What kind of a question is that? Of course they are real. All we have to squabble over is the form of their reality. If you can teach Third grade, you can teach anything. Here are some observations that support that premise.
A. When they don’t know the answer to a question of comprehension, they stare at the text. They may not know where to look, but they stare at it rather than look at either teacher or peers. Then the waiting battle begins. How long do you let them “think” in silent downward staring position before rescuing them? Follow-up questions can help, but if they have decided they don’t know, they won’t answer and potentially embarrass themselves for anything.
B. In our school, Third grade begins formal study in Latin. Big E knows no Latin, so he assumed he would find this tough. The kids love to know more than me, and here they do. But the teacher either purposefully or accidentally set me up for success by having the students play a game on derivatives. So my partner and I whomped the rest of the class. But during the game out came a vocabulary word from an 8 year old that just blew me away: working with horti in Latin, the student came up with “hortatory.” Where does an 8 year old get this word? Do you know what it refers to? I did, but I had to think hard.
C. As we were reading “Charlotte’s Web” and Charlotte sends Templeton off to find a really good word in the dump, I had to contemplate the analogy of that picture to our current state of things. These students go off in their minds and come back with some of the strangest ideas that then somehow are nurtured and worked with and prodded into some sort of coherent thought life by their teacher. If this artful coercing did not occur, they would be a jumble of “quotes” and chewed off bits of information that had no meaning. Teachers help the student make connections.
D. My final proof for the alternate reality that is Third Grade came from lunch. I notice a young man wrestling his lunch to the ground. Lunch is no longer a parade of sandwiches and fruit – everything is packaged. My involvement took the following form: 1) the young man managed to pull off the handle to the ravioli can without extricating the lid, leading to 2) a look of utter confusion (how can I eat if I can’t get to the ravioli – which sounds a lot like the yelling in Pink Floyd’s Brick in the Wall), followed by 3) handing silently the can across the table to the Big E. Now I am in the game, but I am experienced and therefore know just what to do. I 4) go to the kitchen and find a can opener (not one student at my table knew what the device was for) and 5) “open the can” only to find when the circumference has been navigated, not all the top has been “opened.” So now I am 6) trying not to get cut while 7) seeking to tug the messy top off which is now down to one millimeter thick piece of tin that just won’t let go, which leads the 3rd graders (remember they are from another reality) to begin cheering for me to win the match with the can. I have to 8) use up my own napkin for protection, while 9) twisting, twisting, twisting, pulling, sweating, searching for words that will express my feelings without ruining my position as headmaster and finally 10) succeeding to pull it off, throw the waste in the can and hand with a flourish the waiting student his meal. Are we done? No, we are still in that other reality. The young man continues his conversation about some video game until two minutes before recess time, and then starts to throw the untouched but open can of ravioli in the trash. I made him eat most of it.
Proof enough? Men are from Mars, women are from Venus, and Third Graders live in a galaxy far, far, away.