One of the reasons why I decided to stay in fourth grade instead of transferring back to sixth is that end of the year fourth graders are such a delight. At the end of sixth grade, with approaching adolescence, the students are trying to make a break with childhood. For many of them, the best way to do this is to make a break with adults and adult authority. This makes the last few weeks a difficult time, to say the least. Just when we want to celebrate and recognize our students, they go and pick fights.
But end of the year fourth graders are another creature entirely. They have come through the difficult transition from third grade to fourth grade and emerged, self-confident and ready for the world. Abstract ideas that were once beyond them are now within their grasp. They have begun to understand that there is a world beyond their family, beyond their school, and they want to know more. They can now appreciate subtle jokes and gentle sarcasm.
The new maturity of fourth graders is a bit of sunlight in the gloom and doom world that I often create for myself at the end of the year. May and June are always times of great guilt for me. The units I haven’t covered! The papers I haven’t graded! The anguish of it all!
This week, I observed something that changed my thinking. A student was at the front, sharing a piece of work, when I had to help another student who was taking an assessment. It turned out that the student needed quite a bit of help. I took some time, working on the question, when I realized what was happening at the front.
The first student writer had finished. She had answered two questions from other students about her writing. Then she said, “Who else would like to share?” Another student came up to the front. I stayed at my desk, just to watch what developed. The student shared his writing and asked for questions or comments. Eager hands went up, and questions and comments (all related to writing!) flew back and forth. “Who’d like to share next?” the student said, and yet another student took his place at the front.
What a moment. I was at the back of the room, but the community of writers kept sharing, kept talking. The conversation had not strayed, the students had not sat there chattering as they tried to figure out what I wanted them to do next. I was no longer a necessary part of their sharing. They could do it all on their own.
So now, when the end of year guilt tries to overwhelm me, I think of that conversation. And I begin to realize that, despite all of my mistakes of this past year, a few things must have turned out right.