Tuesday, September 29, 2009

Part-Time Fourth Grader

Twenty hours of my week are spent with over two dozen of the neatest nine and ten year olds. The best characteristic of this young mind is that they are no longer whiny first graders and not yet difficult tweens. Holding on to a little innocence, they still interact in sweet ways; a clear indication that the ugly world has not seeped into their behavior…yet. They will eventually land in middle school, and a simple puzzle or math numbers game will be a bore. Believe me, I have a seventh grader. I value my class of fourth grade kids even more when I hear all the drama, rough housing and emotional pain the middle schoolers scoop out every day. I’d rather have a raging case of acne than return to Awkward Central. Fourth Grade is a safe place where personalities and differences have formed but peers are not ready to condemn them for diversity.

For example, some kids speed through their math page and the answers are all correct. Telling them that they have a “Great Math-head”, I put a big red happy face on their paper and they shuffle over to Free Math Time. This is just another name for playing constructive games with the other speedy math wizards. A few kids struggle one problem at a time and still have an incorrect answer. Their pages display eraser burn and it hurts the mommy in me to tell “Susie” that the math problem is STILL incorrect (for the third time). At that point, I watch her step by step, stopping her when she reports that 9X6=45. Ooopps, try again.

I am building inner patience every day with these children. My job forces me to slow down in addition to brushing up on California history and math conversion. (Did you know there are four pecks in a bushel?) If you knew me, you would know that this is a much needed improvement to my rush-rush, fly-by-the-seat-of-my-pants-impatient-ways…In a few years, I should be able to channel Mother Teresa. Or, at the rate I am going, maybe Einstein.

Math is such an exact science; an unforgiving subject. Either the answer is all right or all wrong. It doesn’t seem fair that partial credit is not awarded for an almost, really close numerical right answer. Especially after all that sweaty mental work! I remember my Math days. Understanding double digit multiplication, I could do the work, but would be one smidgen of a digit off. Wrong. Redo. Wrong again. Now a different number is incorrect. Can I AT LEAST have a teeny-tiny, red star for effort? I don’t need a huge star, just a little sumthin’ to make the last 15 minutes of doing the same problem over and over feel productive. Sort of like a math booby-prize? I would LOVE to start awarding a math booby prize, but am sure my teacher would not agree with my positive reinforcement of wrong answers. It’s a shame.

The good news is that each child has some sort of strength whether it be hand-ball, science or spelling. Hmmm, spelling… now that is a whole other subject that deserves delicate observation. Stay tuned.

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