He is a dedicated and skilled educator.
But he is misguided, and he expects more of himself than he does of his incoming students.
Inevitably, those students can achieve more than the previous teacher tells you about them...but it requires that you forego any preconceived notions of what they have accomplished in the past. All of that research just reduces a student to a data point and a number; it does very little to give you a picture of who the student really is.
And as for interviewing the previous teachers, there are many things to consider:
- Is the teacher new? Has she the experience to give you an accurate report about the student?
- Is the teacher bitter? Has he lost the zeal for teaching? Is he cynical about his students?
- Does the teacher know you and your personality?
- Does the teacher have rich, meaningful relationships with her students?
- Does the teacher have obviously favorite students?
- Has that teacher had an uncomfortable experience with a student's parent?
I tell my students on the first day of the school year that they have a clean record with me. Right away, that does a number of things. Depending on the individual, she might be a serious introvert, shy and quiet (I can relate.); now she has my permission to break that mold. He might have no confidence in his ability; now he has permission to start where he is and improve. He might have thrown chairs across the room and lit the gymnasium on fire, last year; now he can turn over a new leaf.
I also quietly challenge those kids. They have to know that their journey from who they were to who they can become will not be easy. In fact, it's going to be hard for their peers to accept their new ways. If you were a bully, last year, the other kids in your class will be slow to understand that you have changed.
I don't want to give up on my kids before I ever get started, and I don't want to dread the beginning of the year because some teacher told me about her troubles. Instead, let me enjoy my summer of Ignorance is bliss. Inevitably, I will experience different struggles than the teachers in the previous grade. I must find my own struggles and solve them - not fix struggles that may not even appear in my own classroom.
With almost 30 years of experience, I can attest that this is true.