Thursday, March 8, 2012

How I Missed Regular Sixth Grade

I did not take classes in sixth grade. I confess. I never completed a standard sixth grade course of study.

You see, I had Mr. Mein for sixth grade (that's pronounced ME-in, and the names in this post were not changed to protect the innocent). And he did not teach us anything all year. All we did was have fun, play games, hold parties, make wagers, and take adventures.

For example, he was expected to teach us writing and composition. Instead, he would turn it into some kind of competition. One time we were working with partners and creating our winter class play. Other scripts were exceptional, he pointed out. But my script was the one that was most appropriate for playing on stage in front of parents. Yes, I may have worked hard at writing my play, but it was all about the fun.

For another example, the curriculum required him to teach us about other nations such as the nation of Canada. Instead of him teaching us a darn thing. He had us play a game. We held a debate. Students were each asked to pick a province in Canada. Then small groups debated in front of class which province was the best place to live. (According to our sixth grade results, it was Quebec, by the way.) He was also supposed to teach us about Latin America. Instead, we planned a big party, and each culture had to be represented for how and what they celebrate. So we all enjoyed researching a particular nation and sharing with classmates how our findings would fit our class party. But he didn't teach us any of that.

Oh, there was one time he bet us that if we worked hard enough, he would take us on an extra field trip. We won the bet, and our field trip consisted of walking to the edge of my small Iowa hometown, looking at the corn and bean fields across the valley, and being told how important agriculture was to our way of life. It was kind of lame, but we did not care. We were sixth graders, and it was a field trip as far as we were concerned.

But I hardly remember any time all year that he taught us something, in the traditional sense of teaching.

Of course my point is that Mr. Mein was ultimately a talented instructor who had his students work together and teach each other. And he knew how to motivate kids. We had such fun and and were so highly engaged in our self-discovery that we never felt we were in a regular class. My wish for all students is for them to have a Mr. Mein who challenges them to learn for themselves and love what they are doing.


  1. I had a few teachers like that in Washington, DC back in the day. I not only remember them, but they influenced my career choice and I eventually become a teacher. Thanks for sharing this vignette and THANKS to all my teachers.

    1. Exactly right, Mark. Thanks and praise to those teachers. I wonder what magic those teachers would work today, given their ability to create student-centered, active classrooms, now that they would have the modern technology tools at their disposal?