Paper airplanes fly across the room as pens and pencils lie lifeless on the dirt-covered carpet. Screaming voices and deafening shouts swirl about as students run around in an overly excited flurry of energy, while others sit quietly, waiting for the chaos to end. The teacher stands helpless and exhausted, watching as the classroom falls apart into a disorganized mess of uncontrollable preteens.
The above scenario is a common misconception of what it would be like to teach children: the fear of being overpowered by a group of disobedient, restless students or even the complete opposite— a group of silent, uninterested youth who have no intention of participating. Whatever it may be, the idea of teaching this age range could seem daunting to those who have never done it before. Teaching children, specifically from nine to twelve years old, has its own set of benefits as students are beginning to understand bigger concepts and are starting to learn more about the world, while still holding the innocent inquisitiveness that separates them from their older peers. A perfect example of this kind of learning can be found inside the cozy classroom of one particular fourth and fifth grade class at Atkinson Elementary.
Tommy Allen has been a teacher for Portland Public Schools (PPS) for the last ten years. His passion for being involved in the learning process motivated Allen to pursue teaching as a professional career. “Becoming a teacher allowed me to always be excited about my job, and to believe in the work I was doing.” Out of all the potential occupations in the world, Allen decided to become an elementary school teacher for the opportunity to teach a wide range of subjects compared to specializing in just one area. “I chose to become an elementary school teacher because I get to study all subjects with my students, and will never feel pigeonholed into one subject.” Allen continues by stating that, “the excitement of curiosity in students is so apparent in elementary school, and I thrive on that excitement; in older students that spark can sometimes be more difficult to uncover.” The moments Allen treasures the most is when he gets to see first-hand the ways in which his students open their minds to new ideas and grow as individuals. “Fourth and fifth graders have reached a level of maturity where they can work with really complex ideas, think deeply about literature, and can read the kind of rich texts that I find interesting myself. They have lots of energy and fascinating personalities, but haven’t yet entered those roller-coaster years of middle school.” Lastly, Allen advises anyone who is interested in teaching elementary students to have patience and flexibility. “The work is hard, but it’s worth it. Remember what a privilege is it to serve the coming generation.” Another perfect example of an environment in which students are encouraged to learn with curioustity and an open mind is located not in an ordinary classroom, but at a camp in the middle of the woods: Outdoor School.
Samantha Torres has been an Outdoor School student leader at Camp Arrah Wanna six times, and started going when she was in the 10th grade at Wilson High School. ODS provides the opportunity for high school students to teach sixth graders about science and the outdoors. “One thing that inspired me to keep coming back to ODS was that I knew that I was making a positive impact on the sixth graders.” states Torres. When it comes to working with eleven and twelve year olds, Torres sees it as an opportunity to connect with them as individuals. “I love working with eleven and twelve year olds. I think that age is a time in a person’s life where you start to figure out who you are as a person,” states Torres. “I enjoy working with them because it’s interesting to hear what they like to do in their free-time and learn [about] some of their favorite things.” Besides learning about their various interests, Torres cherishes the moments in which she can see the impact she has made in the lives of those she has taught. “My favorite part of teaching sixth graders is that I get to see the connections they make with science and the real world. I also enjoy seeing the joy and enthusiasm on their faces as they learn new things that I am teaching.” Thanks to ODS and its ability to make high school students take on leadership roles and discover their abilities as teachers, Torres now aims to become a health teacher in the future. “I found my love of teaching by going to ODS and I would enjoy [teaching] as a future profession.” For anyone who is interested in ODS or just teaching sixth graders in general, Torres advises that “it takes time to learn how to be a good teacher. I think that without making mistakes, I wouldn’t have learned important ways where my potential wasn’t being used.” Torres continues by addressing the importance of discovering one’s own personal teaching style and having the confidence to teach any group of students. “I believe that everyone has their own way of teaching and sometimes it takes a little while to find what you’re good at, but if you put forward effort and have a great attitude when teaching kids, it’s one of the best experiences.”
Teaching young children is most certainly not for the faint of heart, but is definitely an extremely fulfilling and rewarding profession. Whether one is completely set on becoming a fifth grade teacher, or is still unsure if teaching is even a suitable career option, it is important to remember that the memories teachers have made with their students will have a lasting impression on them for the rest of their lives.