430. Learning from a Child’s History

I’m in a fairly unique position in a school system, and I’m developing a conviction that it’s too bad it’s so unique. I stay with the children as they move from grade to grade, and so I really get to know them. If a child has a noteworthy experience or does something significant in first grade, I remember it. I know what has worked for individual children, and what hasn’t worked. If I think a teacher ought to know about something from a child’s history, I bring it up.
Don’t get me wrong; teachers do talk to each other about children. But teachers are busy people, so Bartholomew’s sixth grade teacher may catch the boy’s fifth grade teacher in the hall and ask whether Bartholomew had certain difficulties in fifth grade. Many teachers want to benefit from each other’s experiences. But there’s rarely a long talk, and Bartholomew’s first grade teacher is rarely consulted. There just isn’t time.
My idea is not a panacea, and does present problems. There can be advantages to moving a child from a second grade teacher who knows the child’s problems to a third grade teacher who doesn’t. It gives the child a better chance to turn over a new leaf. That can be harder to do when the teacher knows the child’s history. I’m selective about the bits of children’s history I offer teachers; I want to give new leaves a chance to grow. And teachers are free to use or not use my input.
Maybe some day I’ll regret having told a teacher something about a child. I may make a mistake in judgment, and tell a teacher something that is better left unsaid. I don’t want everybody to know about every mistake I’ve made in my life, every negative pattern I’ve had; it could give people what I consider the wrong idea about me. And children deserve the chance to close chapters of their lives, too, and be free from the ghosts of their mistakes. But sometimes teachers ought to know things about children, and shouldn’t have to spend half the year learning them.
Like so many good ideas in education, the idea of cross-grade consultations is usually pre-empted by “practical” considerations. Teachers don’t get much preparation time, and much of the time they get is spent dealing with curriculum. There are conferences with parents, who know their children well, and parents often do shed light that is quite helpful. But imagine a meeting some time in October or November when Bartholomew’s first, second, third, fourth, fifth, and sixth grade teachers (if all those teachers are still around) get together to discuss the boy’s history.
I’ll close with one of my poems: If I had the talent to paint,
I’d paint things that should be, but ain’t. A lot of what I’ve seen so far
Are things that shouldn’t be, but are.

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