The first thing I noticed was how physically giant 6th graders are in comparison to the 1st graders! Next I noticed the attitudes that went along with the difference in size. One girl, on her cell phone, nearly smashed into me as I stood there with my jaw hanging. (Texting and walking is a skill perhaps perfected in high school?) As we walked into class, straight lines that younger grades have mastered, were non-existent, and there was an aura of carelessness that I hadn’t been prepared for at an elementary school. (This school is K-6).
I am semi-proud of myself in my involvement in my children’s school. We attend all parent teacher conferences, and I help out in class at least once a month. I am vice-chair of the School Site Council Committee, paid PTA member and semi-participatory with school fundraisers. I have two children, a daughter (10) in 5th grade and a son (12) in 6th grade. My 5th grader’s teacher is a go-getter with me. She texts me when she needs help with science projects and reading group help. Thus, all my classroom time on campus has been in her room. So I must concede I was long overdue for a visit to my 6th grader’s classroom.
It took a progress report for me to make my way into his classroom; his teacher’s remarks that his behavior “needed improvement” alarmed me. My son has never had disciplinary issues… ever.
I was vastly unprepared for what I saw in his classroom however. It was hovering just under chaos.Most children got into trouble for being out of their seats; there was talking and trading of “illegal
contraband” (for these 6th graders it was the fashionable rubber-bands used to make bracelets). One student, on his own had to negotiate his pen back stolen by a girl who did not complete a single piece of academia in the hour in which I was observing. This girl student, at one point, was standing on her chair, in a squat position, jumping up and down. All while the teacher, in a harried voice, tried to teach math from the textbook. In the mayhem, I was astonished that any learning was taking place.
Luckily, there seemed to be a will to learn from many of the children, although, the stress level was intense enough to produce a headache in my unaccustomed brain. (Note: I have been on campus numerous times, where child-volume levels were deafening, and never felt this type of anxiety/stress before. I’ve also worked a classroom that would make scenes from Dangerous Minds seem child’s play, but those children were categorized as having Moderate Emotional Disabilities. The 6th grade class I observed for this post was a General Education setting.)
I left my son’s classroom with a mixed feelings: thankful I was leaving, but also keenly aware I was leaving behind my child to cope with this setting on his own. They say that kids are resilient, and that is what I am basing his success on. There is little that will be done about the situation in any hurry. For example, I have contacted the principal, and we will have a conference, but that still takes time. This teacher has been teaching this way for half the year now, it is going to take time to get her the support she needs to get this classroom under control.
What I was most aware of was the environment at home, which I have complete control over. When I walked home after that hour in his classroom, I couldn’t help but imagine what he comes home to every day, and how the stress of our home life affects him as well. I felt an intense desire to present him with freshly baked, still warm, cookies and milk and a foot massage for having to endure an entire day like that (something that those who know me, know is not on the agenda in my reality).
And then I wondered what other parents are doing? Do you know what it is like inside your child’s classroom? Have you taken an hour to see the life that your child lives while he or she is in school? Because, it might just be a jungle out there. And if it is, what are you doing to 1) support your child and 2) support your child’s teacher?