The Danger of "Cute"

As I've mentioned, the size and immaturity of my third graders has been a shock to my system. They're surprisingly small, squirmy, and just a bit misshapen. It's amazing how much development takes place in just a year, and how different 7 and 8 year-olds can seem from 8 and 9 year-olds. Hell, I may be a grown man, but I'm not afraid to drop a c-bomb. These kids are just plain cute.

But that puts me in a bit of a predicament. Can I chalk up some of their misbehavior to their age and shrug it off? This seems a risky move. By several accounts I have a "tough" class and I've been advised to stay on top of them. But to discipline them just as strictly as my 4th graders in pursuit of order seems almost inappropriate.

Case in point: Yesterday we are talking about communities. "What is a community?" I ask, and everyone's taking turns sharing their thoughts. We're talking about the things that make up a community and the different types of communities - neighborhoods, cities, classrooms - when one girl I'll dub Pepita Long Stalking raises her hand. "Yes?" "The other day I was at the park and I was nice to a squirrel." With a tone that was perhaps unintentionally harsh I respond, "What does that have to do with communities?" A blank stare is all I get. I try to dial it back and ask as non-judgmentally as possible, "Does your story have to do with communities or did you just want to share your story?" Silence.

These are the new challenges I'm facing to my teaching this year. I'm used to dealing with a fair amount of attitude and relatively "mature" behavioral problems. With my third graders I'm encountering a new set of problems that don't seem at all rooted in disrespect. I imagine I'll start to figure out which behaviors I need to firmly correct and which are just quirks of my new age group. In the mean time I expect more awkwardness will ensue.


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