5th Grade Beginnings

I've been working in NYC schools since 2007, but this year is my first year teaching a new grade. As of today I have 20 days of experience teaching 5th graders, and even though I taught these kids as 4th graders, and a lot of things are the same, I'm also learning some new things.

Recently, we read read a story by Sandra Cisneros called "Eleven." She writes, "What they never tell you is that when you're eleven, you're also ten, and nine, and eight, and seven, and six, and five, and four, and three, and two, and one."  I would definitely agree, but I would make a revision to fit my 5th graders this year. I would say that when you're teaching 11 year olds you're also teaching 17 year-olds, 16 year-olds 15 year-olds...

Sometimes they're 17, for example when the girls in my class were running around during lunch and causing drama because they were trying to figure out who's going to prom with them. I didn't even know there was a 5th grade prom... But now I know it's not even until June.

Sometime's they're 8 or 9. Like when one of my kids broke down into tears because his group mates were criticizing the speed of his work as the group's record.

Sometimes they're 3 like Wednesday when one of my fifth graders peed his pants.

So yeah. Even though teaching is not new to me, this year has felt very challenging to me in some real and discouraging ways. I didn't know the ways 5th graders can get caught up in social drama. I didn't know the ways 5th graders can still be very sensitive. I didn't know the ways 5th graders can be stubborn, defiant, and yet still so dependent on adults.

I find myself raising my voice a lot this year, and asking why a lot. Why is it taking you so long to come the meeting area? Why are you facing the opposite direction? Why am I not feeling more successful in my 9th year of teaching?

One scholar in particular I'll call him E has been incredibly difficult. On the first day of school he refused to participate in a simple group activity. He walked out of the room. When I tried to talk to him about what was wrong, he said "I hate school." It is very demoralizing when you speak to 11 year old who has already decided he's done with school.

​Sometimes E comes alive, he's a sweet, "normal" 11 year old, whatever normal is supposed to mean. He complains about a kickball injury from recess, he shares stories about a trip he took with his family last summer, he does origami. But other times he's stubborn, and completely unresponsive. After 20 days I'm still not sure when he'll be which child.

As I was thinking about how I might end this story, the answer came to me as I was walking to school. I walked out of my apartment and right down the block was one of my former students. He was one of my favorite AND most challenging 3rd graders. I'll call him Chris.​

His face lit up when I saw him. I asked him if I could give him a hug and he said yes. I asked him how school was going and he showed me a new bracelet that is voice activated. He said its to help protect against robbers. I told him I was teachign 5th grade this year and asked him for advice.

"If they don't get silently quick, ask them if they care about their year. Because they probably do. But sometimes they may follow their friends and get distracted and go down the dark road again."

I'm not sure if it's as simple as Chris explained, but I do know how I felt when I ran into him. It made my whole day! And I felt good into Friday as well.

Seeing Chris reminded me that the beginning of our year together was not easy. He had a hard time following rules and getting his work done. But by the end we had a relationship that transformed school for both of us.

I don't know if I'll get to the same place with E, but I needed that reminder from Chris that I have to start somewhere. Right now is just the beginning.


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