I love teaching fifth grade. I expecially love the beginning of a new school year. The kids don’t know me yet — well, a few might from a past reading class or special event — but for the most part I am Mystery. They are often unsure of how they should react when I say something outrageous.
Well, when we entered the room this morning I put my lunch and a bottle of Pepsi on the corner of my desk instead of in the cooler — then I forgot about them. A bit later I was reading the Shel Silverstein poem, Peggy Ann McKay. In the poem Peggy Ann is giving outrageous excuses for why she cannot go to school. I do the poem as a drama, dragging my leg, clutching my stomach, and generally moaning and wailing as appropriate.
At the end of the poem Peggy Ann learns that is is Saturday, experiences a miraculous cure, and runs outside to play. As I acted out her rush, I knocked the bottle of Pepsi off my desk. It bounced twice and rolled across the floor stopping against the foot of one of my students.
I scooped the bottle up off the floor, held it out to him and said, “You know, I don’t want to open this. Would you do it for me?” His eyes grew big. He started to reach for the bottle, hesitated; started to reach again, then pushed away, chair and all, and said, “I can’t. I don’t think I’m strong enough.”
I laughed, winked at him and said, “Great answer! I have to be the luckiest fifth grade teacher in this school. I always get the smartest kids!” Then I went to gather the materials to teach math and allowed the students to whisper to each other about being the smartest class.
It isn’t true of course. They come in every size shape and ability level, but there is a reason I have a high success rate with the “problem” students. I respect them. They are not my students to do as I say. I am their teacher and my job is to meet their needs. I set high expectations and I state them clearly, then I make certain the students know I have complete confidence in their ability to meet those standards. I give them my faith and help them grow their own. It works.