This is about my difficulties today with fifth graders. Gentle difficulties which an experienced fifth grade teacher could avoid or surmount easily, but which tried my patience and reminded me that I have a lot to learn.
In introduction, this group of seventy-five or so kids felt like a different tribe from those a a different school last week, who listened, caught on, and had impulse control. Today at this school across town, many of the fifth graders in my classes couldn’t concentrate on an idea or remember what I had said or shown a few seconds after the fact. I would demonstrate a sample problem on the white board, check for understanding, not see any evidence of confusion, then say go ahead and do the rest of the problems, then find that all over the room were kids that had retained nothing and now wanted me to start at the beginning to explain to them individually. There was also a lack of understanding of when to speak out, and numerous times when I’d call for everyone’s attention and be in the middle of a few minutes of introduction, instruction, or a tale, there would be numerous, spontaneous, unnecessary interruptions. It was as if each of these children believed this was a one on one conversation and they could change the subject, tell a connecting story, or make a request at any time for any reason.
As one class was lining up at the door to move to another room, I asked the student at the front of the line, by way of conversation, “Do you think that when you’re a few years older, you’ll be able to remember what the teacher says a little longer and not forget right away?” He was looking at me, making eye contact. There was a pause while I waited for him to answer. Then he blinked, and said, “What did you say?”
I am not making this up.
In a lull during the next period I told this story to the next class, as written above. When I was done, I looked around, saw a few smiles of understanding, and then, up piped a boy: “What did she say?” And as those few students in the group grinned wider, yet another boy from the other side of the room, realizing something amusing had occurred, asked, “What was that? I didn’t hear.”