Much to my surprise, I found fourth graders to be an exciting and fun group to teach. They listened when I asked them to listen …well, most of the time. They worked when I asked them to work…well, most of the time. They laughed at all of my jokes and when I asked them to stop laughing, they did stop…well, most of the time.
They talked when I asked them to talk…all of the time! Honestly, it was the desire of my fourth graders to please the teacher, to make friends, to be happy and very surprisingly to figure out life beyond school. These were children who knew that their home environment was most likely not ideal.
Their parents…for the most part… struggled from paycheck to paycheck or did not work at all. The children clearly wanted to try to make something good out of themselves…to find success beyond their poverty stricken neighborhood.
Some would make it…how I hoped that they all would figure out life after school.
Even though fourth graders face high stakes state tests in the Spring, I felt like I needed to focus on their hopes and fears for the future. I needed to work on building up their confidence. I needed to teach them that a strong work ethic is the first step. I needed to teach them that they could and should start working on a plan for the future. These fourth graders needed to decide what types of work they might desire as a grownup.
Their opinions and their questions about education and jobs were continuous. Their interest in what they might be when they grew up proved that nine and ten year old children could be deep thinkers as well as deep worriers. I thought that once we got the conversations going about their plans for the future…that they then would realize the importance of making super effort on their regular classroom work. And thus…do well on the big tests in the Spring.
The plan worked. They learned to persevere. They learned to figure out their possible choices and desires for the future. They learned that doing well in school was the important first step.
In order to help each student to start thinking about the future…we began to talk in small discussion groups, to write in daily journals, to post writing samples around the room, to share hopes with the class. Of course, we worked on the science curriculum, the math curriculum, the social studies curriculum, the reading curriculum and so on.
However, our class project was called “working on a plan for the future”. I found out that it is never too early to place a class of children on a strong pathway to tomorrow. How I wish that this type of concept would be taught in teacher preparation coursework in colleges…especially important for teaching the children in Title I schools where crime is rampant, money for food/housing is limited, and street smart children are sometimes the norm.
I had no idea about the possibilities of stepping outside of the box. The “powers that be” were not on board with the idea or supportive at all. So sad, but our class kept on the same pathway no matter what…because it was working.