What My Son Learned in Sixth Grade: Slice of Life #sol15

slice of lifeHow to organize a binder. Filing papers in binders is the most important task a twelve-year-old can learn. The binders must be neat. The papers must be in their correct chronological order. The binders must always come to class. Otherwise, points off! Failing grades! He wasn’t allowed to bring many papers home during the school year. On Thursday, the last day, the binders came home. A whole year of academic work. And all it adds up to is a paltry pile of worksheets.

How to fill out a worksheet. Ok, the pile isn’t that paltry. Worksheets are now spilling all over my dining room. Cats are skating on worksheets. (They’re delighted by all the loose papers.) My son has nothing to show for his sixth grade year–no authentic pieces of writing, no books read, no projects he’s proud of–except for worksheets.

How to use euphemisms that don’t fool anyone. The F list is called the ICU list. After-school detention is called quality time.

How to ignore empty threats. If you don’t sit down, I’m going to send you to the office. If you don’t be quiet, I’m going to call your mom. If you don’t get this worksheet completed, you’re going on the ICU list. If you can’t be quiet in the hall, you’ve got quality time.

How to get along with teachers. Sit down. Be quiet. Do as you’re told.

How to find his place in the world. “Don’t even think about raising your hand today. You are invisible to me.” “Get out of my class. I don’t even want to look at you.” “I’m going to make you an All-American.” “You’re going to take this school to a state championship.” “You’re going to be a star on the football field.”


This is one version of my son’s sixth-grade year. I hope there are also others. He had fourteen different teachers this year. I am so grateful to the ones who worked to understand him and accommodate his needs.

13 responses to “What My Son Learned in Sixth Grade: Slice of Life #sol15”

  1. I love the structure of your piece. You accompany bold learnings that many others can identify with, but you share each with your son’s personal story. I’m sorry that the picture isn’t brighter, and I hope for the best of your son’s 7th grade experience.

  2. This gives me chills, and they not not the good kind. My heart is sick that there are so many children who have this every year of their school life. Your son’s experience is not unique, but it should be a crime. I’m crying with Amy.

  3. How horrible that all your son has to show for his sixth grade school year is a binder of chronologically sorted worksheets. As a former sixth grade teacher this makes me so sad. Hopefully seventh grade will be more rewarding.

  4. I have tried to write a coherent sentence six times in response to this. Just can’t do it. The biggest moments in my room are not captured on a paper. I hope there were some of these – moments as part of a learning community. I hope that for all kids.

  5. I’m sorry for your son’s experience, those hard times that should hold personal connections and exciting learning. I hope there was some brightness from the teachers that you thanked at the end.

  6. “Cats are skating on worksheets” — This line had me laughing out loud!! It made my whole day.

    He had fourteen teachers?!?!?! That seems like too many for a 6th grader. I think at most, I only ever had 7 teachers in one year, and that was high school. That’s insane! I really have written and rewritten (and re-re-re-rewritten) several responses to this. None of them really say it right. I hope next year is better for him, and I hope I am not (and never become) “that teacher”.

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