be drugged to tolerate this system?

Stuck in the the Prussian rut

We have long known that the quality of relationship between student and teacher is one of the most important variables in determining how well a child will learn and grow in school. So why hasn’t the multi-year classroom gained more attention?

Horace Mann brought the single year graded school structure back to the US from Prussia in the 1840s. The Prussians instituted the single year classroom in 1807.

More than 200 years later, we are still stuck in this early 19th century, pre-scientific rut. Why? We have leaders without knowledge, without wisdom, and without vision.

Our leaders claim that we need to use scientific tools to measure students’ learning—and supposedly teachers’ teaching—but they persistently and defiantly refuse to heed almost all scientific knowledge about human development and human learning.

They claim to be creating an educational system for the 21st century, but the centralization of control and standardization of learning are all perfectly suited for 1920.

All the children who fall behind now would be better served by multi-year classrooms.

You argue that changing teachers annually hurts all children, but some more than others. Who and why?

Relationship and caring matter to all children and teens. The deeper and more caring the relationship, the more the child feels safe and comfortable in the classroom. The child’s limbic system in the brain—the center of emotion— is calm and coherent, and the cerebral cortex can engage in learning with the intellect. Children who gain the most from this deep, positive relationship with a teacher over several years are the children who might otherwise struggle in school, feel different, or see themselves as unable to succeed. Basically, all the children who fall behind now would be better served by multi-year classrooms.

The idea at the core of the book is obvious yet routinely ignored

The idea at the core of the book is obvious yet routinely ignored:

a child who is known very well as a unique individual by the teacher,

whose teacher has invested her/his own professional pride as well as her/his deep caring in helping that child to learn and succeed,

and who has more than a sprint from September through June of one school year to learn with a teacher…

that child will be more successful both academically and socially in school.

Good teachers teach children as individuals first

At first glance, multi-year classrooms appear as if they might place additional stress on teachers—requiring as they would teachers capable of instructing students at not only one, but multiple grade levels. How do teachers feel about this?

Teachers with experience in multi-year classrooms explain that when they know children better and have more time to work with them, they can more effectively help children learn skills and content. “You need to know the child to teach her/him. The better you know her/him, the more you can help the child to learn.”

In elementary school and middle school, teachers already know the skills taught in multiple grades. So it’s not too much of a stretch to teach in a more personalized way for each child.

Two years? Three years?

If one year is insufficient to forge important relationships and maximize the potential of a learning environment, how long is long enough—two years? Three years?

Two years is good. Three years is often better. Children grow at very unique and personal rates. Every parent of more than one child knows how different children can be in the way that they grow and develop. More time gives both the child and the teacher more space for learning that is sensitive to the child’s nature as a unique individual.

What if a student and teacher don’t get along?

What about those rare but real instances in which teachers and students don’t get along for one year, let alone two or three: what do we do to remedy those unfortunate situations?

When you have multi-year classrooms as a norm in a school, you can transfer a child from one teacher’s classroom to that of another teacher in the rare circumstances when this is needed.

Often though, if there is a problem between a teacher and a student, a meeting with the teacher, students, parent(s), and the principal and/or a counselor can surface the particulars of the problem and craft a solution.

The value of the multi-year relationship is that all of the adults are more focused on making this work and more willing to contribute toward that end.

In my experience, the need to transfer the student to a new teacher is rare.

Why do parents and teachers get along better in multi-year classrooms?

How does the knowledge that teachers, students and parents will be together for more than one year actually encourage them to work issues out that they—in a one-year setting—might not?

When teachers and parents know that they are likely to be in a relationship with each other for more than one year, everyone makes more of an effort to make their interactions positive and nurturing for the child. This is simply a quality of human nature. People try harder—and when they try harder, they often get better results.

The Best of Our Knowledge

The Best of Our Knowledge is a production of WAMC/Northeast Public Radio’s National Productions in Albany, N.Y.

The Best Of Our Knowledge
1:00 AM WED OCTOBER 24, 2012
The Best Of Our Knowledge #1153



If you developed a good relationship with a baby sitter or a pediatrician, would you arbitrarily end that relationship each year and find a new one? Well, when you stop and think about it, that’s exactly what most schools with students and teachers. Today on The Best Of Our Knowledge, we’ll talk to a veteran school teacher and administrator about his new book with a very self explanatory title: “Kids Need The Same Teacher For More Than One Year”.

Mediatracks Interview October 7, 2012

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