Sunday, October 26, 2008

I'M in 6th GRADE! (all day long!)

Two of my band members forwarded the same email to me within the last week. When Amy and Karyn forward something, I pay attention, and I advise you to do the same!!

This post is about Vietnamese 6th graders in 2008, but if you would like to take a trip to the 70's or 80's and crawl into the skin of a sixth grade girl from that generation, check this out...I laughed at every single thing listed, it's called "If you were a little girl in the 70's":

By the way, I have Alice Cooper's song "18" going through my mind as I write this (Jessica, it's the counselor in Freaks and Geeks' version, though), only these complicated lyrics go: "I'M in SIXTH GRADE (guitar riff...) I'M in SIXTH GRADE...(another guitar riff...)"

For me, 6th grade is filled with so many good memories, and most of them involve my BF Jaci: Friday guitar sing-a-longs with Mr. Watnabe and Mr. O'Donnell ("One Tin Soldier Rides Away," yelling "Green and Yeller!" at the top of our lungs at the end of the song- school colors of Oak Heights), crushes on Kirk and Troy and the two of us finding Valentine presents in our desks (which we still have yet to acknowledge), Vampire stories at every slumber party (levitation included), 6th grade camp at Fort Casey, when we got "I'm with Stupid" and "Stupid's With Me" rainbow glittery letters pressed on to our light blue t-shirts, square dancing with Kirk and Troy every Friday (we didn't acknowledge them then, either), riding the pony "Buster" from up the street to death, and then one of Laurell Lund singing "Love Potion #9" for the talent show (I still remember her plugging her nose and closing her eyes and taking a drink).

Good memories (except, oh yeah, I had to wear my sister's hand-me-downs). Perhaps that is one reason I really, really enjoy my students. They are in such a fun, innocent yet awkward phase, and I remember it all so clearly. My three English classes are writing penpal letters to three sixth grade classes at the school where my mom used to teach and where she still subs: at Westhill Elementary in Northshore - these pictures (signed) will accompany their (very cute) letters.

These students have added such a fun element to my life here and I hardly mention them. I'm thinking of a few vignettes to capture a bit of what it's like to teach them. Here you go (but first a little bit of anger):


Why did "the world" decide only within the last ten years that all 6th graders needed to learn Ancient History? My mom always says it's her favorite subject, but somehow I missed this curriculum. I loved 6th grade, but we sure didn't learn any history, especially ancient. I am mad at the world for not demanding it earlier. I love learning it now. Life is finally making sense. We have studied Sumer, Babylonia, Assyria, Phoenicia, and the Israelites so far and are moving on to Egypt next week. The Israelites I know well...I have their stories memorized because of the blue "Bible Stories" book my mom used to read to us every night (by the way, my mother has much better legs than Nam does...his are so skinny!) Anyway, I am fitting in all of the other civilizations around the context of the Israelites for myself now, but my students can tell you all about cuneiform and Hummarabi and the Assyrian "wallpaper of death"- (we call it).


They can all tell you the gods of Mesopotamia, too, because they wear their god nametags every day and have taken on their god/monster personas; they can all tell you which god, goddess or monster each student represents. Loren is Humbaba, the monster that Gilgamesh kills in the cedar forest, and he doesn't like it that he died so early in the unit. Every day he mentions something about wanting a new identity in front of the class, and every day I just have to say, "You're still dead, Humbaba" and the class erupts into laughter. I even put it on the test. Another kid, Jack, is the sun god "Shamash." The kids call him that now, all the time and he writes his new name on every assignment. Every day, they ask me, "When do we get to become new gods?" and every day I tell them, "When we get to Egypt!" but they keep asking, so I just keep answering. We will change gods Monday. All of them ask me "Which is the most powerful god?" and then "I want to be Ra!" (Therefore I have an elaborate number drawing system in place.)

Anyway, the lack of knowing where I come from is what I will blame for all of the confusion I have felt in this lifetime. I can only hope it's not too late to repair.


I have mentioned before that I started a table point system for all of my classes. I have five classes altogether, two ancient history and three English. I have a different schedule every day, which is nice as far as breaking things up. I begin and end with different classes and have each class for one block period (2 hours) every week (because PE needed a two hour block since they have to be bused to another venue for each period). All other classes are 55 minutes. I have only ever taught 90 minute periods, so it is kind of nice.

The class pictured here, 6C (English), is my favorite class, only four girls out of 17 kids. They LOVE to learn. They LOVE to read stories. They LOVE to score points, and have become neurotic about it. One way they can earn a point is to be in their seats with their books and notebooks out when the bell rings. Lucky, who is pictured in the lower left-hand corner, started this thing with his table, "The Disasters," that he would rush them all to class, make them get out their supplies and sit with their hands folded, completely silent. The Disasters started to rack up the points, so all of the other tables caught on to Lucky's method. (We also call Lucky "Elvis" because he wears his hair in a pompodour. He's the coolest kid ever.)

It was getting to the point where all of them would rush out of their previous class and up to the 4th floor in order to just sit quietly. Last week, Alex- who is pictured in the very back with the glasses - he is the one who reminds me of my nephew Devon - was all out of breath when he got to class. "We were all waiting at the door of Mr. Iaian's class and when the bell rang, we all ran out and he called after us and said, 'Where are you going in such a hurry?' and they all yelled back, 'We are going to Ms. Marjorie's class!"

To have teachers know that 15 eleven year-olds are running to get to my class made me swell with pride...but, oh, wait..."Alex, did you tell him about the point thing?"

"No! We were in too much of a hurry!'


But it got to the point that they were arriving within one minute of their previous class, even during their ten-minute break where they are supposed to get a snack. The whole class, on two occasions, sat there with hands folded, without a sound, until they got a point. On both occasions, as soon as the bell rang, hands would go up, "Can I go out?" (it's how they ask to use the toilet). So I had to squash it.


Sometimes, when I have a few minutes at the end of class, the kids love to play hangman. I put long phrases from the book we are reading on the board and they try with all of their might to solve it. Right now we are reading Dear Mr. Henshaw by Beverly Cleary. I love her books. This one is about a boy who writes to his favorite author from the 2nd grade until the 6th grade, and how he works through some tough times through writing to him. Part of the story is that he wants to be an author, too, and the first story he tries to write is about a ten foot wax man who drives a truck across the desert and melts a little each time. So one day the puzzle is "The man is made of wax."

Picture this: They are all at the edge of their seats, staring at the puzzle with the most intent expression on their faces. The bell is about to ring and the whole class is on the verge of solving it. It is Table 3's (The Extrasensory People) turn to either guess a letter or try to solve it when the light goes on in Alex's eyes.

"Miss Marjorie, I am ready to solve the puzzle!" and as the bell rings, Alex stands, points at the puzzle and yells, "The MAN is MADE of WAX!" and his table erupts into cheers and jumps and hugs for this last-minute victory. Talk about high drama! I had "The MAN is MADE of WAX!!" going through my head all day long. So funny.


There is a talent show coming up on November 15th. It's a BIG DEAL. The school has hired a director for it. Both the primary school and the high school get two hours for acts, and the kids are crazy practicing their performances. Five of my girls are doing a hip hop routine and they have asked to practice in my room a few times. Only one of the five actually looks good doing the routine, but all five of them think they look good. One of them wears her hat sideways and she is the worst dancer of them all. But they are so cute, and I always think of Laurell being so much more brave than I would have ever been, plugging her nose and closing her eyes on that stage so many years ago...


Another of my favorite students is Kevin, pictured in the very back of the close-up stair picture. Other teachers struggle with him, but I love his sense of humor. If he is the worst of the behavior problems, you know we have it easy. Kevin's nickname is "LillyWhite," which evidently is the name of a famous breakdancer. He and his friends practice breakdancing in my room many one else will let them and I think it's harmless. I find it so funny to look across my classroom and see a bunch of spinning legs in the air.


Sometimes, these 6th graders get a little too excited and they are hard to quiet down (surprise, huh?). The other day I stopped and leaned against the white board until they were quiet. They got really, really quiet, because, you know, they hate to disappoint their teachers. I said, "I'm getting really irritated with you right now." And I paused again. Silence. Finally, Kevin raises his hand. "Ms. Mar-jore What is 'irritated'?"
How, oh how, can you stay mad?


I came up with a fun way to teach descriptive writing. My goal was to get them to describe HCMC using details. I told them that their penpals in Seattle had blank minds when it came to what life is like here. I put them each in partners and had one facing the back wall and one facing the screen. I projected interesting/funny pictures on the screen (Brian your picture of Oscar and the wine glass generated the best pictures) and told the ones facing the back wall that they had "broken necks and blank minds and couldn't speak." The ones facing the picture had to explain the picture and the others had to try to draw it within five minutes. At five minutes, I would say "Your necks are healed!" and they would turn around to see the image on the screen. They loved this. I think it helped them with their descriptions, too. For the rest of the week, if someone left out important details, someone in the class would say, "Broken Necks, Blank Minds!"


It's funny, so many teachers tell me they feel sorry for me, having "6th GRADE... (guitar riff)" all day long. I accept their sentiments, but really, I'm having so much fun. Plus, I think I have a very high tolerance for immaturity, especially when even the 'bad' kids are very sweet. This morning, I am downloading "Thriller" because we are reading horror stories for Halloween (and Band Member Amy sent me candy corn, cobwebs and spider rings, too!) and I am teaching them the Thriller Dance. For Ancient, I found Steve Martin's "King Tut" on YouTube (never mind that the lyrics are not accurate nor do they make sense...) I have 85 students who love it when I act stupid, and what's not fun about that?
Phew! I finally wrote about "SIXTH GRADE (guitar riff)!"


Unknown said...

I'm sitting here reading with tears in my eyes. I love this blog! (And I don't think it is because I'm your mom -- or because you said my legs were better than Nam's. It's because kids are just so cool!)

Brian Bowker said...

Such a great post, Marjie! You make teaching 6th grade (guitar riff) in Vietnam sound like a party! I am convinced that you are these kid's Dead Poet's Society!

Marjie said...

Kids are cool, aren't they?

Brian, did Mr. Keating in Dead Poets bribe his kids with a point system? See, there is where it all falls apart.

kumma said...

Why, instead of being my locker partner, weren't you my teacher?

Anonymous said...

Classes of 17 kids and they all want to learn? 6th grade must be heaven in Vietnam! There is one thing you forgot to mention, though - I have seen you with students many times before and know why they love your classes - you are fantastic teacher!!!