I spent a day at Morgan Middle school speaking with sixth grade reading students. What a pleasure. Them aren’t just nice words–those children really were a pleasure to speak with. I don’t know if there is something about sixth graders or if there is something about me, but I connect with sixth graders. I told one class of sixth graders that at eleven-years-old they are experiencing the most magical year of their life. I saw a couple of perceptive, if doubtful, kids roll their eyes. What could I mean by that? They have high school, dating, marriage, sex (hopefully in that order) ahead of them and I’m telling them that sixth grade is as good as it gets? Actually, that’s not what I’m telling them. I said it was the most magical year, but even that can’t be proved. All I’m trying to say is that sixth graders are old enough and smart enough to ask the hard questions in life, but young enough not to have the messy awkwardness of puberty pulling emotional strings. This combination makes them especially sharp and fresh.
My goal in these reading-writing workshops is to help the kids see the world like writers: seeing the extraordinary in the ordinary. With this age group is isn’t hard. I had them for about an hour and fifteen minutes. They gave me their attention the full time. In the third class I was a bit worried. I walked in to find the kids sitting askance in their chairs. Some were backwards with their legs hanging over the chair backs. One student with a shaved head walked in late and loudly announced his tardiness. I prepared myself for a more difficult time communicating to this class. It turned out that their casual demeanor wasn’t a sign of behavioral problems, but of a more casual teaching style presented by the teacher. The kids were great. About an hour into the presentation I took a chance and read a three page scene from my book Joey and the Magic Map. I was worried I would lose them here. At the end of the scene I looked up into the faces of several students who were completely lost in the scene I was painting. That says a lot about the student’s discipline and imagination and maybe a little about the success of the scene I wrote. Either way it was gratifying.
I have several classes of seventh and eighth graders coming up soon. These students long ago fell into the tangled jungle of puberty. I drive many of them on my school bus. I’m sure they will be surprised to see their bus driver in their classroom. I expect it will be quite a different experience than the sixth graders, but I still have high hopes that it will be a good one.