When Did 5th Grade Get So Hard?

I know it's been a LONG time since I was in 5th grade. (Gulp:  over 30 years!)  My memories of 5th grade may be dim, but mostly what I recall is a wonderful teacher (Miss DiPietro) who was full of energy and excitement.  (She also favored larger hoop earrings, which to my 5th grade mind was very exotic.)  I can't remember what I specifically learned in 5th grade, although I do know that she started us on a little Spanish (this was way back before languages were taught in elementary school, or at least our elementary school.)  Although I don't have any specific memories of the grade, when I do think back on my final year in elementary school, my memories are generally positive.

Now in our town 5th grade is part of middle school.  So perhaps I should compare the 5th grade experience my son is having to my 6th grade experience.  My 6th grade classes were held in the same middle school "annex" (although it is now the "old" annex as opposed to the new addition.)  His 5th grade classes (for the most part) are held in the same classrooms as my 6th grade ones.

Again, it's been a long time since I was in 6th grade, but my memories are positive.  I remember Mrs. Messer and her long blonde hair. I had her for English (or what they now call Literacy).  I remember monthly book projects and her reading "The Greatest Christmas Pageant Ever" aloud to us.  I had her for more than one subject (probably science as well) because I can recall sitting at different desks throughout the year (although that may just be due to classroom reconfiguration).  I had Mr. Rudolph for social studies (we studied Mexico, Central America, South America and Canada).  I enjoyed the topic; not so much Mr. Rudolph.  The reverse was true for math (which I was never good in and still am not).  I loved Mr. Moss (I don't think there was a kid who didn't), but I wasn't so fond of math. 

I don't recall a struggle with any particular subject; although I'm pretty sure I did have to stay after class to work with Mr. Moss on Math.  I don't think we had a foreign language until we got to 7th grade (because I only remember having the wonderfully wacky Miss Hughes for Spanish for 2 years). There was of course gym (daily I believe; until every other day which the 5th graders have now which rotates with a period of foreign language) and "cycle classes." (These are classes that run for 6 weeks.  "Back in the day" the cycles that I had were:  art, chorus, metal shop, wood shop, sewing and home ec.!  Things have changed a bit now.  Although my son does have art and chorus as part of his cycle he will also have computer, technology, health and "advisory" which focuses on social skills such as self-esteem, studying, and conflict resolution.)

From where I stand, his 5th grade experience is really closer to my 6th grade experience.  Additionally from what I see, he and his classmates have a much harder time than I (or my classmates ever did.)  Again, although it may have been a long time ago, I don't recall weekly math quizzes (certainly not in 5th grade).  And I don't recall having to get extra help regularly for math.  (Although maybe I should have.  As I fully admit, I never did well in math, and did struggle from mid-7th grade on.)  The painful sessions that my husband has with my son doing the nightly homework breaks my heart.  (My husband is the "homework dad" since he is home when my son gets home from school.)  Thankfully, thus far, my son has not had any issues with any other subjects.  (Although that too may come as the school year goes on.)  

I see my son struggling with math.  I know other kids are struggling as well. They must be; otherwise why would there be so many kids staying after for extra help?  Yesterday, the afternoon before a test, my son claims that there were "thirty thousand other kids" in the classroom after school all wanting extra help. 

I don't blame the teacher for his struggle.  I've met her and she is seems very competent and is certainly responsive to my emails and concerns.  I understand the other math teacher also has many kids coming for after school assistance.  It says to me that it isn't about the teacher.  It's isn't about the kids.  It's about the difficulty of the subject and perhaps the way it now "has" to be taught.  (Again, I never thought math was easy to begin with.  You're talking to a woman who like her son, panics when she sees a math problem put before her.) 

Maybe we need to slow down a little bit.  Maybe 5th grade should be 5th grade and not the new 6th grade.  While we should expect great things from our kids, we should also expect them to be kids.  Although I know my son loves his new school, his teachers and his variety of classes, I also know that this is all a big change and challenge for him.  In this post, I've focused on math because it seems to be the biggest challenge for him.  I'm sure that there are others in his class who have challenges and struggles in other subjects. 

Our kids need challenges.  Struggles are a part of life.  Lessons need to be learned.  But lately it feels like 5th grade is a non-stop struggle.  We have gotten over the hurdle of being in a new place with different classes and classrooms.  My son faced the challenge of multiple lockers and locks and managed to get the hang of it.  I hope I will be saying the same of math someday.

I want him to have good memories of 5th grade.  I want him to have challenges.  I want to turn the struggle into accomplishment.  Right now I am not sure that will happen.  I hope that it will (and as always, I'm open to suggestions.)  Fifth grade should present challenges, but it shouldn't be one struggle after another.  It should provide a basis for the next level (as have all grades that proceeded it), but it should also be a place of fun.

Life is hard; 5th grade shouldn't be.


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