By Meg Barone
Fifth grade can be an awkward time for students, some of whom may be self-conscious giving a presentation in front of fellow students.
Then there are the four fifth-graders at North Stratfield School who gladly tackled the challenge of teaching their own classmates Wednesday. The temporary student teachers won the opportunity to create a lesson plan and deliver it to fellow students at a recent fund-raising event and auction sponsored by the school's PTA. Their parents had bid on the student teaching opportunity on behalf of their children.
Jessica Richards, 11, whose lesson on writing had students gather in groups to compose a poem and add choreography to it, took the role of teacher seriously. She engaged the students by having several of them read aloud the rules of her jingle- or poem-writing project. As they were involved in the creative process Jessica walked from one group to the next to observe their progress and answer any questions they might have. She even felt comfortable enough to discipline them when necessary.
"Guys in the back, please stop whispering," Jessica told a table of students.
When some students started shouting out answers without first raising their hands during the social studies class taught by Max Fink, 11, fifth-grade teacher Muriel Dushok reminded them to give Max the same respect and consideration they would give to her. "The same rules apply to Max," Dushok said.
"The purpose of my lesson was to see how creative people can be. It's kind of cool to see everyone doing something that I put together," Jessica said.
"She's building on our unit in poetry," said fifth-grade teacher Jan Ramstedt.
Mitchell Ransden, 10, taught a math class. "The noise level when people got into it was difficult but overall it wasn't troublesome," said Mitchell, who is considering the teaching profession. "That's on my list of future careers," he said.
Victoria Hermsen, 10, got creative herself to come up with her lesson plan for her reading class. "I made up a game called `We are Punctuation Marks.' I gave everyone a sticky note with a punctuation mark on it. Then I read a poem called `Baseball Stress.' Whenever there was a punctuation mark needed the student with that punctuation mark stood," Victoria said.
"It was just for fun. When I grow up I want to be an interior designer," she said.
Max followed his lesson plan to teach his first social studies class on the Statue of Liberty, but when he went to teach the afternoon class he realized he had misplaced it.
"These things happen to all teachers. That's why we have to be flexible. Being flexible is one of the more important things that a teacher has to be," Dushok said.
Flexibility and a sense of humor. When students called Max "Mr. Fink," he jokingly corrected them. "Call me Dr. Fink."
Retired teacher Ann Olson, who served as a substitute teacher Wednesday, said she was impressed with Max's examples of symbols and the anecdotes he gave students to substantiate them, which he used to give them hints to draw their own symbol of freedom. "That's what teachers do, they make connections," Olsen said.
"They really stepped up to the plate," Dushok said of all four student teachers.
Dushok said this is the first time a PTA auction included an opportunity for students to reverse roles. Previous "teacher" donated items involved students having pizza for lunch with their teacher or making ice cream sundaes in the classroom.
Meg Barone is a freelance writer.