By Tyler Jones, first year City Year AmeriCorps member serving at Henry Wilson Elementary School supported by Dartmouth-Hitchcock and Wire Belt
Being in fifth grade definitely is a benchmark of growing older and growing up. Fifth grade, at least here in Manchester, is the last grade of elementary school. For my students, next year will mean middle school, and with it will come their toughest challenges yet. Time management, discipline, and a good work ethic are all essential skills to succeed in education, and my year has largely been spent trying to instill these traits in my students.
This task has not been easy. My attention and energy have been split between keeping my students behaving positively and helping them to understand the material they are being taught. Their strong personalities can sometimes lead to a butting of heads, but in the end we are always able to find some common understanding and synergize as a team.
Despite the tiring nature of my work, I am constantly encouraged by the successes I have seen in my classroom. One of my focus list students began the year without really knowing his multiplication facts, but he has worked on them nearly every day and is now able to solve them much more consistently. Another student has made considerable improvements in recognizing when he isn't following directions or is beginning to act out, and will often realize his mistakes and correct them without any real redirection from me or my teacher. This is one of the great things about working with fifth graders: they are at the age where they are beginning to gain awareness of their strengths and weaknesses, and are able to react to them more independently.
One project that has really given my students a chance to showcase this is our March Madness inspired book contest. My teacher selected 16 books across 8 different genres, and each pair competes against one another, with the class voting on a winning book each week. Not only does this initiative offer them a chance to see which genres they enjoy or struggle through, it also allows them to share their opinions and have their voices heard.
That, to me, is what working in the fifth grade is all about. Because they are the oldest kids in the school, they are the ones who are most often looked up to as leaders; they are the ones that are meant to represent the best that the school has to offer. As such, it is up to us to afford each student opportunities to show what they have to bring to the table, and let their personalities shine through. Despite all the knowledge they've gained this year, I think the most important thing they've learned is how to be the best "them" they can be. And while you may not find a grade for it on any report cards, it's a test that they're learning to pass with flying colors every time.
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