Posted tagged ‘Middle School’

Looking back on sixth grade

July 3, 2018

My son finished sixth grade in May. Summer is half over, and I wanted to take a few minutes to reflect on our sixth grade experience.

I knew that sixth grade would be a time of big changes for my son – and for us. He would be testing his independence and challenging us even more. It’s a year earlier than when I went to school, when sixth grade was still considered elementary school.

Here are some thoughts about our sixth grade experience:

More complicated schedules. My son’s schedule was different every day, with six different schedules A-F. At first, he didn’t like it and had a hard time adjusting. About five weeks into the school year, the schedule started to click. Ultimately, the six-day schedule let him participate in more classes than in a regular Monday to Friday week.

Earlier wake-up time. Since we had to drive farther to get to school and had to deal with more traffic, we both had to get up earlier than when he was in elementary school. Sometimes he used the time to go over vocabulary words. Sometimes he took naps on the way to school in the morning and on the way home in the afternoon. The earlier wake-up time really conflicted with his…

Changing sleeping habits. He stayed up later to do homework, study, and relax, and he had a harder time waking up in the morning. I read recently that if we want to improve educational results for teenagers, we should start the school day later. According to the National Sleep Foundation, “later sleep and wake patterns among adolescents are biologically determined; the natural tendency for teenagers is to stay up late at night and wake up later in the morning.”

More homework, less sleep. It seemed that he had a lot more homework than in fifth grade. Other students told him that his teacher was one of the stricter teachers in sixth grade (which should make seventh grade less stressful). He spent less time using his planner, which meant more last-minute work. He spent more time with his humanities and social studies work, which made his performance in math and science falter a little. We asked him to write a plan for improving next year.

First time away from home, alone. I’m sure it was more traumatic for us, than for him. The house was so quiet when he was gone. Even our yellow lab was more subdued. He wasn’t excited to go to camp, but he came back full of enthusiasm. He had a great group of camp counselors who made him feel welcome.

Chapel. He attended chapel every two weeks, but the focus was more on building character and promoting understanding. The highlight was a skit that each class had to perform. The class had only a limited time to learn songs and choreography, and then they performed in front of the rest of the sixth graders (and some curious parents).

In his words. “There were a lot [of] downsides to this year as I experienced inappropriate, enraging, and intriguing behavior and students. I have also been more exposed to kids’ nature and their games, such as Fortnite, learning about drama between both teenagers and other students such as ‘shipping’ [real people or fictional characters in a romantic relationship] … There were some awesome experiences I had! Camp was probably the best thing I can think of for this year, since I got to meet so many new people and make new friends.”

What do you remember about your sixth grade? If you have middle school children, how are expectations about student learning different from when you were in middle school?


“Hawaiian Sunrise to Sunset” by Randall Ng

April 6, 2013

Hawaiian Sunrise to Sunset

The primary problem with the Hawaii school system is “the lack of discipline and motivation among students” (page 176), declares Hawaii educator and school counselor Randall Ng.

We see exactly what Ng means in his eye-opening book, “Hawaiian Sunrise to Sunset: A Middle School Counselor’s Diary of a Working Day” (2011). We witness all of Ng’s frustration, resignation, exertion, and optimism in the course of a typical day working as a middle school counselor in a low-income neighborhood in Hawaii, as he

– slaps down Saturday morning detention on three tardy boys;
– tells a woman that her daughter is pregnant and scared to tell her about it;
– arranges a student-parent-teacher conference for a disruptive student who is convinced that her teacher doesn’t like her;
– calls the police after two home visits – in one, a girl is arrested for truancy and terroristic threatening of a household member and in the other, a girl’s mom is arrested for assault;
– intervenes between a shouting match over a misunderstanding;
– takes 45 gifted-talented (GT) students to Waimano Homes to help them appreciate everything they have;
– resolves a potential fight between middle school gangs; and
– visits a beloved student who battles kidney failure.

Ng is honest, blunt, and apologetic about his methods – at times acting more like a concerned father than a calm counselor. His genuine care, tough love, and willingness to follow his instincts and step out of his office are inspiring and exhausting.

Sometimes kids need someone to lean on outside of the home, and they need a tough love approach, Ng reveals. He describes his students with affection and hope, even when he is impatient with them, to make us see beyond the labels of ‘trouble-maker’ or ‘gang member.’ He shows us their home life, and how the lack of discipline at home has affected them.

Over the course of his day, Ng reveals his irritation with bureaucrats who aren’t teachers, and teachers who lack relationship skills or who are unable to accommodate fast and slow learners.  We learn about his belief in home visits, his conviction that the schools need to accommodate parents who have to work, and his passion for doing whatever works to get through to his kids – whether it’s yelling at them or challenging them.

Teachers and counselors already have a lot of responsibilities, and Ng outlines five things that schools can do to make things better for students and teachers:

1. Create small classes of 20-25 students.
2. Return to homogeneous core classes. This is in direct opposition to the trend of heterogeneous classes.
3. Assign 1-2 aides to assist the primary teacher in the core math and language arts classes.
4. Focus on discipline in the classroom. I would add, teach parents to maintain discipline at home.
5. Integrate district resource teachers with the schools and classroom teachers.

As Ng challenges early in his book, What is the intent and purpose of a middle school? Besides facts and figures, what are we teaching students? Are we supporting them emotionally as well as academically?