23: Welcome to the Fourth Grade

23: Welcome to the Fourth Grade

From Chicken Soup for the Soul: Teacher Tales

Welcome to the Fourth Grade

A child can ask questions that a wise man cannot answer.

~Author Unknown

“Good morning,” I greeted each student at the door. “Please put your coats and lunch bags in the closet and sit at the desk where you find your name tag.”

The children came in quietly and sat expectantly, almost reverently, their hands folded on the desk in front of them. They stole looks around the classroom, searching for familiar faces. Some of the more daring ones peeked inside the textbooks piled on the desktops; most of them didn’t.

One brave soul raised his hand to ask if he could sharpen his new pencils. I smiled and nodded. As he left his seat and approached the wall-mounted sharpener, several classmates scrambled after him, whispering excitedly. This was the big time; this was the intermediate elementary school; this was fourth grade.

By nine o’clock, twenty-four scrubbed and shining faces filled the room. “How many of you like to listen to long, boring lectures about school rules?” I began.

The question was of course rhetorical; the students sat stunned. Facial expressions reflected uncertainty. One boy openly groaned and dramatically flopped his head down upon his arms folded on the desk.

After checking the seating chart, I addressed the theatrically despondent boy by name. “What’s the matter, Josh? Don’t you like long, boring lectures?”

“Well,” he began, “since you asked… I like a whole lot of other things a whole lot better.”

A born diplomat. “Just between you and me,” I said, lowering my voice to a stage whisper, “I’m not too crazy about them either, so I figure if we hurry up and get this business stuff out of the way we can start having fun.”

He returned my smile while the class expelled a collective sigh of relief.

By day’s end my throat felt as raw as a freshly scraped knee. The majority of students wore glazed expressions. Information overload, I thought. Time to wrap it up.

“By now,” I said, mustering what energy I had left, “you probably realize that I don’t believe there’s any such thing as a ‘dumb question.’ So if there’s anything you want to know, about today or about the rest of the school year, please feel free to ask.”

Not a single hand went up. I wondered if this was because I had explained everything so very well, or, more likely, because they were fearful of sounding foolish in front of their new classmates.

“You know,” I continued, “even grown-ups are sometimes afraid to ask questions. Sometimes grown-ups think they should already know the answers, just because they’re older than kids. But I’ll tell you a little secret: Even grown-ups don’t know everything.”

The child who’d admitted he didn’t especially like lectures raised his hand.

“Yes, Josh? Do you have a question?”

“Well,” he began, “it’s more of an observation, really.”

“Okay, go on.”

“I know what you’re trying to do.”

My silence and raised eyebrows encouraged him to expound on his idea.

“When you tell us that even grown-ups don’t have all the answers,” he continued, “and that sometimes grown-ups feel like they’re asking dumb questions, what you’re really trying to do is make us feel more comfortable.”

“That’s right, Josh.” I nodded.

“But Ms. B.,” he continued, “we already know we don’t know all the answers, and now you’re telling us that when we’re grown-ups we still won’t know all the answers.” He sighed deeply. “So you’re really not being very reassuring.”

“Wow,” I said, grinning at him, “you really followed that thought all the way through. I guess next time I’ll have to try harder to put you all at ease.

Josh nodded and grinned back. “I just thought you’d want to know,” he said.

The year was off to a great start.

~Jan Bono

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