Today marks the end of my first week teaching sixth grade, and certain things have become apparent. Accustomed as I was to 14 and 15 year olds, it’s taken me a couple of days to adjust to teaching ten year olds. There was a fundamental disconnect in the beginning as I sought to treat them the same way, but now, armed with new insight and resolve, I hope to pick up the slack and modulate my approach to their proclivities.
1) Whereas 8th graders will respond to my monotonous and pedantic monologues with glazed eyes and drooping chins, 6th graders will erupt into fits of apoplectic rage, furious over being forced into boredom. They become prone to rocking violently in their desks, shrieking and trying to tip themselves over, thrashing about and hurling carefully stored monkey poo at where I stand at the front of the class.
2) 6th graders respond well to my yelling, ‘Swag!’ They immediately stop talking and moving and turn to stare robotically at me. It’s like I’ve hit their off switch. This is not because I am promising pirate booty, but rather because I am daring them to show that they have no style, no street credit by seeing if they will talk after my daring them to be silent. Their exact logic is lost on me, but it seems to work, so I call out whenever I need to. 8th graders, were I to yell ‘Swag!’, would most likely roll their eyes so severely they’d blind themselves and then sue me.
3) 8th graders will work hard for an ‘A’. 6th graders will work hard for the opportunity to dance at the front of the class while everybody else watches in solemn envy.
4) 6th graders will howl and hoot for no reason; they are possessed by their totem animal spirits at random, having yet to master their ability to control them. 8th graders will howl and hoot for very specific reasons, watching you with sliding dagger eyes for signs of weakness or hesitation, at which they will unleash the Hunt upon you and tear you to shreds. In both cases it is important–nay, imperative–to react with studied indifference and simply pick up the phone. The implied threat of calling their parents will silence all kids but the worst.
5) 8th graders respond well to wry sarcasm; the moment of confused silence when they realize I was joking is usually followed by weak and nervous laughter. 6th graders can’t spell ‘sarcasm’, and respond well instead to animated facial expressions, radical variations in pitch when speaking, and enormous gestures as if I were miming the act of giving birth to an elephant.
6) 8th graders will recoil from each other like vampires from garlic if I categorize their squabbling as ‘flirting’. 6th graders will simply stand there and slowly search for ear wax while staring at me were I to accuse them of such.
7) 6th graders are very small. Their faces are smooth, devoid of lines and personality. They are prototypes of the people they will become; 8th graders in contrast are already small adults (very small), and as such their faces evince signs of definite character.
8) 8th graders like to drink, go to parties, and get into knife fights, whereas 6th graders love playing with brightly colored pieces of plastic string.
9) 8th graders expect me to draw a gun with one bullet in the chamber when I ask them if they want to play a game; 6th graders collapse into frothing and twitching mounds of ecstasy if I say any word that begins with the letter ‘g’.
10) 6th graders are like puppies with the Rage virus. 8th graders are like leopards with hangovers.