The last week of school always comes in like a lion and leaves like a lion- a whirlwind of activities, emotions, and goodbyes. I have found throughout the years to brace myself the previous weekend, readying myself for the endless “Oh the Places You Will Go” book signing requests from frantic parents, finalizing grades, and cleaning, packing, and purging my two decades of teacher treasures. I spent the entire weekend on the couch, binge-watching “Parenthood” and “Jane the Virgin,” and I must say, these two television shows reminded me that honest communication, especially about emotional reflections, is very important in life. Therefore I had those concepts running throughout my mind while finishing up the school year, which was my first year as a sixth grade teacher.
I could give a thoughtful reflection of my growth as a sixth grade teacher, but the ultimate nugget of knowledge I gleaned from teaching middle school this year is that we really learn from the students. I didn’t learn from teaching the students- I learned from the students teaching me. During the last two weeks of school, I assigned the students to create a TED Talk as a final sixth grade project. I asked the students to choose a topic that was near and dear to their hearts, and unsurprisingly, they took me seriously and presented thoughtful, passionate 4-minute speeches about their hobbies, present-day issues in society, and environmental concerns. It was the best way to end the first year of middle school, to hear these young men and women share about what means the most to them. My reflections center around their hard work and passionate hearts.
What 6th Grade Taught Me:
Own Your Feelings
I asked the students the first day of school, “How do you feel about 6th grade today?” One girl replied, “Honestly, I feel all kinds of emo.” This made me have a laugh to begin with, but I’ve learned not to take emotions lightly, but really sit back, look at the student’s behavior, and ask myself, “Why are they acting this way?” Emotional outbursts aren’t just hormone-driven or random temper tantrums; they can need some CPR and TLC. Listen and love!
Identity-Forming is Serious!
Middle school is when the students start asking themselves, “Who am I? What do I represent? What kind of human do I want to be when I am grown up?” Being sensitive to diversity is important, and I’m not talking just about race. I’m learning that students want their gender, sexual, religious, racial, and academic diverse needs to be honored and respected. Gulp. Listen and love!
Family is the Firm Foundation
If the parents aren’t on your side, if you have offended them in any way, and/or the students feel you don’t respect the family, you’re done. Just throw in the towel and call it good. Parent involvement is a must, even if you are kicking and screaming on the inside!! This is my downfall- I think after 20 years of hearing and seeing everything, I get impatient and emotionally calloused. Why can’t they respect me as a teacher? But I need to remember that parents are the first line of defense and offense in their child’s life, and I must rise above the rude comments and find a way to work as a team. Listen and love!
Share Your Life
I asked the students what their favorite memories were of sixth grade, and several mentioned my $300 flaming potato. Last Christmas Eve I had a potato catch on fire in my microwave, causing the unit to melt, my house to be full of fumes, and the house budget to be tightened for the holidays. While sharing my woes of this minor tragedy, my students laughed hysterically when I mentioned the dog attacking the flaming potato in the backyard while I opened windows to air out the fumes. My stories of weekend adventures… or misadventures… were catalysts for students to share out what’s really going on in their lives, which gave me a better understanding of who they are. Listen and love!
Keep it Short and Sweet
And… not to be overgeneralistic, but seriously the 21st century learner doesn’t like long, drawn-out teacher lessons or lectures. The bored students tend to look like the class of Ferris Bueller. I’ve learned to say my piece, back off, and let them take the driver’s seat. Listen and love!
Sixth grade is in the books, and I look forward to next year! I wasn’t the greatest sixth grade teacher, no one can be their best when forging their way into an unknown land. Hopefully the next year can only improve, if I remember to listen and love!
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