5 Lessons I Learned From a Sixth-Grader: By Janelle McLaughlin School Administrator, Curriculum Director, Educational Consultant, Teacher (Re-Print)
My first-born, Sydney, graduated from sixth-grade recently. My little baby is suddenly a 5'4" incoming seventh-grader. Next year, she will move from the intermediate school (grades 4-6) to the Jr./Sr. high school campus (and, yes, I am having some issues dealing with the fact that she will be around 18-yr-olds!!). Consequently, Sydney's class is the last group I taught before leaving my second-grade classroom to become an administrator. It was especially fun to watch these kids be celebrated at their graduation as a parent, a friend, and a former teacher.
My children teach me something new most days, but this has been a great school year for Sydney, so I'm going to honor her with this post.
1. Friends matter most. Fifth-grade was a difficult one for Sydney. She is super fun to be around, and is fiercely loyal to her friends. However, she doesn't enter friendships lightly. On top of that, she typically needs to be invited into an activity in order to feel wanted. She had one particular classmate last year that was jealous of Syd's relationship with a mutual friend. She began bullying Sydney and saying/doing some very hurtful things. It was difficult as a parent to know how to help her through this, yet we made it through the year. Sixth-grade was about the opposite. We watched Sydney open up and share that wonderful personality more freely. She felt more confident in her friendships, developed new ones, and looked forward to school like never before. She hasn't even been out of school for a week, yet, and she has locker decorations made for next year, and is already talking about being excited for the school year. She had fantastic teachers, but I think her friendships played a huge role in the success of the school year.
2. Authentic projects should be what school is all about. Math was my favorite subject growing up. I'm not sure why as it doesn't really fit my personality. Maybe it was because it came more easily to me than other subjects. Sydney, though, really doesn't like math. At the end of the school year, her math teacher gave them all the challenge to work in small teams to design and develop a carnival game. There were different math requirements, but it was mostly open-ended. Sydney loved it! She was excited about math each day, and spent a lot of time out of class thinking and planning for this project. The last week of school, the students got to play each other's games during a sixth-grade carnival, making the purpose and audience of the project real and relevant. Seeing her excitement, involvement, and learning made me wish her class was set up like this all year long.
3. It's never too late to love school. My daughter is a genius (of course, I may be a little biased...). Seriously though, she has always been very lingual: talking, reading, and writing very early. She loved to do "school" type things as a toddler and preschooler. I thought she would love school when she started kindergarten. Not so much. She had great teachers all through her elementary experiences, and yet, there was no excitement or desire to go to school...until this year. She had to work harder this year than ever before, her friendships were more solid, and she had fun, inter-relational teachers. She looked forward to school just about every day. Her words in the last couple of weeks, "We have the best teachers. I wish they hadn't put all the good ones in one grade level."
4. Life is a series of starting all over. In our small town, Sydney's school experiences have been a series of starting over. She attended two years of preschool, and then went to a new school for grades K-4. After fourth grade, she went to the intermediate school for grades five and six. Next year, she will start over again at the Jr./Sr. high school. Each time it has meant a new location, new teachers, new expectations, new routines and procedures. This is life. Life is a series of starting over. While change can be difficult and scary, it often brings positive things with it. No one is twenty years old and still attending preschool. We have to be willing to start over, step into the "unknown" in order to accomplish the next set of goals, or experience the excitement in the next adventure.
5. I have to let go in order to hold on. Part of me wants to take my children and flee to some undeveloped land and keep them in this bubble of protectedness. I want Sydney to hang on to that last shred of innocence. I want to preserve our family time where my children still want to hang out with me. And, yet, I love to watch her as she grows, her life unfolding right before my eyes. It's not something you can fully understand until you are a parent. This amazing little girl is turning into an even more amazing adolescent. The best part of all, is that I get to be a part of it. I was blessed to be chosen to raise this miracle. And while most days I want to hold on with all my might, I know I have to let go in order for her to thrive. So, I will...with tears and laughter, and many emotions in between (did I mention this girl will be a teenager soon!!). And I can't wait to see what else this girl will teach me.
To read more of Janelle McLaughlin click here!