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Feeling Loopy

Twice in my teaching career, I’ve lived the cliché “familiarity breeds contempt.” In edu-speak terms, I’ve “looped” two times, spending three years teaching many of the same kids through sixth, seventh and eighth grade. Both times, I greatly enjoyed sixth and seventh grade, but a few months into eighth grade, well, to use another cliché, the bloom was off the rose. I can’t pinpoint exact reasons, but I think that they were tired of me, and I hate to admit that the feeling might have been mutual, just a little.

The last time I finished with eighth grade, I swore that I’d never loop again. The challenges with the students themselves were emotionally draining, but I also found that my teaching wasn’t improving as much as I wanted. Every year brought changes — not just in matters related to curriculum and testing, but in the kids themselves, as they changed and grew. And while I don’t believe in verbatim recycling of lessons from year to year, I do think it’s good to have strong familiarity with the material. It’s fine, and even important, to keep core ideas and refine them each time a unit is taught, but so much time was passing between the units because I was always changing grades. Additional readings of novels and stories always give me new insights, but I was always reading new material. It was hard to reflect on the actual teaching since I always had to come up with new lessons and projects. Somewhere near the end of that second “loop”, I had a baby, and that just added to the challenges. The time was simply not there any longer. And I think many of my challenges in that very last year with that group stemmed from the fact that once I became a mom, my emotional involvement with them lessened.

The kids I taught last year made it easy to stick to my decision not to loop. As individual kids, I liked them, but was happy to see them move on to seventh grade and a new teacher. Working with sixth grade for two years in a row has already made teaching significantly easier; I am using many of the same novels and doing a lot of the same projects and activities. Doing things again gives me the chance to improve upon what I did last year because the most time-consuming parts are done.

Though I must confess, I’m already pondering the idea of going to seventh grade with these kids, despite the fact that I will have to grapple with the seventh grade curriculum, which has changed since I last taught the grade. I will never, ever stay with kids for three years in a row, but two years might work out well. I like my current kids a lot, and so far they’ve made my job easier, in their willingness to learn. It might be great to work with them for two years. Most people I know think that seventh grade is the year that kids enter that abyss of adolescent loathsomeness, but I think that it really happens in eighth grade. I love seventh grade only a little bit less than I love sixth grade. It’s better, I think, that the decision to move on with them won’t be entirely up to me, because I’m already torn.

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First Person is where Chalkbeat features personal essays by educators, students, parents, and others trying to improve public education. Read our submission guidelines here.

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