By TIFFANY RONEY
Some students encounter teachers who they wish they could have forever. Students of two local teachers may find that wish come partially true.
Kristine Barrett and Kathy Horan, teachers at McKinley Elementary School, practice looping, an educational style in which teachers remain with students for more than one school year. Thus, after Barrett and Horan teach a second grade class, instead of sending them onward and receiving the next second grade class, Barrett and Horan follow the students on to third grade and teach them until they graduate from third grade at McKinley to fourth grade at Garfield Elementary School.
convention to classroom
Bob Sorensen, then principal of McKinley, heard about looping at a principal’s convention in 1996. He introduced the concept at a staff meeting and brought books for people who were interested. Barrett and Horan were immediately hooked.
Within months of Sorensen’s presentation, Barrett and Horan visited Kathryn O’Loughlin McCarthy Elementary School in Hays to witness looping first-hand. On the drive back to Abilene, the teachers were already making plans.
The following school year, they started to loop.
Barrett said one of the elements of O’Loughlin’s looping style that sold her on the practice was the use of team teaching.
“Kathy and I were ready to come back and knock our walls down and just team-teach together,” Barrett said.
Though the team-teaching idea did not carry over into their practice at McKinley, the teachers have continued to view their work in looping as a partnership. Their working relationship began when Barrett student-taught in Horan’s classroom. Now, more than two decades later, the two finish each other’s sentences.
“We share a brain,” Barrett said.
At the end of each school year, the teachers trade resources like textbooks and science kits.
“The third grade books have to go to Kristine’s room at the end of the year, so we just stack them up and have a little assembly line,” Horan said. “We just have a little parade, like little ants.”
Since most teachers and schools do not loop, many people are unfamiliar with the concept and thus, fall prey to myths about the practice.
Horan said some people have the misconception looping is only for students who are struggling, clingy or from troubled families. Barrett said she and Horan teach all kinds of students, from those in the gifted program to those who need special education.
Jennifer Johnson, parent of two looping students, said neither of her students had any educational problems but she chose looping for its benefits.
“It was a really positive experience,” Johnson said. “I have recommended it to friends of mine that had kids that were younger. I think there are some parents that choose it if their kids are maybe shy or socially not very comfortable, so knowing that you’ve got this two-year experience makes it a little bit easier.
“But that wasn’t really our situation,” Johnson said. “I just knew that consistency and being able to have that two-year period where they could really accelerate and know the kids was, for me, the way to go.”
In addition to the misconception that looping is only for troubled students, Horan said another misconception is that looping will make students have too much difficulty moving forward after bonding with their teacher, thus making the inevitable separation too hard.
Horan said that misconception is only true for kindergartners because most of them get too attached to their teachers anyway. Past kindergarten, though, Horan said looping has more of a positive effect than a negative one.
Barrett echoed this sentiment from another perspective: she was the parent of children who looped. Two of her children looped and one did not.
“My two who looped were actually more relaxed to go onto Garfield than my one who didn’t loop,” Barrett said. “She still had that, ‘I wonder who I’m going to have, what it’s going to be like,’ and the other two were (not nervous). I don’t know whether they were more confident because they’d had two years with the wonderful Mrs. Horan.”
Challenges of looping
Barrett said the most difficult part about looping is the last day of third grade.
“There’s a lot of tears,” Barrett said. “Kids, me, yeah. That’s the hardest part: seeing them go.”
Another challenge for looping teachers is the extra work of processing two years of curriculum instead of just one.
“It’s a different kind of work because you just have a lot more planning and new curriculum,” Horan said. “Something changes in curriculum every year. No matter if you stay in the same grade level or move grade levels, something changes. It’s going to be math this year. It’s going to be reading next year. With us, it’s like it’s double.”
Barrett said state testing makes her nervous because the tests carry more weight for loopers.
“State testing is a stressful period, but when your kids have been in school for four years and you’ve had them for half of their educational experience, it’s a little bit (harder),” Barrett said. “They always say, ‘Why are you so nervous?’ I’m half their educational career. They have to do well, or it is me.”
Fortunately for the relaxation level of her classroom, Barrett finds ways to make jokes about her influence in looped students’ education.
“I always tell them, ‘You had the best second grade teacher in the whole world teach you this. I know you should know this,’” Barrett said. “And they say, ‘Mrs. Barrett, that’s you.’ I’m like, ‘Oh, I’m the best teacher in the world. Thanks.’ You can joke with them a little bit more when you loop with them.”
Leap of faith
Barrett said parents who are new to looping and weighing their options sometimes have reservations because they don’t know the teachers personally.
“There’s always that (question), ‘What if my child doesn’t get along with you for two years?” Barrett said.
Horan said a two-year cycle is a big commitment but parents always have the chance to opt out if looping is not working well for their children.
Barrett said she agreed with Horan that looping is a big step.
“I just think taking your child to a teacher you don’t know anyway, you have to have a lot of trust, thinking that you’re putting your child in a room with a teacher for two years,” Barrett said.
Horan said committing to loop is a leap of faith.
“For some parents, it’s hard, it’s even harder,” Barrett said. “It’s not necessarily for everybody but I love it. And I don’t want to change.”