Something happened in fourth and fifth grade. Maybe it’s just that I still remember that time more vividly than third grade and prior. Maybe it’s the fact that I teach fifth grade and think back to those times more than other grades. As I reflect, what seemed to happen is that kids became cool. And it’s not just that some kids became cool, but others wanted to be cool.
As I watch fifth graders now, I see them struggling with this daily. Spring of fifth grade in our school multiplies this challenge because they are moving on from lower to the middle school. The loud ones just get louder, the quiet ones often get quieter. Today, one phrase kept running through my head.
“Cool is overrated.”
But how do I convince a ten year old of this. Do I just have to let them figure it out for themselves? Will any advice I give them really work? Will something I say possibly stick with them? I don’t remember my fifth grade teachers saying anything to this effect.
The truth is that as I look back on my time in 5th grade through middle and high school, I don’t reminisce fondly about the popular kids. I think about the kids who were themselves. I wonder what gave them the fortitude to be themselves all the time. I look at my current fifth graders the same way now – I wonder with awe at those few students who seem to glance knowingly in the direction of their changing classmates and then go back to things that are truly important without a worry.
I envy those students. And I’m sad for the kids who keep trying to be with the ‘cool’ group. The group that seems to forget who they are most. Their ‘cool’ is fleeting, an exercise in futility. They miss out on opportunities to develop more meaningful friendships.
I have always felt like young children have an inherent wisdom that adults have forgotten along the way. Yet, they also lack the experience that gives adults the knowledge necessary to act wisely.
While I encourage all of them to make better choices, I recognize the fact that they need to make mistakes. How can you gain wisdom without knowing how a mistake feels – how it feels to hurt a friends feelings, how it feels to gain and lose popularity, how it feels to have your parents and teachers confront you about a bad decision.
What advice might I try to give my fifth graders? I think there are two parts:
Decide who you are. This is a question that you can’t completely answer. Few of us, if any, can. But deep down, before you speak or act, you know who you are. At least you know that certain things should or shouldn’t be said, how you should or shouldn’t act. The things that are important to you, are
When you make a mistake, own up to it. We’re all going to fail, sometimes miserably. The lie to cover up a mistake just causes you more stress and everyone else frustration and confusion. Those people who can be themselves after they’ve made a mistake are the most valuable in any space.