372. Moving Up With Children

The year before last, I worked with the first graders at the Fort River School. Last year, I worked with the second graders. This year, I’m working with the third graders. I know these children well. I know some things about them that teachers ought to know, and I tell the teachers. Teachers appreciate that. And children know I’ll be there, so they can worry a little less about what their new teachers will be like.
It used to be that most towns had one teacher, who had all the children, and stayed with them until they were done with school. I always fantasized about that, and now, in a way, I get to live it. As an employed teacher, I sometimes taught two grades in a row, and kept some children in my class for two years. I got chances to know these few children a little better, but that experience was qualitatively different from what I’m doing now.
And as a parent, of course, I got to know my two children as they grew up. That experience has been a little closer to what’s happening now, but these children have parents, some of whom are my daughters’ ages, so I allow myself to pretend I’m a grandfather. I even got a letter from one of these children that said, “You are like my Grandpa I never knew.” That letter is posted in my apartment, and I look forward to more feedback like that.
There will always be some teachers who want to form their own impressions of children, and don’t want to hear what I have to say until later, if at all. I think I understand that. I am, after all, a human being, and my perceptions may sometimes say more about who I am than about who the children are. Besides, some new teachers want to learn how to get to know children, and don’t want the shortcuts I offer to stop them from learning. And some experienced teachers justifiably take pride in their ability to get to know children. However well I know these children, I hope I retain the ability to recognize new insights teachers have. And they do have them.
Notwithstanding my conviction that I’m playing an important role, I’m not suggesting that teachers should stay with children. If children had me for a teacher every year, they’d learn a lot about writing, relating to each other, and some other important things. But there would also be significant gaps. Of course, I’d try to learn calculus, research skills, and more of what I don’t know too well. But children really ought to work with other teachers, most of whom have expertise I don’t have.
Still, there’s something to be said for the stability I’m providing. If, like me, you’re free to volunteer in the schools, they need you. Many children don’t have as much to rely on as children used to have, and we volunteers can have important roles to play as the twenty-first century gets going.

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