Tuesday, September 17, 2013

Learning Curve

I have had three profound realizations this week:
1. Sixth graders cry. A lot.
2. First grade teachers have really (ridiculously?) high homework expectations.
3. It is probably too early for me to start the countdown to summer vacation.


It was a long week. I'm not gonna lie, this transition from 8th to 6th grade has been a real shock to the senses. Yes, they are eager. Yes, they are cute. But I'm not sure that eager and cute is what I'm looking for in my students. After teaching 8th graders for the past 8 years, I'd come to love the dejected, cynical, teen-angst fueled apathy that is the typical thirteen-year-old.

Is that weird?

The sixth graders wiggle so much they slide right out of their seats. They use wide-ruled notebook paper and write REALLY BIG. They call me "Teacher" and draw me pictures. They need bandaids at inopportune moments. There are at least ten hands in the air every time we make a transition. They go to the bathroom ALL THE TIME. They want to talk about their pets during the middle of instruction. They sharpen their pencils EVERY SINGLE TIME I am talking.

I am quickly learning that waxing philosophical about hyperbole and the difference between metaphor and simile is pointless when no one can remember to put their name on their paper.

But the worst is when they cry. And the tears were flowing in my class last week. I'm not sure if it was the stress of writing a personal narrative or just your run of the mill new school anxiety, or- god forbid- were they crying because of me?! It was really pretty awful.

And there were tears at home, too. Jack's first grade teacher sent home a laundry list of homework tasks for him (us) to complete each week. I had to read the email instructions three times to make sure I had it all straight, and when I sat down with Jack to explain it to him he pretty much lost his shit. He was okay with the spelling words and the handwriting practice and the reading logs, but when it came to the French passage that he's supposed to be able to read aloud by Friday, he was at a loss.

"I can't read this!" he wailed. I encouraged him to try and discovered that, in fact, he was right. He couldn't do it.

So we put it away and read some Magic Treehouse and he went to bed while I wondered what to do. Should I force him to practice buck-up-little-soldier style? Should I email his teacher?

The next day I set the homework folder out on the table. He practiced his handwriting and read through his spelling words after breakfast. "Do you want to try reading the story again?" I asked gingerly.

He did. And so slowly, painfully, he labored his way through the story. His little brow was furrowed in concentration and his fists were clenched. I could hear the hint of a sob catching in the back of his throat. The French was butchered and his comprehension sucked, but we made to the end. "Awesome job!" I exclaimed. "Très bien!"

"It's so hard. I hate this," he said.
"I know it is," I replied. "Learning something new is a lot of work and I'm really proud of you for trying so hard. I promise it will get easier."

And then I realized that I am also learning something new, and sometimes it's hard and sometimes it sucks, but it will get easier. Lesson learned from my six year old. True story.

Photo credit to Jack.

 Buck up little soldiers. That's my motto for all of us this year. I think we're gonna be alright.


  1. So cute! I love the pics! :D
    I remember crying a LOT as a 6th grader; it was probably THE most drama-filled of all of my school years. I didn't realize it must be equally as challenging for the instructors trying to do a job and deal with the hormones and STUFF on top of all of it.
    Keep on ;D

    1. What's hard is keeping a straight face when they are bawling about their girl/boyfriend breaking up with them. Because yeah, OF COURSE you broke up. It's MIDDLE SCHOOL.

  2. Oh man....what are they doing to the first graders?? I am sure he will find his step soon, but sometimes I think let them be little while they are. The extreme HW can wait. And sixth grade? Oh good luck. I remember that as the year the teacher had the deodorant talk with us. I hope your classroom is not as stinky as ours was...

    1. Ha ha. I HAVE had the deodorant talk with classes before. Really with the 6th graders, the B.O. is less of a problem than the gas passing. Can I make "No Farting" one of my classroom rules??

  3. Oh yes, the learning curves of back to school... I totally agree with you that some of the best lessons in my life lately have come from the 2 little mirrors in my life that call me mom.

    BTW... I love Jack's grin (sans) 1 tooth
    And... I occasionally let my Jack take pictures, too. He loves it! He can barely hold up the lens and point it at anything for very long. But he tries.

  4. Hello Cassadie

    I needed to hear these words tonight: "I am also learning something new, and sometimes it's hard and sometimes it sucks". Thank you. I hear in your words "it's ok to suffer a bit". Funny how we need these reminders, and then we stop struggling against it, and let it happen, and the stress goes, and the learning goes better.

    Wishing you happy 6th Grader days

  5. Arrh, bless! Personally I think homework sucks! Especially that amount for someone so young. Great that you managed his anxiety so well and helped him be resilient and have a go. As you say it is ok to find things hard and that's an important life lesson. Helen

  6. Hello Cassadie, Not sure how else to write back to you to thank you for the last comment on my blog. It was such a lovely comment - I'm going to keep that one!!!! Thank you so much! Happy weekend! Ali

    1. Aw, I meant every word! Love living vicariously through your adventures.