Fifth graders are pretty funny. In discussing noise makers to bring for an activity next week one of the girls asked about bringing a gazelle. Her classmates looked at her quizzically. Brow furrowed, she continued, “Wait, no, that’s an animal. Is it called a kazoo?” which was met with a universal chuckle and nod.
I had my first solo teaching experience last week teaching a fifth grade class start to finish. Given that more than half of these kids have either a cell phone, a social media account, or both, I figured I could treat them more like youth than young children.
So as I was giving them directions, I said something like, “I think by fifth grade, you don’t need me to dismiss you row by row to get your supplies in an orderly fashion. I think you can handle it.”
Imagine my surprise when my mentor teacher looks up abruptly from her desk and interjects, “Oh no, they can’t handle that. We have these procedures for the fifth graders. The little kids don’t break nearly as many supplies as the fifth graders.”
I was flabbergasted and suddenly it was the funniest thing in the world. My expectations for them were apparently so radically inaccurate. I couldn’t help but be amused. Trying, unsuccessfully, to conceal my snickering, I asked, “Really?” with authentic surprise.
Mrs. Dorian answered, “Yes really, look at the looks on their faces right now—they know it’s true.”
So I look at the kids and I’m still trying (and failing) to stop laughing—it’s that self-conscious laugh that says, “This shouldn’t be funny, but it seems so absurd.” And then I felt bad because I couldn’t tell if the kids were flattered that I thought they were all grown-up and didn’t need the structure and step-by-step directions I gave the younger kids, or if they were embarrassed that Mrs. Dorian called them out.
I spent the balance of the class period trying to readjust my paradigm for how to manage and interact with 10-year-olds. Our lesson involved moving with the music to show various musical elements via movement—high vs. low, fast vs. slow, repeated patterns, etc.—so it was pretty active. During the dancing, one little boy kicked his friend right in front of me. This time I was shocked but not amused. I stopped the music and we had a chat about what reasonable fifth grade (or even pre-school behavior) looks like. After our chat, we resumed and to their credit, they pulled it together and we finished strong.
I recently read the book Wonder by R.J. Palacio (I highly recommend it!) and it has fueled my ponderings about kids and growing up. The book portrayed a group of fifth graders with all their human interactions—they dealt with bullying issues, they had playdates after school, they did science fair projects—they were normal, multi-dimensional people, just young ones. The writing was beautiful, the characters were authentic and sincere. After reading Wonder, I feel like I have a better perspective on kids as people.
The dichotomy of these young people who live in a grown-up world, but act like little kids can be startling. These kids talk about texting, Facebook, Instagram, and having “boyfriends” while still mixing up their gazelles and kazoos. They live on the line
between childhood and youth. How can we better understand this line and then help them navigate this transition?