At the beginning of the summer, I was in high spirits. I had just finished my first year of teaching and was told that I would be teaching all 7th-grade science classes for the upcoming year. Aside from the fact that I adore 7th-graders (awkwardness and all), I was also looking forward to having just one curriculum to prepare and teach.
As life is wont to do, however, my assistant principal called me over the summer to say that I was actually going to be teaching two 6th-grade classes in addition to my 7th-grade classes. Though I felt a little disappointed about the fact that I now had two separate curricula to follow, my greatest fear was … the 6th-graders.
I had seen them in the hallway, grinning and telling fart jokes. They terrified me. Images flashed in my memory of 6th-graders sprinting down the hallways as they headed past my classroom, my voice trailing after them to “SLOW DOWN!”
It was with this fear and anticipation that I greeted my 6th-grade homeroom class on the first day of school. The students followed me to our classroom with their backpacks and wide eyes, huddling together so they wouldn’t accidentally get separated from the group. Instantly, my terror of these 11-year-old humans dissipated. These little people had just walked into an enormous school filled with 1,800 other students and now had to learn how to survive and thrive.
I realized that most of us probably block out the majority of our 6th-grade experiences because 6th grade is hard. But I am in a unique position to make 6th grade a memorable — or at least bearable — experience for the 30 people who were staring at me.
Here are some important things my 6th-graders learned on the first day of school:
1. You should go to the bathroom if you have to go to the bathroom. No, you should not hold it all day. Yes, you have to ask to go to the bathroom. If it is an emergency, you should tell the teacher.
2. Yes, the lunchroom is hard to find. Yes, I will help you find the lunchroom. No, you will not get in trouble.
3. After school one of the students told me, “We thought we were going to be lost forever. Like really, forever.” It’s OK. You will get lost, but it won’t be forever. Promise.
4. If you are lost, you should ask someone where to go. I know teachers seem intimidating, but they will help you. We all get lost sometimes.
5. Those 8th-graders? I know they’re so tall and cool. But I taught them last year and I can tell you they also get lost and lose things and feel scared and worried, just like you.
And as for me? I was reminded that starting something new is scary and difficult for all parties involved. I cannot wait for the day that I have to yell “SLOW DOWN” to my 6th-graders running down the hallways, dodging teachers and students, because that is the day I will know they are OK. That is the day I will know they are more comfortable and more confident and that this huge school has become their school.