Reflecting on my First Year Teaching Fifth Grade

As the end is vividly within sight now, I’m feeling nostalgic.  I still remember the first day of school as if it were yesterday.  My students were so quiet and well behaved because they were so nervous.  They were curious and excited about their upcoming year in the fifth grade.  Then there was our first Marble Party.  I believe that was the Glow Party.  They had so much fun.  The glow in the dark paint is still visible on the walls of my classroom.  I can’t forget our trip to the Sargent Center.  Despite the rain, the students had so much fun playing and exploring together.  The hook they made at the metal forge still hangs in our classroom.  What about the Fifth Grade Science Exposition?  This was the first time the students presented to the entire school.  They were so nervous, but they knocked it out of the park like Ted Williams hitting a baseball.  Then there was the Hopkinton History Expo at the Historical Society.  What an amazing opportunity for the students.  They were able to share what they learned with the greater community in the space where we began our unit back in September.  The way we celebrated the holidays in festive ways.  I’m a sucker for Christmas.  What about our trip to the Boston Museum of Fine Arts?  The kids had so much fun viewing the original pieces of art we looked at on our computers during our unit on Mesopotamia.  Of course, I can’t forget our unit on Astronomy that just happened to coincide with the release of the first images of a black hole.  We watched the press conference and everything.  My students were so into it.  Then there was our trip to the planetarium.  My students were in awe the entire time.  I had to clean up their drool from the floor afterwards because they mouths were open in amazement for the entire show.  Even now, the excitement generated from the Betterment Project is palpable in the classroom on a daily basis.  Awesome experiences aside, my favorite part of the year has been watching and observing my students grow and develop as readers, writers, thinkers, problem solvers, mathematicians, scientists, and friends.  I have loved celebrating their successes with them.  In fact, in school on Friday, I met with each student to do just that.  I went through and highlighted some of the ways in which they have grown throughout the year so that they leave school feeling successful and happy with the progress they made this year.  What a magical year it has been for us in the fifth grade.

Reflecting on my first year teaching fifth grade, it’s difficult not to think about how I’ve grown as an educator throughout the year.  I began the school year very nervous.  Would the students like me?  Would I be in the right dress code?  What happens next in our schedule?  With so many new things to learn, I was sure that I would forget something, but other than forgetting to put my cape on one morning, I didn’t.  I was able to figure everything out at my wonderful new school thanks to my supportive and caring colleagues, my phenomenal and kind headmaster, the amazing Judy, and my silly and compassionate students.

While I’ve always thought that having control over my students, the curriculum, and my classroom was of the utmost importance, I came to realize this year that giving up control and allowing the students to have a voice in the decision making process was far more important.  Instead of trying to make it my classroom, I became open to making it our classroom.  I asked the students for input on classroom organization, and we re-situated the desks and chairs on several occasions throughout the year.  Before we went on any field trip, I had the students vote on whether they wanted to go or not.  In every case, the students unanimously voted to go on our many off-campus excursions, but the point was that it was their decision.  They chose to go.  Letting go of the reigns a bit also helped to foster a mutual respect and a huge amount of engagement from the students.  Before each new unit, I asked the students for their thoughts and ideas on how they would like it to be set up.  What type of activities and projects did they want to complete?  What did they want to learn about regarding the particular topic?  They loved coming to school and learning because we were learning about things that they had said they wanted to learn about.  Our final Betterment Project came out of this concept of giving students ownership.  They chose their project ideas, and the care and time they are committing to completing them shows that they are totally engaged in this project.  I definitely became way more open to becoming the guide from the side instead of the sage on the stage this year.  It felt good to let the students steer our ship.

We trust our students at BHS to do the right thing, and in most cases they do.  When they don’t, we work with them to learn from their mistakes.  Failure is a part of the learning process.  Because we trust our students, I was able to do lots of things with my students this year that very few other schools would ever allow.  My students played with fire and knives as part of our outdoor, Forest Friday program in the fifth grade.  The students learned how to safely start and extinguish a camp fire.  They also learned how to whittle and carve wood.  Aside from some very minor finger scrapes, my students remained injury free throughout the year despite being allowed to use knives and fire in and out of the classroom.  My students were all amazed and very happy that we put so much trust in them.  “At my old school, we were never allowed to use anything sharper than dull, child scissors.  If we ever brought a knife to school, we would have been kicked out.  The school certainly never gave us knives to use in school,” they often shared with me.  The students love feeling trusted and respected.

While my first year teaching fifth grade is about to come to an end, my journey and time at this amazing school is just beginning.  I will be able to continue to watch my students grow and develop as they move into the sixth, seventh, and eighth grades.  I will be able to help inspire more students to reach for the sun and make the most of every moment in the fifth grade.  I will be able to learn even more from my students in the coming years.  Sure, I am very sad to say goodbye to my current fifth graders in a few short days, but I’m also so proud of the wonderful young people they have transformed into this year.  I have learned so much from them.  In the near future, my students will be helping to run the world.  Who knows, I may even have a future president in my class.  What a year it has been.  With five days to go, I’m filled with excitement, sadness, happiness, and love.  I love my students and I love my school.  It doesn’t really get much better than this.

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