For the past few weeks, I have been wondering why the loss of a former student has hit me so hard (please read this post as it will help make sense of this one). Andrew was a great kid.. but I have taught many great kids… so what was it about Andrew that has made this loss so difficult for me?
A week ago, I went to visit the family and while I was there, I realized why I was so close with this group of students and their families: time spent together.
Since I wrote the post on my thoughts on the passing of Andrew, I have connected, both personally and online, with a number of students and families from that group. As a high school teacher, I generally taught over 200 students in a year; through conditions set out that were beyond my control I taught many of the students in this particular group 3, 4 and 5 times in science math, and physical education. In addition, through helping with the rugby program, I spent many hours with this group so by the end of their grade 12 year, I had become extremely close with not only the students, but also the families. I am proud to say that I had taught in an environment with this group that Sean Grainger discusses in his post, “We Need Schools Where Everybody Knows Your Name”. I had spent more hours with this particular class than any other students I had ever taught and due to this time together, we had developed trusting, caring relationships that have never been matched in my career as an educator.
As stated, one of the key reasons that I taught this group so much was beyond my control and not due to my choosing; I was a new teacher and was given a variety of new preps to teach each year. As I gained experience as a teacher, I started to teach more of the same things each year and, in effect, taught most students only once; the close relationships formed with some students were more a result of coaching rather than teaching. High school teachers involved in extra-curricular activities (athletics, clubs, arts, etc) often have very close connections with students because of the time spent together. I remain in close contact with a number of “kids” whom I coached during their high school years.
As we, in BC, attempt to move toward increased family engagement and a more personalized learning experience for our students, my question is: how can structure students’ high school experience so that teachers can spend more time with students? Elementary school teachers have about 22-30 students for a whole year; as I have worked in both settings I have observed that the relationships formed with students and families in elementary schools are generally closer than those formed in high schools (I realize there are many exceptions to this but when relationships are formed with students in high schools, it is usually due spending more time together). Some elementary schools in the US take this even further and “loop” teachers so they will have students for 2-3 years in a row. Middle schools create “pods” in which teachers are with students for more than one subject (ex. math and science). How can we move toward more personalized learning if teachers are continually given a timetable that includes over 200 students? What are ideas that schools are using in high schools to help teachers and students to spend more time together (rather than just the one class)?
The majority of teachers want to form closer relationships with students and their families but are often scheduled to teach hundreds of students each year. How can we alter the school structures to encourage an environment that allows teachers to form the desired caring, trusting relationships with students and their families?
I look forward to hearing your thoughts.