Dear Fourth Graders,
On behalf of compassionate fourth grade teachers everywhere, I’m sorry.
1. I’m sorry that you don’t have as much recess time as you really need. I know that you need to run around and play more. I know that you need more opportunities to be with your peers in unstructured environments and more time to work out your conflicts without adult interference. I know that you need to exercise your imagination as well as your body, and that the short amount of time that you get to do this each day isn’t enough. I also know that your opportunities for this kind of play and social interaction outside of school are extremely limited in most cases. I’m sorry that most of you don’t live in “free range” neighborhoods, where you can ride bikes, play in friends’ yards, and feel like you own the outdoors. I’m sorry that for the most part those days are gone.
2. I’m sorry for the sad excuse that is your school lunch on a daily basis. Back in the good old days there was a delicious hot lunch waiting in the cafeteria for students each day, prepared with love by the ladies behind the counter in hairnets. I’m sorry that much of what you receive these days comes out of microwaved packages and hardly resembles a home cooked meal. Furthermore, I’m sorry that you don’t know the difference and think that it’s perfectly fine. I’m sorry that your tray is disposable and that we’re adding millions of these to landfills everyday, along with the packaging that your lunch came in. I’m sorry that your lunch time is no longer about enjoying a meal with your friends, but rather about shoving as much of this processed junk into your mouth as you can in the tiny amount of time you’re allotted. I’m sorry that these days items such as “trout treasures” are on the menu, and that someone thinks that serving cucumber slices with a pancake lunch is a good idea.
3. I’m sorry about fractions. I know you don’t like them and that they’re confusing. I agree. They’re a little difficult to understand once you get past the basics, and frankly most people only really need to understand the basics. You, however, are in fourth grade, so you are expected to understand a lot more than that. You are expected to be able to identify lots of equivalent fractions, to order fractions on number lines, and to complete operations with them. You need to be able to rename them, decompose them, add them, subtract them, and mix them with whole numbers. You are also expected to be able to show multiple representations of all of these mathematical gymnastics, so relying on the old pizza diagram just doesn’t quite cut it anymore. I know that your parents have never seen the kind of work that we’re doing and that they can’t help you and they feel as frustrated by this as you do. I know it’s a lot, and I know there are umpteen million things you would rather do than draw a model of yet another fraction pair, but we have to do it. I’m sorry.
4. I’m sorry about all the tests. You think they’re normal, after all you’ve been tested half to death since before you ever set foot in a classroom, but I know the difference. I know that you’re tested too often, and frequently on all the wrong things. I’m required to test you reading against a stopwatch. I’m required to administer long complex tests via computer three times a year in math and reading. I’m required to make sure you’re prepared for a multi-day end of the year assessment that someone else wrote on content that I’m not convinced is even developmentally appropriate for you. Oh, and this year the test is brand new and nobody seems to have any clear idea of what it will actually be like. I’m sorry. I’m sorry it will be a surprise, and I’m sorry that it’s so darn long. I know you’re a little kid. I know that your attention span is fairly short. I know that this test is way more important to me than it is to you, and I’m sorry that I keep trying to get you to understand that I really need you to take it seriously and do your best. It should be enough that I’ve been teaching you all year and that I know what you understand and what you don’t, but unfortunately, some very powerful people don’t see it that way. I’m sorry.
5. I’m sorry that we just don’t have time for all the fun things that I know you would love, and that would help you to enjoy school and someday look back on it with fondness. I’m sorry that celebrating holidays is pretty much a thing of the past. I’m sorry that we’re so “culturally sensitive” that we end up doing virtually nothing out of the ordinary ever, for fear of upsetting someone. I’m sorry that our curriculum leaves so little room for art and drama and good old-fashioned fun. I’m sorry that we don’t do as many projects as you would like. I’m sorry that I have to rush you to learn, when I know that a slower pace with more time to process is what so many of you need. I’m sorry that I have to put my better judgement aside so frequently as a result of what I must accomplish on a daily basis. I’m sorry that room mothers (and fathers) and Valentine’s parties and time for games and crafts and show and tell have become a thing of the past in so many cases. I’m sorry that so often we don’t get to see the real you in school as a result.
6. I’m sorry that you think everything about school is as it should be. I know you would just LOVE to spend a week or two on a thematic unit studying the tropical rainforest, or that working together to make a group quilt would be a valuable and rewarding activity, but those types of learning experiences are so difficult to squeeze into the already demanding curriculum. All hope is not lost though. Your teachers really do want you to love school, so they hang on to those events and activities that they hold most dear, in hopes that we can leave some lasting impression of fourth grade, beyond tests and fractions and lousy school lunches. I’m sorry that we can’t do more of them, though.
7. I’m sorry that I only get you for one year. Fourth grade is a tough year. You’re expected to be a good reader by now, only many of you aren’t, yet. You’re expected to work independently at this age, except that many of you struggle with this expectation daily. You’re expected to be organized, but for a lot of you that’s just not possible. You’re expected to solve your own problems, except that many of you have little experience with this skill, so you’re not very good at it yet. Add to that the fractions and the testing and the quick pace and the lack of downtime, and fourth grade ends up being a very stressful time for many kids. It’s also a time when class sizes increase (at least in my district) and it’s when some children are beginning to show signs of puberty. It’s a year of challenges, but one that you’ll get through. I wish I could keep you for fifth grade. I’ve had that pleasure before, and that second year together is magic. We know each other, we work together as a team, and you do amazing things that you just weren’t quite ready to do the year before. I can’t keep you, though. I have to send you on at the end of the year, but I know you’ll be ready, and for that, I’m not sorry at all.
I know you don’t always understand why I do what I do in school, and why you have to do what you have to do, but please trust me. I’ve been doing this for a long time, and I make descisions about your education with an open mind and an open heart, within the parameters that are allowed. I care about you, and your future. After all, your future is tied to mine, and I want you to be as well prepared, in all ways, as possible.
Your Fourth Grade Teacher