The best/funny thing about working with kids is their understanding of life. Through the eyes of most nine-year-olds, anything a teacher tells them is true, new, hilarious and/or ingenious.
For example: I have a student in my class this year with a Leap Year birthday (Feb 29). When my students discovered that there were actually only 28 days in February, the questions began. After explaining that this boy has only had 3 birthdays, but will still be 11 years old, my kids were in awe. After the initial shock wore off, they began laughing hysterically because "there's a 3-year-old in our class." I'm not sure I understand how it is THAT funny, but, as I've said before, children's laughter is one of my favorite sounds ever, so I didn't mind.
Moving on, though. The reason I brought up the statement about information being new is because, if you were to look at the curriculum from Kindergarten through 12th grade, you would notice a lot of similarities. Year after year after year, students are exposed to the same information, yet year after year after year, they look at the teacher with eyes wide as he or she presents "new" information. Sure, the concepts get more intricate and advanced, but essentially we're just adding little details onto the big ideas. Being a teacher, this can be both energizing and draining. On the one hand, it's exciting to help kids discover new ideas and realizations. On the other hand, though, it gets frustrating to have to drill kids on math facts because they didn't memorize them their first 3 years. It also makes you wonder how much they'll remember from this year to next...
One perfect example of this lack of information retention is in reading. Starting in Kindergarten and 1st grade, students learn that some different words can have the same meaning... also known as synonyms. They start young with simple ones like mad and angry, or small and tiny, etc. using words the kids already know. As they progress through the years, they should be expanding their vocabularies and be able to make more extensive lists. They also start learning about thesauruses (thesauri?) and how to find synonyms for words they don't know. Well, after talking to a co-worker and hearing that her kids had no recollection of the terms "synonyms" and "antonyms," I decided to put my kids to the test. We've been studying character feelings, so I thought those would be good words to use. I had the kids make a chart in their journal and then we brainstormed together synonyms for happy, sad, mad, scared, and excited. To allow them more practice looking up words, I had them look up the first few. When one girl looked up the word "sad," there was a LONG list of synonyms for it... so many, that the list had to be broken into two columns. Since I was doing the activity with one of my lower reading groups, the girl's fluency was a little choppy. I heard her read a couple of the words, including "downcast," which was the word at the bottom of the column, and therefore broken into two parts and hyphenated in between columns. So, I heard her stumble over down-cast and a few other synonyms. To quickly check comprehension, I had her close the book and asked her to repeat a few of the synonyms she'd read. Without thinking twice, she said, "Downs Syndrome.... I mean, downcast." It caught me so off guard that I couldn't help but laugh before moving on. Hopefully, this will not stick and she will not go throughout her life thinking that Downs Syndrome is a synonym for sad. Considering that only the strangest things/most unimportant tidbits of knowledge that I throw into my teaching are what the kids remember, I wouldn't be surprised if that's one of the few synonyms she takes to 5th grade!