Telltale Signs of a Sixth-Grade Classroom

It’s been a week where I’ve been surrounded by sixth-grade students. On different days I covered all of their core classes: Science, math, language arts, and social studies. Roughly, the same 55 students each day, most dressed in interesting outfits either carefully thought through or whatever was on top of the pile when they arose from bed. In fact, I suspect a few of them wore what they had slept in.

If someone walked into a classroom he would soon figure out that it contained sixth-graders. You see, a sixth grade classroom has certain telltale signs that give it away, like a Wheel of Fortune puzzle where all the key indicator letters are filled in and anyone can figure out the rest. Sixth grade classrooms are like that.

Here are the clues I discovered this week.

The Noisemaker: There’s the kid who makes unnecessary sounds and little comments, like popping or clipping sounds with his mouth and tongue, or the kid who thinks his pencil is a drumstick, or the girl who giggles like a hyena, or the boy who likes to take advantage of the fact that his chair squeaks whenever he shifts his weight.Or, I can’t forget this one, the kid who brings some kind of snack with a noisy wrapper. If it was a movie theatre that usher with the flashlight would be constantly busy spotlighting the noisemakers.

The Brainiac: There will always be the student who knows everything, wants to answer any question, and set other students straight on their incorrect understanding. The thing is…he usually is right…but never gets invited to birthday parties!

The Walking Disaster: Every class has at least one student who’s notebook or binder looks like an explosion happened within it. Papers are hanging out in every direction. He’s like Pig Pen from the Peanuts comic strip. But instead of dirt and mud trailing along behind him, the Walking Disaster leaves a trail of paper, pencils, candy wrappers, and have a computer charging cord following like a dog leash. His shoestrings are flapping along and he frequently asks if he can return to his last class to retrieve something that he has forgotten.

The Red Buller: She has not necessarily had two cans of Red Bull that morning, but her hyper-ness gives the observer the impression it has been here breakfast. She can’t stop talking, erupting his attention-getting comments at just the right time to cause an evacuation from the lesson plan of the day. The threat of lunch detention works for about five minutes and then the Red Bull-effect surfaces again. When you see this student in the hallway during passing periods you realize this is how she is ALL DAY LONG!

The Quiet-As-A-Mouse Kids: They don’t stand out because they never say a word, make a sound, or even move! When any of them are asked a question the response is a usually an indecipherable whisper that not even the speaking kid can hear. They never ask to be allowed to go to the restroom or get a drink of water because that would require movement from their glued-to-the chair position. The teacher never has to worry about them, which causes the teacher to worry about them.

The Future Pro Athlete: Every sixth grade classroom has the kid who wears nothing but the jerseys of sports teams. Monday is a LeBron jersey, complete with wristbands; Tuesday is Tom Brady day…from his years as a Patriot; Wednesday is dress down day to a Duke Blue Devils t-shirt; Thursday is Max Scherzer baseball day; and Friday is patriotic USA Dream Team jersey day. And then the teacher watches the future pro athlete playing football with a group of students at lunch one day and realizes the kid can’t catch a cold!

I had all of these “personalities” this past week and more. And here’s the thing! I enjoyed it…mostly! 95% of my students were awesome, made me smile and laugh, and gave me hope about the coming generation. Yes, there was the 5% that caused me to grind my teeth at night, but the 95% full of personality and distinctiveness will carry me forward.

And now I start a two-month teaching gig for an 8th grade language arts teacher who have birth to her first child yesterday. I’m getting prepared to be harassed for my wardrobe, lack of knowledge about their favorite musicians, and total lack of understanding of certain words that they use. None of them say “groovy” and know who Three Dog Night is. They’ll look at me like I’m hopeless and make me feel like…a sixth-grader!

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