Taking a peek behind the classroom door

Published 12:00 am Sunday, September 17, 2006

Aug. 10, 2005

The key to education is understanding a child&8217;s mind.

For us adults, that&8217;s a tough one. Sure, our grown-up brains give the ability to figure out what a baby needs and narrate what a dog is thinking, but kids from ages 5 to 16 are still a mystery.

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Luckily though, the kids of the world are pretty patient with us, and some adults &8212; usually found in elementary schools &8212; are cracking the code.

The code was a simple one Friday morning on the fourth-grade hall at McLaurin Elementary &8212; 2CO.

Even with the advent of No Child Left Behind and a barrel of regulations, the first day of school carries some pretty basic lessons &8212; important, but basic.

The board contained simple math problems that only tripped up one student, a word problem and the classroom teacher&8217;s name.

Marty Tuccio is used to kids and adults alike mispronouncing her name. Something about it is hard for people to say, she told her class of 20 Friday. But she had a ready-made pronunciation guide that 9-year-old minds had no trouble with &8212; 2CO.

Finding a way to communicate difficult words, problems and ideas with 9-year-olds is Mrs. Tuccio&8217;s job. The teacher&8217;s job of understanding the childhood mind is one that&8217;s been around for ages but faces new means of accountability daily.

Less than an hour into the first day of school, Mrs. Tuccio had mentioned the Mississippi Curriculum Test, and her students responded with acknowledgment of its importance. For the next 179 days Mrs. Tuccio will work to prepare her students for that test. Her success and their performance will directly impact their educational progress and the district&8217;s.

In a couple of weeks I&8217;ll be writing a front-page story about last year&8217;s MCT test scores. Test score stories are always complicated and the people in the newsroom tend to avoid me while I sift through pages of small numbers printed from the Internet. There will be good news and bad news, a few quotes from the superintendent and maybe from a principal or two, but mostly that story will be about numbers. I&8217;ll try to sum up more than a year&8217;s worth of blood, sweat and tears from administrators, teachers, students and parents with numbers.

Hardly seems right, does it?

Journalism school teaches budding reporters to get the story by merely observing, like a bug on the wall, and asking the necessary questions afterward.

But in reality, you hardly ever get the full story that way. Mrs. Tuccio&8217;s fourth-graders are going to learn more this year than a page full of test score numbers will show next year.

They are going to succeed, fail, grow emotionally, physically and intellectually and become next year&8217;s fifth-graders. And they&8217;ve agreed to let me come along for the ride.

Three or four times a month I&8217;m going to hang out with Mrs. Tuccio&8217;s homeroom class, which becomes Melody Bell&8217;s class in the afternoons. I&8217;m going to recess, lunch, math class, PE, social studies and any special events to which they invite me. I want to get to know them all by name, and I want them to know me. I&8217;ve told both teachers to use me as an extra set of adult hands. I&8217;m putting the notebook aside (most of the time), and becoming part of the class. And I&8217;m excited.

Pending signed parent consent forms, I&8217;m going to write about the experiences of the children in a weekly column so the Natchez-Adams community can see behind the test scores.

Reporter Julie Finley can be reached at 601-445-3550 or by