6th grade, all over again

STRESS CITY. It is that time of the year, November and the push at school, home, and everywhere else. This past week was full: parent conferences at school – two full days, parent conferences for O, the election, and the kid’s activities – sports and scouts. I am grateful for B who handled scouts this week; otherwise, I might have burst. And, this week ends with my birthday. Yep, I am officially one year older today – Happy Birthday to me.

Last week, about this time, I was driving west on I-80 towards Ottawa, Illinois and Starved Rock State Park. W had a scout hike and he sat beside me in the passenger seat, texting. I was driving and listening to the Rolling Stones album from my youth – Some Girls. The Stones released it when I was a sophomore and it took me back to the time of new freedom and my driver’s license. I remember listening to the 8-track version years ago on a summer road trip to Lake Travis, near Austin. For a few moments last week, I was free. I was very tempted to keep driving west, however, reason took hold and we were home later that afternoon.

The week is behind me. Much more lies ahead in the coming weeks. I am thankful for my students who help keep focused on the BIG IDEA, learning. They have grown so much this year and so have I. It’s the time in the seventh grade ELA curriculum when we write a personal narrative. The past two years I have written a narrative along with them, it helps me help them with their writing much more effectively, because we share our writing (actually, the entire class does) and they can see where they are stuck or where passages need help, it helps me, too. Yes, I get writing help from seventh graders.

With the stress level at a peak, I was seriously considering going back in time and dusting off the camel story or Coleen McGregor’s story, but I decided I needed the catharsis of writing about growing up, again. I hemmed and hawed on topics and finally settled on the beginning of sixth grade and my transition to junior. It wasn’t pretty, but considering where my family was at that time, I survived. I made notes and drew out a short sketch of the plot – noting what was important and what the theme would be. I was surprised how much I remembered and how much fell into place. I remembered the Seiko watch my dad gave me and how much it distracted me, much like my own students at their desks. Yesterday morning, I spoke to my brother Warren and asked him what he remembered from 1973 and there was silence at the other end of the phone. I guess because I live in the world of perpetual adolescence I go back in time more frequently than most other folks do. I guess that’s what keeps me from acting my age, just sayin’!

1962 on the carport in a playpen in Decatur, Alabama… we all grow up


In class Thursday, I had taught openers and assigned the introductory paragraphs for class Friday. As I moved from table to table, meeting with my students, seeing their writing and their struggles, I began to think of my own beginning. So, yesterday morning, before school, I began to write. I sat down and began; it came much easier than I thought it would. The more I wrote, the more I added to my notes and the more my story came to life. I think it will be fun to write, I hope it’s fun to read and I hope you follow along.

I wrote the second paragraph first, went back and chopped it up to make it sound like what a seventh grader would write. Yesterday, I shared the first paragraph with the class and asked what they thought, they gave it mixed reviews and then I shared the second. They could see the improvements and they began to see where they could revise and grow their introductions.

Introduction paragraph 1

Summer had been a great. It was over. I watched the days go by until school started. Moving to junior high was exciting and I was the oldest of three boys. I was supposed to be grown up and ready. Fifth grade had gone quickly. It seemed quicker because my dad had been working and dad living in Saudi Arabia away from us. My dad had come home for a vacation at the end of summer. He brought us all presents. I got a watch, a Seiko with a stopwatch. I loved the watch and would play with it, timing everything. Wearing it made me feel older and my wrist looked small wearing the large watch. I was ready for junior high, and I couldn’t wait for classes to start, but I wasn’t ready. (134 words)

Introduction paragraph 2

It had been a great summer, but it was over and I watched the days tick off until school started. I was excited. Moving to junior high was exciting and I was the oldest of three boys, I was supposed to be grown up and ready. Fifth grade had gone quickly and with dad living and working in Saudi Arabia, it seemed to go even quicker. Dad had come back for a vacation at the end of summer. The visit been short and he brought us all presents. I got a grown up watch, a Seiko with a stopwatch and wearing it made me feel older, more mature, and ready for junior high, only I wasn’t ready, not even close. (120 words)

I gave them parameters, because after teaching seventh grade and seventh grade writers, they need to know how much to write. I prefer word counts to sentences and I gave them 75-150 words for their introductions, hence the word counts.

I have begun and yesterday after reviewing introductions we looked at the rising action and they got started writing, it is due Monday. I’ll be writing more later this weekend. In the meantime, I have a day to make count and a birthday to enjoy. The Aggies play #1 Alabama this afternoon and I am hopeful they do well. The Tigers are done, but there is plenty of high school football to follow, or even go watch. Maybe. I have a pile of work to do, leaves to rake, and so much more. Making the Days Count, one day at a time, one story at a time.

What do you remember about starting middle school, or junior high?

NOTE: This is a shout out to my mom and my brother, Warren, who called this morning to wish me a Happy Birthday and got coaxed into a walk down memory lane! Thanks for your help.

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