Wednesday, July 25, 2012

Sixth Graders

I would like to apologize for not posting in quite sometime.  I have no excuses.  I only hope to work harder for you all.  I would like to take this opportunity to thank you for taking to time to read my blog.  I also would like thank you for all the kind words and encouragement.    

Throughout my time teaching in Korea, the sixth grade has been the most difficult age group to teach.  Sixth graders are interesting.  I have been teaching at the same school for over a year.  In terms of height and weight, I usually notice a minimal difference in growth in students between the second and fifth grade.  It's not because they don't grow.  They do, but it isn't as noticeable.  When students reach the sixth grade, their faces suddenly become more mature.  Their voices change.  They begin to grow acne.  The changes become more noticeable.

When I went back to the states a few months ago, one thing I noticed was that children in America are noticeably larger than those from Korea.  A friend of mine back home has a five-year-old daughter, and apparently, she is one of the smallest in her class, and she is the size of most of my second graders here in Korea.  It's funny, because some of these fourth and fifth graders look like five-year-olds, and suddenly, when they reach the sixth grade, they grow and physically mature significantly in a short period of time, and on a random day, they suddenly walk into school looking like they are twenty-seven.  Some of these sixth graders would be able to walk into a convenience store, buy a case of beer and a pack of cigarettes with out being asked to show identification.  This is especially true with the boys.  The growth in girls seems to be more gradual, and becomes more evident in the fifth grade.  By the time students reach the sixth grade, most will have gone through puberty.

When students reach the sixth grade, they suddenly begin to see adults for who they are, human beings with flaws.  Some quickly acquire an inherent distrust and bitterness towards authority.  When students reach the sixth grade, they suddenly become more likely to blatantly disobey and disregard authority.  They also become more open with their attraction to members of the opposite sex.  The boys suddenly have a desire to establish dominance in the classroom, out of their desire to impress the girls.  Once dominance over the other students is established, they attempt to establish dominance over the teacher.  The girls become more giddy upon realization that they are noticed by the boys, so they talk to their friends more, and they do so more loudly and more enthusiastically.

These two factors are the reason why sixth graders are such a challenge to teach.  Out of their desire to impress the girls, many boys will become more obnoxious in class, and many of their verbal jabs are in total disregard of the teacher, in order to establish dominance.  If dominance is not established by the teacher, this alone can cause a class to get out of control.  From my experience, as a man, girls establish dominance differently.  They do so by gaining favor from the teacher, not for academic benefit, but in order to be able to get away with more.  As a male, I find it more difficult to be stern with the girls.

Although, generally speaking, in a class with an equal amount of boys and girls, the girls tend to be more well-behaved.  But contrary to that, I find that a class with only boys to be easier to maintain control than a class with only girls.  In a class full of boys, there are no girls to impress, and being that it is easier to be stern with them, it is easier to keep them focused.  With no girls, they are less likely to be embarrassed, so they can be a lot more fun.  In a class full of girls, they all seem to be competing for the teacher's favor, making it more difficult to be stern, so they tend to misbehave more.  All this is especially true with sixth graders.

When I went back home to the states, I had a conversation with a friend of my mother who is an experienced teacher, much of it teaching sixth graders.  I asked her, "Do you have any advice in handling them?"

She replied, "Sixth graders will always be difficult.  There is nothing you can do to stop it.  You have to be determined to be the one who, when they look back, and they remember you, they can say 'that teacher impacted my life.'"  At the very least, I can be one who they remember favorably.

After that conversation, I no longer lose my temper with students.  I no longer take seriously that which isn't worthy of such.  It took me a year to realize this.  I find it works a lot better to make a joke out of a verbal jab, than getting frustrated.  In the long run, I find it easier to make fun of what they say.  It lightens the mood.  With sixth graders, I find that they work harder when the mood is light.  If any discord towards the teacher exists, they will be unwilling to speak, participate, and work.  During my first year of teaching, I have had classes like that, and that is when teaching becomes most difficult.

Nothing they say can effect how I teach them.  Nothing they can do will stop me from being kind to them.  Nothing that can be perceived as disrespectful will ever cause me to lose my temper again.  Because, as my coworker, Kezia, so effectively put it, "Who are we kidding ourselves?  We are dealing with 12 year-olds."

1 comment:

  1. Chris,
    After reading your thoughts, it's evident that you are gaining much wisdom that will definitely help you to become an effective teacher. You have to learn what behavior problems need to be dealt with and which ones to ignore. Much respect comes from your students knowing that you genuinely care about them. It's more than just "book knowledge" that you want them to learn from you. Understanding their physical growth is also such an important asset in dealing with different age groups.

    Love you!
    Aunt Syd