Be careful what you ask for

It’s the beginning of the year and Jimmy is a student in your algebra 2 class. Your colleague down the hall, Mr. Math, taught Jimmy geometry last year. At some point during the beginning of the year, you and Mr. Math begin discussing students on your algebra 2 roster. Jimmy’s name comes up. What’s the natural thing to do? Of course, you ask him for insight into Jimmy. What to look out for, how to best reach him, what to expect.

I see the obvious value in sharing information about students. Teachers are essentially transferring prior knowledge about students to better serve those same students. But part of me has always felt that knowledge gained through a situation like this can actually do more harm than good.

When I ask a colleague for details about a student’s tendencies, regardless how they respond, my understanding of the student becomes immediately biased. In other words, the moment Mr. Math tells me all about Jimmy’s strengths and weaknesses, I suddenly have expectations of Jimmy. Whether I like it or not, Jimmy is not just Jimmy anymore to me. On a subconscious level, my approach towards Jimmy is no longer organic.

Maybe this isn’t necessarily a bad thing, but it is a thing.

While in the past I have openly turned to colleagues to gain details about current students, I am questioning myself these days. Is it worth it?



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