Sixth graders learn humility

Guest blog by Melanie Hook, Literacy Facilitator/Magnet Coordinator, Charlotte, NC

Teaching humility and character is not easy—especially to a group of sixth grade boys.  Throughout my career I have tried to teach character in a way that goes beyond presenting a specific character trait each month.

One year my class had 22 boys and just 4 girls.  The room was feisty and furious most days. Our last project before holiday break challenged students to demonstrate their understanding of the elements of a story.  I allowed boys and girls to share a piece of their project with the rest of the class. We pushed all the desks to the back of the room, and layered the floor with carpet squares.

One by one, boys and girls shared different pieces of their project, until we got to one of my most memorable students — a high functioning, autistic boy.  He had a love for science fiction. I’m not sure how long it took him to write his short story, but it was five handwritten pages, front and back. He insisted that he share his whole “chapter” with the class. He explained that he would have to read the whole thing in order for it to make sense.

His reading began slowly.  His peers strained their ears to listen to his quiet voice. No one said a word. There was no giggling, no muffling of chairs, or annoying sighs—distractions that were typical in this class. His reading went on for more than twenty minutes. The special education teacher and I were floored. At one point he lost his place because he was so caught up in his reading.  One of the most aggressive boys in class leaned forward and helped him find where he left off.

He finished the long, quiet rambling as the bell rang. No other students were able to share, but they didn’t respond as if they minded. “Great story Ivan,” a peer responded. “Yeah, you did a good job man!” echoed another. His classmates  helped him off the floor and quickly put his scattered pages together. He didn’t smile. He didn’t show an ounce of pride, but I was certain he was beaming inside.

“Thank you for sharing, Ivan.” I called as he turned in his paper. “You’re welcome, Ms. Hook,” he uttered as he walked away.

The co-teacher and I were speechless. We fought all year with some of the boys. I would say, “Don’t tease. We don’t make fun of others.”  The co-teacher would do the same. We were terrified to have visitors in, for fear of embarrassment. But, today, for some reason, the class came through, when it mattered the most. No one drug their feet and yelled out how bored they were. Not a single student rudely interrupted with a whiny, “we can’t hear you!” The class treated Ivan like they should’ve done all year long, without me having to say a word.

I was able to leave for break feeling like I had finally made an impact on the kids. This impact had nothing to do with standards, assessments or grading. It had to do with how we treat each other. No matter what else happened that year, I could send those kids to their next class, their next teacher, their first job or even their friends, and they would know of a time when they demonstrated something far deeper than what I had been trying to teach in an English language arts class.  They had experienced the beauty of humility and strong character.  It happened right before my eyes — with sixth grade boys.




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