Thursday, May 3, 2012

Sixth Grade

Sometime in late January, I dashed through the rain carrying my Latin basket, elbowed open the door of the G4 classroom, lugged myself and my gear inside, and breathed deeply. And then I noticed it.  The unmistakable smell of pre-teens who should start making daily showers a priority.  It had not been there the day before, but it was showing up, right on schedule.  Maybe a little later than usual, if my 12 years of teaching are any guide.

I have a special interest in this year's 6th grade class, because it's the one my own daughter would have been in, if she had been admitted to Cedar Tree.  But... well, that's a battle for another generation.  I have to say a profound Thank You to the teachers in the "godless" public schools, who have made her experience there so positive that I doubt I'd enroll her in a Christian school now even if I could.  And you have to know me, but that's saying something.

In my daily classes, I can't help but feel a little like the cobbler whose children have no shoes.  Especially in 6th grade - "Grammar 4."  These kids are so smart.  They have parents who love them enough to take great care and expense over their education.  But they are the most challenging class I've ever had.  For one thing, they are the largest class I've ever had: we started off the year with 18 kids.  We've lost three through the year, but at 15 they still tie the largest class I ever had before them, last year's 6th grade class.  And ... how to say this ... they constantly push me to wrestle with the issue of educational equity.  If my daughter, the one with Down syndrome, can't be in this class, it's hard to muster a lot of sympathy for the failing child who can't be bothered to study vocabulary cards or turn in homework.  It's hard to be patient when they start chattering and giggling - loudly - the instant I turn to write on the board.  And it's hard not to resent the expectations from some parents and students who think I should drop everything and be extremely responsive to a concern about, say, homework load... when the requests come at all hours, they presumably want the quality of the education to stay high, and I'm certainly not getting rich teaching 3 classes every day (my take-home pay, after tuition for my three "normal" kids, is enough to cover gas money for the month and not much more.  And I have absolutely no one to complain to about my own homework load).  I'm not saying that I'm right to be resentful, but I would sure appreciate not having quite so many opportunities to struggle with that besetting sin.

This year's 6th grade class seems extra young to me.  Last year's 6th grade class was the opposite, and I had very little time to enjoy them as children before they were all acting like teenagers, really obnoxious teenagers.  (They are so much better this year as 7th graders.  They've grown into their attitudes a bit.)  But with this year's 6th grade it's a much slower transition.  They need extra care and repetition and there are still quite a few who don't get it, or see why it matters.  Reliably there are about 3 or 4 students who get As on quizzes, but not so many A+s as there are in my other classes.  And there are a rather frightening number of them who fail quizzes, sometimes spectacularly.  I can always capture their interest by telling them stories from Roman history, but it takes a well-ordered mind in the first place to groove on Latin grammar.  It's a hard sell for them!

But there's something endearing about 6th grade.  They're still cute, although the time is limited.  I tell them at the beginning of 6th grade that when I'm finished with them, at the end of 8th grade, all the boys and about half the girls will be taller than me.  And all the girls will be very beautiful, and about half the boys will need to shave.  They giggle when I tell them this, but it's true.  I enjoy sharing 6th grade time with the 6th graders.  It's a hugely formative time in their lives, and it will be over all too fast.  And, if I have anything to say about it, they will know their Latin grammar very, very well.

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