I teach fifth grade. Sometimes my job is hard, but not for the reasons you’d think. True, it can be challenging to get 24 eleven year olds to focus on math during a snowstorm. And the meaning of the word “quietly” often eludes the children, but these little issues are offset by those moments when everyone erupts in laughter, or when one child gives a spontaneous hug on the way out the door.
No, it isn’t the time with the kids that I find difficult. It is the time with the parents.
I have huge respect for the fact that every child is best known, and best loved, by his or her parents. I believe with my whole heart that parents want what is best for their kids. They want them to be happy. They want them to be successful. But too often, they also want them to grow up.
I hear parents lamenting that their fifth grader isn’t “responsible” or doesn’t “take learning seriously”. They want me to hand back homework until every error is corrected. They want me to give out huge amounts of reading, no matter the topic or level of interest. They want me to have the kids produce well written, detailed, word processed essays. They want me to demand perfection.
And I do my best to respond to their anxiety, to help the children to grow and progress and create. But there are so many moments each school year, as I look at little faces happily creating leggo cities, or curled up in a beanbag chair with a book and a stuffed animal, that I want to freeze the moment. I want to take those Moms and Dads by the hands, and show them how little those children still are. I want to shout, “Slow down!!”
We are losing the idea of childhood. We are losing our ability to appreciate the precious gift of innocence. Children are only children for the blink of an eye. They have a few short years to play and imagine and laugh at nothing before they join the crowd of frowning, tired, stressed out worker bees. I want the parents of my students to breathe deep, enfold those little ones in their arms, and be happy to be in this moment.
At Open House night each year, I remind the parents that fifth graders are poised halfway between preschool and junior high. They have one foot in teddy bears, and one in flirtation. It is a joy to watch as they move gently but steadily from one spot to the next. Why would we want to hurry that?
So sometimes my job is hard. Biting my tongue can be painful!