Dear 5th grader,
Teaching is one of the few professions that have a definitive start and stop each year. The start is typically in August or September and the stop occurs in May or June. The summer months afford teachers an opportunity to prepare for the next transition, whether it’s teaching the same grade level or maybe even moving into an administrative role. Nonetheless, the transition from one school year to the next is often full of optimism and hope as teachers return with renewed minds.
For students, the start and stop nature of school means one thing – summer vacation. A chance to hang out with friends, sleep in, or go on frequent family trips are just a few of the countless perks of summer. Unlike teachers, students don’t spend a lot of time during the summer transition preparing their minds for the upcoming school year. However, as the start of another school year draws near, there’s a certain level of mental preparation taking place and it’s often ripe with emotions like worry or fear.
While some student transitions can be more stressful than others, I believe that the single most important transition a student will ever make is the move from elementary school to middle school (or junior high). I often refer to the middle school experience as the formative years; a time when their brains and bodies are experiencing consistent change. In addition to the awkward physical changes that come with puberty, there are certain parts of the brain (i.e. prefrontal cortex) that are incurring significant growth as well.
Prior to speaking to a group of fifth grade students today, I had it on my heart to equip them, as best I could, for this monumental transition. Below are the four things I shared with them, which are written in an open letter format to all fifth graders.
Dear Spectacular Student,
You are about to embark on a journey that is unlike any other you’ve experienced. I’m guessing you’ve heard a lot of stories about what to expect: more homework, bigger kids, and difficult teachers. While there may be some truth to these, each of them is clearly out of your control. However, the one thing that you’ll always have the power to control is yourself.
As you leave elementary school and prepare for this new journey, I invite you to consider the following thoughts. I’m confident that if you allow these thoughts to resonate in your heart, your middle school experience will be much more enjoyable.
Know who you are. Identify a set of core values which will help you honor who you are.
I’m not talking about knowing your name. Of course you know what it is; at least I hope so. What I’m referring to is your character. You see, middle school is a time when your peers will try to tell you (directly or indirectly) who you are. It’s called peer pressure. For example, if you’re unaware of what you value, then you’ll most likely go with the flow, which as you know always moves in a downward direction. On the other hand, if you have established who you are with core values such as loyalty and honesty, you’ll remain strong in the face of peer pressure. When you see other people gossiping or telling lies, you can simply say to yourself, “That’s not who I am.”
Your ripple matters.
Regardless of what you look like, the number of friends you have, or the grades on your report card, there is one thing that will always remain constant – YOU MATTER. While some students may place a tremendous value on popularity or fashion, I encourage you to focus on the choices you’re making. You see, everything you say or do will have an invisible ripple effect on the people around you. Simply put, you have the potential to influence hundreds of lives without even saying a word. That’s true power.
Your mistakes will shape you.
Guess what? You’re going to make mistakes. You’re human. At times, you may feel like there is a certain amount of pressure to be perfect. The fact is that no one is perfect. While I’m not encouraging you to intentionally make mistakes, I want you to recognize the fact that mistakes are part of the learning process. The key to being a successful student is not about avoiding mistakes, but rather your ability to own them and learn from each mistake you make. Only when you admit your mistakes can you begin the process of learning from them. Thomas Edison made over 1,000 mistakes when he invented the light bulb. Each time he made a mistake, he saw it as a stepping stone toward success.
Success = IQ (school smarts) + EQ (self smarts)
There will always be other students who will want to show off their report card as a way of professing their intelligence. While you’re grades (school smarts) are important, I also want you to spend some time working on yourself (self smarts). Always be aware of your thoughts and emotions, and consistently ask the question…“Is my current way of thinking helping or hurting me?” You are the driver of your life and are always just one thought away from a new emotion. You will certainly have moments of anger or sadness; we all do. However, when you learn to change the way you think, these emotions won’t hijack you and cause you to make choices that you end up regretting. You are in charge, not your emotions.
I believe in you.
Mike Sissel – Former 5th grader
P.S. If this letter speaks to you, I invite you to share it with other students.