Life Lessons Learned Through the Eyes of Fifth Graders

After I returned to Savannah after winter break, I began a new job tutoring at a local elementary school. My job description includes helping the kids with classroom work as it is being taught, tutor specific kids who are not grasping certain content, and to be an overall positive role model for the kids. The school I work in is in a low-income community, with one of the worst test scores in the county. Most of the kids have very rough home lives, which, of course, effects their attitude and behavior in school.  This job started as nothing more than a way to make money, a part time job as I try to save for my future. But as I approach my third week, I realize it is so much more than that.

The first day I came to the school, I was flooded with grade school memories. The morning announcements, the grey desks, the long, echoing hallways, all reminded me of the time I had in elementary school. Most of my time in elementary school was spent worrying about getting called on in class and having to talk in front of people (I was painfully shy), and getting home sick from just being at school.

As I signed in at the front desk on my first day, I was told that I would be working with a fifth grade class. When I first heard the news, I was nervous. Fifth graders are old enough to say intentionally mean comments, but young enough to still need supervision. They are also close to embarking on middle school, and I honestly can’t stand middle schoolers (I also had literally the worst time ever in middle school, which brings hard feelings). Needless to say, I walked into the classroom hesitant and unknowing of what lied ahead.

Turns out, I really love fifth graders. Yes, they can be bullies sometimes, but most of the time, they want to work hard and make you proud. I sat with a particular group of girls everyday (well, Monday, Wednesday and Friday) to help them with work and to encourage them in their studies/in life. It’s crazy how attached I became in such a short amount of time.

These girls intrigued me. They were so sweet to me, but then would start fighting with each other over nothing. They, and all of my students, are so quick to choose aggression, whether that be to yell, or to get physical with someone. The girls were so quick to insult the other, to call each other names, to try and tear the others down, and why? Because of insecurity? Or because they have been taught that this will make them feel better about themselves?

If you know me, you know I love a good preaching moment. While we were working on our fractions, I looked at the girls, and said, I think this is a great teaching moment. Girls need to be on the same team, they need to support and route for each other. Girls can run the world and accomplish anything if we all stick together. We shouldn’t spend time trying to tear each other down, we need to be building each other up.

They remained silent, looking at me as if this was a brand new concept to them. They thought about it for a little bit, and then one of the girls apologized for being mean to another. The rest of the day was spent in harmony, working together to complete a fraction booklet and popcorn read the class novel.

I wish I had a college gal tell me what I told them when I was in elementary school. When I was their age, I had no concept of female empowerment or what it means to build others up. We learn to be aggressive and defensive, it’s in our nature. But what if we teach our children, our students, our nieces and nephews, to be kind, first and foremost? That empowering your classmates will make you feel much better than making fun of them?

One boy in my fifth grade class deals with anger management issues. He tends to take things to an extreme, always getting himself in trouble with his aggressive responses. On Friday, the class took a math quiz on their laptops. Most of the time, this boy is too wilded up about various things to concentrate on his work, which reflects in his grades. I’ve been sitting near him helping him concentrate and stay focused on his work, and on Friday, he got an 80% on his test, the highest grade he has received in the course.

“Ms. R!!” He shouts from his desk. “I got an 80% on my test!!”, a huge smile painted across his face.

I can’t even tell you how proud I was of him. I, being the overly invested tutor that I am, shouted with joy and gave him a huge high-five. His face lite up with excitement. The rest of the day he was well-behaved and concentrated on his work.

These kids want to work hard. They want to make people proud. They want to try their best. They just need patient, encouraging, positive role models to lead them. My group of fifth grade girls are so sweet, and talented, and smart, but are taught and shown by the females in their lives that it is okay to be aggressive and nasty toward other women. These girls will do wonderful and great things in their lives, I’m sure of it. But just think about how much more success they will find if they spent their time and energy working on themselves, and building others up around them.

Man, talk about more than a part-time job. I have learned so much from these kids in the short time I have spent with them. They have made me look at situations and topics through a different lens, with a different viewpoint than I have had in the past. Their home lives and stories are so drastically different than the one I lived. No matter how different we are, everybody wants to feel loved and appreciated and worthy.

I’m fortunate I have the opportunity to be a light for these kids, and show them those truths, that they are loved, appreciated and very worthy.

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