The Important Thing About Fourth Graders

I wrote this post to process my feelings of rage and grief about the shooting in Uvalde, Texas. Please take care of yourself by deciding if and when you’d like to read.

The important thing about fourth graders is that they are big kids.

They are certainly not third graders. When third graders arrive at the beginning of the year they are tiny! It always shocked me when I would meet my third graders at the beginning of the year. They were small and cute, and some of them still had baby faces.

Fourth graders show up in September as fully formed children. The baby fat is gone from their cheeks. They can read and write independently. They are finally ready to master sarcasm and figurative language.

Fourth graders are at an age when they are starting to care more about their peers’ approval than the approval of parents or teachers. This can be challenging. They love to laugh and crack jokes with each other. As a teacher, you have to earn their attention and respect. But if you do, they’ll shower you with just as much love and affection as you can stand.

But while they’re starting to leave early childhood behind, they are still definitely kids. I remember on one home visit to a family of a fourth grader, he showed up at the door in a onesie. He was excited to show off his Nerf toys. Many of my graders were passionate about Pokemon, Legos, Disney’s The Descendants. Fourth graders are starting to leave make-believe behind, but not completely.

But the important thing about fourth graders is that they are big kids.

assorted animal plush toys on white wooden shelf
Photo by Monica Sedra on Unsplash

The important thing about a classroom is it can be a safe space.

A classroom is a special place. Sometimes classrooms have frustrating rules and procedures. But a classroom run by educators who care is a space of community and love.

A classroom is a space where kids come in nervously on the first day of school. It takes time to learn the layout. Where is the classroom library and how are the books organized? How does the teacher want us to come to the rug and how should we sit when we do?

After that a classroom becomes a space where people share their hopes, and dreams, and sometimes fears. It is a place where a teacher will try whatever they can to get kids excited, interested, curious. Maybe there’s a pet hamster, lizard, or tarantula!

But the important thing about a classroom is it can be a safe space.

The important thing about a teacher is that they care.

A teacher is creative and hardworking. When they notice a student struggling, they don’t stop thinking about it. Sometimes they stay up late, or wake up early, thinking about that one student. What will it take to help them persevere in their writing? Or master their multiplication? Or practice saying, “I’m sorry”?

A teacher sometimes feels tired and frustrated. There’s too little control over curriculum, too little time for play, and so much need…

But the important thing about a teacher is that they care.

I know fourth graders, and classrooms, and teachers so well.

If I let myself, I can imagine the hours in the fourth-grade classroom of Ms. Garcia and Ms. Mireles and their beautiful students before a sociopath turned it into a war zone. The last day of school was so close. The classroom must have felt electric with excitement. Kids were probably leaving their seats without permission to ask their teachers a question or share their plans for vacation. I bet they were looking for any excuse to get close to their teachers just one more time before school ended and they moved on to middle school.

Normally Ms. Garcia and Ms. Mireles might have scolded them. They probably knew how to send a student back to their seat to raise their hands without saying a word. But this close to summer? Who has the energy or desire to enforce any silly rules?

I can picture that restless, joyful, almost-summer energy so clearly it breaks my heart.

Since the news of the school shooting in Uvalde, Texas, I’ve vacillated between numbness, anger, and grief. The broken system that allows an 18-year-old to buy two assault rifles is the same system that spends 40% of a small-town budget on police who refuse to pursue a gunman into a school building. It is the same system responsible for the deaths of 10 Black people in Buffalo. We didn’t even get a chance to grieve their murders fully before this next tragedy arrived.

I know there are many changes we need to fight for to build a better world.

But I didn’t want to write about that today. Today I just wanted to share what little I know about what we lost this week. I want us to remember what it really means when 19 children and two teachers were murdered in their classroom. I don’t want it to be forgotten. I want us to hold that grief. Let it feel heavy and let the tears come so as we fight to stop this from happening again we know what we’re fighting for.

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