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Tuesday, May 16, 2017

Learning from my Middle School Students


Facebook has a feature that I both love and hate. The "On this Day" app reminds you of what you've posted in the previous years on the same date. Through it I'm reminded of just how quickly time has gone, how much my boys have grown. At the same time, I love it. Memories stay fresh. And sometimes, like today, I see a blog post I've written and shared and it all comes flooding back.

Last year on this day I wrote THIS post. One year later I can look back with a wry smile. I'm six days away from making it through my first year of middle school. There are parts of that post that were right on the money, and other parts I completely missed.

See, while people thought I might be wrong, I do miss my homeroom. I have a homeroom, of course, at seventh grade. I do love those kids. I get to have them a bit more each day than the others (4 minutes). There are days that we don't switch. They always cheer and we plan out our time. That being said, it is not the same as elementary school. There were days in elementary school where we'd only have one special. Those days could drive you to madness - if you needed a break, you rarely got it. But I loved the unhurried nature of those days. Rereading that post from last year I almost laughed out loud. Thirty extra minutes? I had time to read with the kids? Now, I'd have to steal the time to confer, because I'm always out of it. I'd have a million balls in the air, just trying to keep it all moving before the next bell. So yeah, the leasiurely pace of a homeroom at the end of the year when routines are established. I miss that.

Where I was wrong, however, was that relationships can be just as strong, if not stronger. These kids are two years older. They've experienced more. They've had friends betray them, sometimes family as well. Some have had their first heartache. They are genuine. They don't put up with BS. If you are fake, they know. But they also can see what is true. I tend to call my students "hon", or say "I love you guys" a lot. I didn't realize that I did that as much until I moved to middle school. I briefly wondered if I should change, but struggled to do so. Now, I think it's good I didn't. In talking to a few students the other day one mentioned that they felt like their heart rate slowed down in our classroom. She's having a rough year and I asked why she thought that was. Her head briefly touched my shoulder and she whispered, "I'm safe. It is like home." 

Which brings me to another thing these kids have taught me. They are brave. I stand in awe of what they are up against, yet they face it with such dignity, such grace. No book prepared me for talking to kids about depression, sexuality identity, coming out, transitioning, parents making poor choices, drug use, and more. At first I was worried, what if I said the wrong thing? I don't have all the answers. Gradually I realized that my students don't really need the answers, they just wanted to know that I was there. That I still loved them, even when they didn't love themselves. They needed help figuring out where to look for help - which we figured out together. Their parents needed to know that an adult at school loved and supported their kids as much as they did. I've watched my students and been reminded of newborn giraffes - taking unsure steps, figuring out how to move forward, then doing so with ever gaining confidence. They have made me so proud. Watching the kids at my school support each other through these stages of growth, however,  has made my heart soar.

As I've said before, and will say again, middle school kids get a bad rap. Because it is such a volatile time, they can be short tempered. They certainly have more on their minds than school and sometimes you have to just acknowledge that and remember what you were like at that age. Because if you respect them, if you treat them as equals, they have so much to teach us. I really think they might be the best of us all.