Posted in Education, Sixth Grade, Teaching, Writing

Day 2 of Academic Orientation: The Magic Time

Before I realized how much I absolutely love attending concerts, yet at a time when I already enjoyed listening to music, I saw Cracker and the Meat Puppets play at a small venue at Dartmouth College.  In fact, that concert hall is now a library.  It was a great show.  Cracker played all their hits.  While I was titillated by the music, I didn’t yet feel it coursing through my veins.  I couldn’t feel the music in my soul the way I do now when I attend concerts.  It was different, not in a bad way, just different.  My musical being hadn’t quite matured back when I was 15 years old.  Now, my concert-going experiences are almost other-wordly.

This past May, I saw City and Colour play the Boston Calling Festival.  Amazing, is the only word that comes to mind even though the experience was so much more than that.  There are actually no words to explain or describe how phenomenal the band’s set was.  After waiting in the sweltering heat for several hours, I was hot, tired, and thirsty.  Despite those negative feelings, I was also super stoked for Dallas Green and his band to take the stage.  As soon as Woman started playing, I entered a different state of being.  I heard the music in my soul.  I started moving to the rhythms of the guitar and drums as the song began.  My dancing never stopped until the final sounds of Sorrowing Man echoed in the distance like a great call from the gods.  I felt the magic on that warm spring day a few months ago.  I was in the zone.

Today marked the second and final day of my school’s Academic Orientation.  It feels so good to be back in the classroom after a vast summer hiatus.  Our goal for today was to continue to foster a sense of community in the classroom while also building routines and setting the expectations for the year in sixth grade.  We only had a few activities on the agenda for this morning.  First, we reviewed the big ideas from yesterday’s Academic Orientation experience.  What purpose does the Planbook Binder serve at Cardigan?  Why do we have you use one?  Why is it important to build community in the classroom?  The boys added their great insight on these points.  This discussion also served as a great springboard into today’s plans.  Following the discussion, we distributed laptops to the students as we are a 1-to-1 school.  Each student received a new Macbook Air laptop.  We allowed the students time to investigate how to turn on their laptop, login to their computer, and navigate the applications and Internet.  We are continuing to push the concept of utilizing your peers as resources this year in the classroom.  We want the boys to use their classmates as teachers.  We also want them to solve problems on their own, rather than providing them all of the guidance and answers up front.  This method of learning worked very well this morning.  The boys figured things out quite quickly.  We then introduced two of the online websites we will be using this year in the sixth grade, Haiku and GoodReads.  Things went smoothly.  The boys asked great questions, worked together with their classmates effectively, and remained positive throughout the first two activities.  I was feeling good, like that time I saw Cracker in concert.  It was an awesome experience, but not super special like the City and Colour show I recently saw.

Then came the writing activity.  While the magic was building as the activity began, I was unable to see or feel it right away.  I explained the purpose of the poetry writing activity before digging into it.  I shared a few sample Where I’m From poems with the students to give them an idea of the piece they would soon be crafting.  They seemed focused but not as into it as they ended up being.  The experience was building in intensity.  The boys began writing their own Where I’m From poems after I fielded their questions and reviewed the expectations.  That’s when I started to feel the magic in the air.  The boys jumped right into the writing task with excitement.  They crafted line after line of brilliant poetry.  It was amazing.  They wrote and wrote, in silence as classical music danced throughout the room.  I even had a chance to write my own piece.  I was so moved by the effort and positive energy in the room that I crafted one of my best pieces to date.  Then, students shared their poems with their table partner before we began crafting our class Where We’re From poem.  The students enjoyed sharing their pieces with their classmates.  They had great discussions and offered compassionate feedback to one another.  My co-teacher and I also were able to exchange kind words as we shared our own pieces with one another.  It was amazing.  It was at that point that I knew we had entered the magic zone.  Pieces of the sixth grade puzzle just seemed to fall into place this morning.  However, the best, most magical moments hadn’t even occurred yet.  The crescendo was just building.

We then worked as a class to create one giant Where We’re From poem.  The students each added a line from their piece to the poem.  The boys discussed how to reorganize the lines and create a polished poem.  It was brilliant.  They communicated kindly and had only positive feedback for their peers and the class.  The final piece simply blew my mind.  It was epic and it was all theirs.  I was merely the typist.  They brought the magic today.

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Because they worked so diligently, with such grace and glory, we had extra time available in the schedule.  So, we gave the students a break.  They had a chunk of Team Time.  It’s sort of like inside recess in a day school setting.  The boys can play games, chat with each other, or just hang out.  The only rule is that technology cannot be used during this time.  While some of the boys jumped into the Makerspace, a few of the students played with the Rubik’s Cubes, and another small group worked with Legos.  They communicated with each other compassionately as they built birdhouses, marble tracks, pictures frames, and other such items.  The cube boys solved a few of the Rubik’s Cubes and were so excited to share their accomplishments with my co-teacher and I.  We did not have to patrol the room like prison guards because the students played by the class norms and our school’s Core Values.  They were happy and engaged.  Magic filled the air so much so that I could taste it.  Who knew that magic tastes like fresh baked chocolate chip cookies.  The morning continued in this same manner for the final 45 minutes of the academic day.  The boys seemed to have everything all figured out.  It was such an amazing experience.  I felt as if I was at the top of my teaching game and the students were showing us the climax of their student game.  I couldn’t have asked for anything more today.

Like my past concert experiences, magic takes time to come about.  I needed to have a “just good” day yesterday in order to manifest the magical moments that took place in the sixth grade classroom today.  The boys needed a dry run, as did I.  Yesterday was just practice for today’s big game.   It’s all part of the learning process.  I’ll tell you this much though, today felt great.  Leaving the classroom to walk to lunch with my co-teacher, I was filled with a sense of joy and awe.  It felt like a perfect day.  I know that perfection is a myth and shouldn’t be used to measure anything by, but today’s classroom experiences felt pretty darn perfect to me.

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Author:

I teach sixth grade at Cardigan Mountain School in Canaan, NH. I'm currently ensconced in my fourteenth year at this small, independent boys' school. I love engaging students in relevant and hands-on learning. I was nominated for the NH Teacher of the Year Award in 2016 by a parent. While I love education and guiding students, my first passion is my family. I have a wonderful son, Jeffrey, and a beautiful and intelligent wife, Kim. I couldn't be happier. Every day is the best day of my life.

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