Now that I've actually got students reading, writing and taking tests, I'm finally seeing their true abilities. And, I'm laughing. A lot. Not at my students. Well, maybe at my students sometimes, but I hope you will laugh with me....Here's a writing prompt one of my students wrote. It is funny on so many levels.
"When I grow up I want to be a raper. I want to be the greatest raper in the world. I will also sell a multy platinum album. I am going to make as more as songs as I can. My nickname is going to be the billion dollar kid, unless I think of something better. Then, I am going to be the king of rap. After that I will rap for a couple of months then stop. After that I will have a huge return. Then finally I would make more albums. Then I would rap and make songs until I die. The End."
Besides the miss-spelling of 'rapper,' I love how this student has just described the life of every celebrity/musician that has come to be idolized by our society. Other students wrote about what super power they want to have and what they would do with it. For example, one student wanted to have telekinesis so he could walk the dog and cut the grass at the same time. Another said he would have super strength so when he gets caught in traffic he would just pick up his car and walk away with it. The imagination of my students is so delightful and their eyes shine so bright when I give them the smallest compliment- I love my life.
I am concerned at how petty my students can be sometimes though. They treat each other so badly, get SOOO angry when someone makes fun of them, and take no responsibility for their actions. The idea that their words hurt just as bad as the words of others is something that has not yet connected in their young brains. So, I borrowed an idea from my first cooperating teacher Sue Moore (good teaching is stealing) and introduced my classes to a friend I call Bob. Bob is a clean, unused piece of computer paper. When I held up Bob in front of my oh-so-mature 6th graders, half of them grinned and the other half looked at me as if a second head had just sprouted out of my nose.
As I introduced my great friend Bob, telling the piece of paper how beautiful, clean, and sharp he looked, my class started to play along, telling Bob how beautiful he looked, reaching out to touch the paper as I walked around the room. A few students continued with their disbelief, nearly yelling in frustration, "It's a piece of paper..." I just kept going, telling them all the wonderful things Bob does for me, but then suddenly, I stopped, proclaiming angrily, "Bob just gave me a paper cut! How dare you Bob! You are so mean!" After which I crumpled up a corner of Bob. Silence in the room. I then got really angry and called Bob names, crumpled up the entire piece of paper with each insult and threw him in the garbage saying that he wasn't my friend anymore. Cheers met with moans, the whole class completely involved in Bob's fate. I just walked around and let them react, remaining silent. Then I said, "Class, I'm starting to feel bad now- I mean, Bob was my friend. He probably didn't mean to give me a paper cut." I took the paper out of the garbage, tried to smooth him out, apologizing, but it was visually clear that no amount of saying 'I'm sorry' could take the wrinkles out- an outward sign that words leave scars. Bob would never be the same because of what I did.
The reactions of my students to this was both enlightening and disturbing. The first time I taught this lesson I gave each student a piece of paper, but they got so angry so fast that they ripped the paper to shreds, stomped on it on the floor, screamed at it, saying words that made no sense for the small 'paper cut' Bob had given. I knew some of my students had been told the words they were saying, using the tones that had been directed at them, doing everything to this paper short of body slamming it to the ground because they had been given permission to be mean. I revised the lesson for the next two classes to just me holding the paper, because I could barely contain the chaos that had erupted the first time. The other reaction that helped me see where my students are developmentally was at the very end, when I asked, "Is it my fault Bob looks all wrinkled and hurt- like a piece of garbage?" More than half said it was Bob's fault. More than half. I had to repeat over and over again that while Bob had 'started' it, MY words did that to Bob: I finished it by hurting him right back. I now have 'What about Bob?' posters around the room, wrinkled pieces of paper stapled to the wall. Maybe this will remind them of the impact their words and actions have, maybe not.
Life lesson number two- all sixth graders suffer from short term memory loss. What, that assignment is due today? We were supposed to keep that piece of paper? I did what yesterday? The less sleep I get, the more irritating these questions become. I have a feeling by the end of the year my sixth graders will be on top of it. The trick is getting enough sleep so I can keep my patience and understanding until then. On the other hand, if I have to keep a student for lunch, call him/her out for talking in class, or just have a bad day in general, the next day it's as if yesterday never happened. They're as good as new!
The next life lesson I have to share is that when you buy a mattress, make sure you buy the right size. Please see the picture below.
I spent most of my last weekend painting the bed frame (It reminds me of Easter now- very colorful. I got kind of paint happy) and was so excited about sleeping on a real mattress after two months on an air bed, but realized once the mattress had been delivered that my frame was in fact for a full mattress, not a twin. Ooops. Won't be making that mistake again.