Monday, February 1, 2010

Smooth(er) Sailing

Early last week I thought it would never happen, but a miracle has in fact occurred: things are going MUCH better in the 6th grade. It's been two days now, so it's not just a fluke. Every instruction is no longer a battle, and the constant disrespectful comments have given way to occasional disrespectful comments. It's hardly perfect – the lone boy is still being tortured on a regular basis, and today on the playground the kids accused me of “watching them like a hawk” (this because I wouldn't let them out of my sight so they could pretend to kiss each other). Still, it is different enough that it feels like another classroom, and one that is much more pleasant to be in.

Which is nice, because it means I can let up on the whup ass and actually enjoy the positive aspects of 6th grade. And there are many, even apart from the appreciative feeling I get every day that I am not eleven years old. This morning during morning meeting, a spontaneous conversation arose about race, skin color and ancestry. The kids talked very eloquently about why they look the way they do. Example: Caitlin said, “I'm really dark-skinned because I'm from Haiti. Haiti was the first place to have a slave rebellion, so there weren't a lot of Europeans there after that.” Other kids talked about how black people can have all different kinds of ancestry, like Indian, European and Native American. 6th graders are also (slightly) less self-centered than younger kids, and toward the end of the discussion they said, “How about you, Heathen? Where is your family from?” Such politesse!

Monday is the teacher's day to be the DJ, and so with great trepidation I hooked up my ipod during snack. Last week, I played some MC Solaar (you can't go wrong with French rap, right?), to no comment. Later, I put on the White Stripes. “Is this, like, rock music or something?” asked Caitlin. “It's a band called the White Stripes,” I replied, feeling hopelessly old. “I'm going to PRETEND like I know what the hell you're talking about,” she answered.

Today the kids groaned when I reminded them that it was my day, and begged me not to play the same music as last week. So I ran a few ideas by them, and hit the jackpot with Justin Timberlake. Yes, they got tired of it quickly and made me turn it off, but still, I had at least one album out of the 6,000 songs on my ipod that they didn't hate. Score!

On Friday, I gave them a choice of four of my favorite young adult chapter books to read: The Wolves of Willoughby Chase, Bridge to Terabithia, Julie of the Wolves, and Tuck Everlasting. I have found that voting works well with 6th graders – it gives them some of the independence they're so desperate for – so I asked them to vote. The unanimous response: “I don't have a preference because I don't want to read any of them.” So I picked Bridge to Terabithia, and finished my pre-reading today during lunch with tears streaming down my face. Luckily none of them noticed. I'll be amazed if they manage to get through this book without getting hooked.

Two other victories occurred in the past couple of days. The class is riveted by a read-aloud I chose about the Triangle Shirtwaist Factory Fire, despite their refusal to learn about their assigned 6th grade social studies theme of labor (this has been a huge source of tension, since Mr. Burnout promised they didn't have to study it anymore and I reversed this decision; we eventually reached a compromise that involved doing a few labor-related activities, including the read-aloud). Frankly, I'm riveted too, and I highly recommend it: Uprising by Margaret Peterson Haddix.

Second, I brought in some supplemental math materials because I was bored to tears by the math packet Mr. Burnout left, and they liked it so much that – get ready – two kids chose to work on it during recess. One of the two is a child who particularly struggles with math, and has the reputation of being the root of the problems in this dysfunctional group (I'm still trying to decide for myself if that is the case). I was so impressed that I wanted to tell their parents how proud I was of them, but I wasn't sure if that works for 6th graders like it does for the wee ones, so I asked. “Sure, that would be okay,” they replied nonchalantly.

Awww. They pretend otherwise, but they're really still babies at heart.

1 comment:

  1. This is great, Refarling! And I loooove Bridge to Terabithia and am totally jealous that you got to read it again. I re-read it a few years ago myself and cried like a baby.